The biggest mistake in policy discussion – part 1

One of the biggest mistakes when discussing policy is confusing means with ends. Often, people may agree on the end goal, but disagree on how to get there. This can lead to people saying: ‘why do you hate children?’ or ‘why do you hate the poor?’ when, in fact, the other person simply doesn’t believe that aiming directly at a goal is what is best for achieving it. For example, implementing certain teacher training or accreditation course and certificates. This is likely to turn into a compliance activity, with only minor improvements in teaching. When someone argues against certifications, they’re probably not against people being qualified and capable. It is just that they disagree with the means of achieving that goal. Compliance through certification does not equal a qualified teacher who is held properly accountable. Modern compliance is the inevitable consequence of a large system with diffuse and distant accountability mechanisms. A more natural accountability mechanism would be school choice, local control, and free entry into the market for teachers and schools. These means of achieving accountability are not direct means, but nonetheless should be more effective than compliance. Or teaching students to love a subject as a way of getting them to perform well in the final exam. This is much more effective for education than rote learning and teaching to the test. But for that statement to be entirely true, the students have to believe it too. And this is where we need to think about the incentives they face and the information they are given.

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