The Risks of Dangerous Dashboards in Basic Education

A metaphoric comparison between airplane dashboards and dashboards for basic education: The way large bureaucracies prefer to work is to specify process compliance and inputs and then measure those as a means of driving performance. This logistical mode of managing an organization works best when both process compliance and inputs are easily “observable” in the economist’s sense of easily verifiable, contractible, adjudicated. This leads to attention to processes and inputs that are “thin”. So in education one would specify easily-observable inputs like textbook availability, class size, school infrastructure. Even if one were talking about “quality” of schooling, a large bureaucracy would want this too reduced to “thin” indicators, like the fraction of teachers with a given type of formal degree, or process compliance measures, like whether teachers were hired based on some formalassessment. Those involved in schooling can then become assessed with their dashboards and the “thin” progress that is being tracked, and easily ignore the loud warning signal saying: Stall!