Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Just a few snippets

In this post I just want to follow up on some of the things that I and others have written about.

Neil's post, League tables can play to fears of parents, is dead right. I have no problem with measurement, its the way the measures are used and the unintended consequences.

The two key problems can be put this way. First, we get what we measure, so things not measured get crowded out. Secondly, and this is linked, where the causes of differential performance are complicated, then a simple outcome measure may reward bad behaviour.

Consider a bad selective school riven with bullying and driven by authoritarian management whose sole focus is on test performance. I have no particular school in mind, I am just painting an extreme case. That school may well attract success payments and students even though the actual education delivered is dreadful.

Couldn't happen? Surely other systems would control this? It happens all the time in narrow measurement based performance environments. Sometimes the adverse effects are individual, at other times it gives us a Global Financial Crisis.

Thomas is worried about elitism and is also struggling with the apparent rigidity of the Sydney University system.

On the first, I can't answer Thomas's questions. I don't think that elitism is necessarily a bad thing, it can lead to above average performance combined with a sense of public contribution, but it can also lead to rigid class systems and exclusion. I think that it comes from the combination of family with social structures. Maybe I have answered Thomas's questions after all!

On the second, all systems have rules. These become more rigid as systems are codified. The only way to manage mass systems where compliance is central is to reduce the scope for individual judgement. Past a certain point, gains from reduced costs are offset by other costs. So long as these are bourne by customers or other competitors, that's fine. Past a certain point, the system collapses.

Deputy Australian PM Julia Gillard has announced an inquiry into international students in Australia. About time, too. This is not a criticism, simply relief.

Up in Ulmarra, Lynne has been to the circus. Earlier I wrote about Memories of Jimmy Sharman's Boxing Stadium. Perhaps its time for circuses!

Enough, I have things to do.            


Kanani said...

The focus on test scores is awful. They're cramming more information into my daughter's head that she's just not ready for! For instance ...the way they teach math is so rushed. Kids aren't having time to take in the multiplication tables before they're onto the next course. It's crazy and I fear that for some like me son --he's decided he just doesn't learn very well. Totally shut down for now.

Jim Belshaw said...

It's difficult, isn't it, Kanani from a parent's viewpoint especially. The competitive pressures are already pretty high. Many Australian middle class families send their kids to coaching colleges to try to gain that extra edge.

The problem with kids like your son is that once shut down it can then be hard to catch up.