The Imperative of Reform

There is general agreement that American schools need fundamental restructuring. Superficial change is not sufficient. What is needed are changes in the way schools are organized and managed in order to help students master academic essentials and critical thinking ability.

More educational, political and business leaders are recognizing that the key to educational renewal lies in giving parents the ability to choose the best school for their children. We need, in a word, perestroika in our educational sphere. At present, government takes our educational dollars and distributes them in ways that are often not in line with how the consumer would choose to spend them. By returning to parents their tax dollars and allowing them to choose their child's school, the schools will have to restructure themselves to win the confidence and fidelity of the parents.

David P. Kearns, chairman of Xerox Corporation, has been an outspoken advocate of educational reform. He co-authored Winning the Brain Race with Dennis P. Doyle and concluded with this assessment:

By any measure, today's educational system is a failed monopoly. That it is failing large numbers of students is beyond dispute--one quarter do not graduate and another quarter are so poorly prepared academically that they are not ready for work or post-secondary education. But does that unacceptably high rate of failure have anything to do with the schools' monopoly position? We are convinced it does. The monopolist is free to ignore the legitimate needs and interests of both the consumer and the worker, a picture that describes the reality of today's educational system. Teachers and students are the losers .... In the parlance of business, that would be known as "conspiracy in restraint of trade"....

Providing choice means allowing schools to compete with one another for the most valuable of assets: students....

But choice in and of itself is an empty concept unless there are real decisions to be made among alternate providers. Henry Ford, for example, is reputed to have said that customers could have any color Ford they wanted so long as it was black. A real educational choice system can be effective only if it leads to significant diversity among schools, and if it's backed by the capacity of parents, students and teachers to make real decisions.

In the pages that follow, the case will be made that our parents and students can be given a real choice of schools. Once parents are free to choose, each school will naturally strive to become the best provider of educational services in order to attract students. Michigan, which has lagged behind a number of educational innovations taking place in the country, can put its mark on the future now by taking bold steps toward educational choice.

This kind of real reform, generated by parents and students, has the potential to transform our state and national education enterprise. We do not have to accept an inferior educational system. We can, once again, restore American leadership in educational excellence. We must demand change because the welfare of our children, our state, and our nation is at stake.