by Howard Stephenson

A few weeks ago I was invited to speak to a group of 40 educators who
were also students in an education administration class at Utah State

Earlier, I had been wrestling bureaucrats at the Utah State Office of
Education over their directive to Utah school districts to spend at
least half of the $60 million funding for education technology – which
I had fought so hard to win at the recent legislative session – on
salaries and benefits. Thanks to the intervention of State
Superintendent Patti Harrington, we were able to get that directive
changed, but still, little of the $60 million was to be spent on
technology to increase a teacher’s productivity and effectiveness in
teaching the core curriculum. Instead of using technology to improve
student performance in the three Rs, almost all of the money is to be
spent on teaching technology as an expanded part of the curriculum.

As a result of these frustrations, when I arrived at the class my mind
was still focused on what to me was the utter lack of vision by
educators in getting public education to move into the 21st century.

To begin my remarks, I reminded the would-be education administrators
that teaching professionals constantly tell legislators that teachers
are professionals just like doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers,
and architects, and ought to be respected, and paid, like these other
professions. The 40 educators echoed that appeal, some claiming that
of all the professions, educators deserve professional respect because
they deal with our most important product: children.

I pointed out that all of these other professionals are on the cutting
edge of technology: No accounting firm still uses pencil-filled ledger
sheets tallying columns of numbers with ten-key calculators. No
engineering firm still has drafting boards – unless they are in a
display of historic artifacts in the reception area. Law firms all use
the latest technology to research cases, prepare briefs, and keep track
of billable hours. And medicine – have you been to a doctor’s office
or hospital lately?

I asked the teaching professionals why these other professions all
insisted on employing the latest technology in doing their business.
The first respondent blurted out, “Because they have lots of money!” I
suggested that the professionals would naturally prefer to take the
money home in their paychecks rather than spending it on technology and
the manpower to back up the technology. They agreed.

I asked, “Why do these professionals feel it is necessary to spend the
money on technology?” The educators concluded that the professional
firms which did not employ the latest technology would go out of
business. They would lose customers. They would die.

So, remembering my frustration with the misuse of my hard-fought $60
million education technology money, I asked, “Why isn’t public
education on the cutting edge of technology? Why wasn’t the education
community at the legislature fighting for this technology money? Why
isn’t technology being used widely to make teaching professionals more
productive and more effective in preparing students for the future?”

After much discussion they concluded, “Because we can’t go out of
business. Public education doesn’t worry about losing customers.
Public education can’t die.”

When we boil down the difference between professional teachers and
those professions with which they like to compare themselves, one group
is operating in a climate of fierce competitiveness and the other is
operating within a government-run monopoly. One is motivated by a free
market, the other suffers under a socialist structure. One has to
improve productivity to serve customers better, the other has a
guaranteed supply of customers who are not allowed to take their money
and go elsewhere. That is, unless vouchers are approved by voters on
the November ballot.

I am constantly amazed at the failure of voucher opponents to
acknowledge the indisputable fact that socialism has never worked well
anywhere in the world, but it’s good enough for our children’s
education. Capitalism and freedom of choice have produced in the
United States the greatest economy on earth, but when it comes to our
children, socialism is good enough. Free markets ensure quality and
price in our food supply, but education of children is too important to
“risk to the vagaries of the marketplace.”

I told the group of educators that this is one of the most important
reasons to support vouchers. Surprisingly, several of them approached
me after the class and told me they had changed their mind about
vouchers and will be voting for a freer education marketplace in

If more educators would look carefully at vouchers, they would
recognize that when more choices are available to consumers of K-12
education the product will improve and, just as importantly,
professional respect and compensation will increase.