In Education Matters: Government, Markets and New Zealand Schools, Mark Harrison discusses the role of government and the market in education. Is education better run through political decision making or allowing parents to choose in a market setting? What is the best way to promote equity, efficiency and liberty; to protect children and consumers; to provide information, evaluate students, supply capital, train and pay teachers, determine the curriculum and provide incentives to innovate?
• examines what economic reasoning and the empirical evidence imply for the proper role for government in the education system;
• assesses how the New Zealand school sector performs, and the impact of current government policy, the reforms of the 1980s and of government education spending;
• sets out how the current centralised and politicised government monopoly on schooling wastes resources, discourages good teaching, inhibits parental involvement, suppresses information, stifles innovation and harms the poor;
• looks at how markets would, and do, operate in education and why allowing families increased choice between competing private providers would realise social objectives better than public provision and fix the problems with government schooling.
Harrison presents a comprehensive analysis of the best way to organise education, including whether the government should own schools, how education should be financed and how it should be regulated. He concludes by setting out a reform plan to improve schooling.
“In this book, issues are analysed using economics. Economic analysis does not mean that the vocational ends of education are considered all-important or should be given priority. Indeed I conclude that much of the movement towards vocational training in schools is misguided and an example of the problems with central provision. Central control often leads to a focus on narrow materialistic aims – these are more easily measured from above and are important to governments. In a market system, parental preferences will determine what schools do, and will include non-vocational goals. Experience suggests that, for some parents at least, religious matters will be paramount. It is a misunderstanding of economics to talk about non-economic objectives. All objectives are non-economic. Economics is about choosing between them.”
Mark Harrison is a freelance economic consultant. He has a PhD from the University of Chicago and taught for 10 years at the Australian National University (ANU) and the University of Chicago. He has been a visiting researcher at the Research School of Social Sciences at the ANU, the George Stigler Centre for the Study of the Economy and the State at the University of Chicago and the Productivity Commission in the Australian Government. He has published many articles on education issues and has undertaken commissioned research for the Ministry of Education, the Treasury and the Education Forum in New Zealand, and the Australian Review of Higher Education Financing and Policy (the West Review) and the Industry Taskforce on Leadership and Management Skills (Karpin Committee) in Australia.