Instruction to Deliver: Tony Blair, Public Services and the Challenge of Achieving Targets

Ohio can learn a lot from the United Kingdom. Both are former industrial powerhouses that are experiencing, firsthand, the pain of a shrinking manufacturing-based economy. Both see education as the key to navigating this change and in preparing all children for success in a globe-spanning knowledge- and innovation-based economy. Sir Michael Barber's book, Instruction to Deliver, offers many helpful insights for educators, policymakers, and lawmakers in the Buckeye State. Barber spent four years in the heart of Tony Blair's government. He played a pivotal role in redesigning the delivery of education in the U.K.

Barber also was the lead author of the recent Achieve, Inc. study "Creating a World-Class Education System in Ohio" (see here) and many of his most important insights are customized for Ohio in that report.

But his book goes further and offers some additional lessons for Ohio. The first is that radical reformers, and often the most successful, many times come from within the establishment. Barber began his career in education working for the National Union of Teachers but broke with the union when it boycotted the National Curriculum (standards) and national testing (accountability) in 1994. Barber lamented, "The union I worked for chose to turn back when it could have led the way forward."

Barber found a powerful ally for his standards and accountability agenda in Tony Blair. He also found a political leader who believed in the power of choice. Barber writes that as early as 1994 Blair made it known that "he would place himself firmly on the side of the consumer rather than the producer."

Barber, and this is another lesson that resonates in Ohio, believes "the central issue of modern politics is how to secure constantly improving performance across the public services-including education-without raising taxes." In short, public policy needs to be about doing more with the same or even less public money. For a state like Ohio, whose populace is getting older and poorer, this is an especially important lesson. Barber would likely add that this is a lesson that the Democrats in Ohio could do much with in their efforts to modernize public services. Labor in the UK, after all, came to power after decades of Conservative Party rule, in part, by taking conservative ideas and implementing them better than the Conservatives.

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