I grew up in a world where no one went to a car dealership for repairs. Dealerships charged too much. The other day my headlight went out. I have an old car, and this happens every spring. Although I dreaded the idea of taking it to a dealership, I was in a hurry and made the exception. I got a new headlight for $17.50 with no service charge; They installed it in five minutes and washed the car as well. It was my first experience in a car dealership spending $17.50 on a repair.
The experience was so far removed from my understanding of service that I realized change, even in deeply entrenched and historically underperforming organizations, is possible. When leaders talk about creating efficiencies and increasing productivity, this is it.
The service that education is supposed to provide continues to this day to be mired in inefficiencies and lack of productivity. Most students in school are either bored or overwhelmed.
Last week, a new study released in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management showed that in at least one state charter school students are more successful systemwide than traditional school students. Central to the model of change proposed by charter schools generally is competition. Former teacher union president Albert Shanker supported charters and competition as a way to improve school accountability, and his vision seems to be working. Education is a service, and though education is a much more complicated service than changing a headlight, the lesson is the same: competition at its best improves service.