Random Thoughts About Public Education in Utah

Here are some random thoughts I've been having about public education in Utah. Teachers don't make enough. Class sizes are about right. Public schools are least likely to be racially and ethnically diverse.

If we want a quality education product, we need to pay our teachers more.

A friend of mine works in a metal fabrication plant. When his bosses started trying to save money by reducing the wages they paid new employees, my friend warned them of the likely consequences. If you pay someone $8 per hour, you're going to get $8 per hour work. If you start them at $15, you're going to get a much higher quality product, because then you'll attract the people that are worth that much. Time proved my friend correct, as his company began to lose business due to shoddy workmanship.

It's the same with education. We have to have teachers, because we keep having children. So we might as well have good ones. The reason there is a shortage of good public school teachers in Utah is because we don't pay them enough. If they can make more in the private sector with their specialties, we can't expect them to stay in public education. Yes, they should be allowed to be "in it for them money". There is nothing wrong with getting paid a good day's pay for a good day's work. For those of you who aren't public educators, aren't you in your job for the money? At least a little bit?

Even though the Utah teacher/pupil ratio is higher than the national average, it's not that bad.

According to the State of Utah, the teacher/pupil ratio for the 2005-2006 school year was 22.1. (The national average was 16.) It could be better, but that's not as bad as it has been. Part of the reason I say this is that any increase in education money should be prioritized toward paying teachers higher salaries and attracting high quality educators. In that context, I think we can live with 22 students per teacher, at least for the short term.

Public schools are not prone to being diverse when compared to other schools. Vouchers tend to improve the amount of diversity in schools.

Utah public schools are similar to Latter-Day Saint wards--where you live generally determines where you go to school. Public charter schools and private schools, although they have their own set of problems, are not beset with this limitation. Regular public schools are, therefore, less likely to be racially and ethnically diverse when compared to other types of schools, as Utah Taxpayer illustrates. My saying that is not a swipe at public educators; rather, it's just a fact of life. Vouchers could only improve the likelihood of diversity as more families become able to choose where to send their children to school.


  1. The argument that I keep hearing about vouchers is that poor people will be able to send their kids to private schools with a voucher to help pay the cost. How much does a voucher off set the cost? How much do private schools cost anyway? Anybody have any numbers?

  2. The class size data is very misleading. Districts play a lot of accounting tricks to make the number that low. My daughter had 42 students in her 8th grade geometry class and 150 students in her music class. All of her other classes had more than 35. These numbers are out of control and the poor teachers can't possibly work effectively under those conditions.

  3. 150 students in a music class is called "an orchestra". Freshman college courses for basic math and physics have lecture halls that accommodate over a hundred people. When I was a student assistant at the University of Utah, we had a large lecture but also we provided individual assistance during a lab period. I thought it was much more efficient than interrupting the professor's lecture.

    On diversity: Only a school district, with the monopoly power that lets it tell students where to go for school, has the ability to segregate schools. Historically, PUBLIC schools practiced racial discrimination for over 50 years (from Plessy v Ferguson to Brown v. Topeka Board of Education) among students. While some private schools served richer families (e.g. Sidwell Friends where Chelsea Clinton went!), parochial schools served minority and immigrant communities, NOT white folks fleeing public schools.

    If you provide financial aid to parents so they can opt out of public schools, it will be harder for public schools to maintain a system where minority students are abused. The families will have a choice, and the money will generate a market for education services that people will serve. Parents are smart consumers for homes, doctors, cars, clothing, etc. They pick COLLEGES for their kids. They are smart enough to pick schools in the K-12 range for their own kids, especially because they can quit if the school does not deliver.

    Since you still have to come up with your own money toward tuition, most people will use the cheaper option of public schools. But if a public school has failed your kid in some way, why should your kid have to suffer, just to subsidize the UEA union dues fund? The natural growth in student numbers in Utah will maintain jobs for all current public school teachers, and cut down on capital costs for new buildings.



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