22 May 2012

Mickey Mouse micro-targets are everywhere

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Social Policy Bonds are about setting coherent, broad, explicit and meaningful quantifiable targets, and injecting market incentives into the reaching them. They are not to be confused with the current system, which is increasingly about setting incoherent, narrow targets that are also meaningless in that they do not represent what society actually wants to achieve. I've blogged before about these; here and here, for instance. "Teaching-to-the-test" is another woeful example of the same thinking, driven as it is by politics and conflict between interest groups. Here, the interests  of schoolchildren and society at large are over-ridden. Diane Ravitch writing about the US "No Child Left Behind Policy" says:
NCLB has compelled schools everywhere to focus solely on reading and mathematics, the only subjects that count in deciding whether a school is labeled a success or a failure. NCLB has turned schooling into a joyless experience for most American children, especially in grades three through eight, who must spend weeks of each year preparing to take standardized tests.... NCLB and Race to the Top have imposed on American education a dreary and punitive testing regime that ... demoralizes the great majority of teachers, who would prefer the autonomy to challenge their students to think critically and creatively. This dull testing regime crushes the ingenuity, wit, playfulness, and imagination that our students and our society most urgently need to spur new inventions and new thinking in the future. Do Our Public Schools Threaten National Security?, 'New York Review of Books', dated 7 June
So what goals would I want to see a Social Policy Bond regime establish for education? Nothing more than a goal of universal literacy and numeracy at age 15, say - something that appears to be beyond the current regime. And a bond regime wouldn't stipulate which institution or people would achieve that goal nor how they would achieve it. In literacy, in education and in so many other areas of public policy we need to explore diverse approaches that can adapt themselves to changing circumstances. Teaching-to-the-test does exactly the opposite.

  • The first published paper on Social Policy Bonds is now available on the web here. It was published in 1988 and was presented at the New Zealand branch of the Australian Agricultural Economics Society, in Blenheim, New Zealand earlier that year.

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