12 January 2012

Mickey Mouse micro-targets

Numerical targets, though they can never accurately measure everything of importance, are going to have to play a role in determining the efficiency and effectiveness of policy instruments. Many of our social and environmental problems can be attributed to (1) the private sector's use of accountancy measures, to the exclusion of anything else, in evaluating its own performance, and (2) the failure of the public sector to use any meaningful numerical targets.

Governments do use plenty of meaningless targets. Here's Theodore Dalrymple:
The Times Educational Supplement is Britain’s most important journal for the teaching profession. In the January 6 edition, it described the methods school principals use to deceive the official inspectorate of schools. The inspectorate’s reports, in the words of the TES, “are vital checks on the performance of schools, relied on and trusted by parents and those running and working in the system.” The precise extent of the principals’ cheating is, in the nature of things, difficult to measure. But once the principals know that an inspection is coming, many employ techniques such as paying disruptive pupils to stay home, sending bad pupils on day trips to amusement parks, pretending to take disciplinary action against bad teachers, drafting well-regarded teachers temporarily from other schools, borrowing displays of student work done in other schools, and so forth. It’s Gogol’s Government Inspector translated to the educational sphere. The Less Deceived, 'City Journal', 10 January
What government should be doing is targeting broad measures that are meaningful to real people. Real people, as opposed to government agencies or corporate accountants. In education government should be targeting, at the very least, functional literacy and numeracy.

No comments: