Friday, April 28, 2006

In Education, as business, what gets rewarded gets done

Joyce Wycoff's, in her blog Heads-Up!, has an article by Robert Tucker. Robert compares Maytag and Whirlpool. Times have been tough in the appliance business. Maytag decided to watch pennies. Whirlpool decided to create a culture of innovation. After five years Whirlpool had grown by 36% and Maytag was collapsing. He writes about how Whirlpool created an environment that rewarded innovation. Robert Tucker makes the point: "When it comes to changing people's behavior, it's important to remember an underlying principle: behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated." (The emphasis is mine.)

This reminds me of The Greatest Management Principle in the World, by Michael Leboeuf. I read a review of this book several years ago. The one line summary was "That which gets rewarded gets done."

Both lines remind us that if we want certain events to happen, we need to reward people when those events occur.

One of the main problems with public education today is that rewards are almost completely separated from accomplishments. For example, the politics of funding are scary. The public school systems are always pleading for more money. They get more money, or are rewarded, not on how good of a job public schools do in educating students, but on how well they pled their case. The public schools get rewarded for lobbying for more money, so it isn't a surprise that they keep focusing on trying to get more money.

The only way public schools are going to dramatically improve is by having an incentive system which rewards giving children a quality education.

We know there is great room for improvement in public schools. Joanne Jacobs shows some of the room for improvement in her book: Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea, and the School That Beat the Odds. The book is about a charter school in San Jose, California. The high school takes students from the wrong side of the tracks, who are often at the second to forth grade levels, and after a couple years this charter school is able to graduate many of them ready for college. It is an amazing story.

One of the reasons vouchers are so appealing to many is that it provides an incentive system for schools. If the schools do a good job, parents will send their children there, and the school is rewarded with the money which comes from the voucher.

The public school system fights vouchers. Vouchers were proposed 50 years ago by Milton and Rose Friedman. Yet very few students today have access to vouchers. Given the slow and painful history of vouchers I don't see a dramatic change in the near future.

Remember "That which gets rewarded gets done." By remembering this, it is easy to understand some of why public schools are doing so poorly today.

(Hat tip: One of the mailing lists I'm on is NewsScan Daily; the company sent a link to Joyce Wycoff's blog this week.)

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