Thursday, January 17, 2008

McKinsey: run schools as you would run a successful business

I've been trying to make sense of the McKinsey report, which I now see as a combination of insightful common sense and opportunistic fudge, the latter with respect to the disadvantaged. None of the reports ever solve that problem. Whole system change is usually about a few insights, realism (money) and fudge / deception. Which is why it drives me mad. But its worth looking at this in anticipation of whether the Rudd/Gillard “education revolution” will pick up on it.

I'm missing detail here. I'm not spelling out the fudge in detail but am happy to discuss with anyone who has actually read the report.

btw the McKinsey report pdf has the copy feature turned off, proof that it's not intended to be discussed – it's just "experts" dumping their expertise onto us.

The McKinsey report is American (but with extensive comments about different education systems around the world) and the Brian Caldwell article is an attempt to apply some of the McKinsey thinking to Australia

McKinsey report: How the world's best performing school systems come out on top

Are we serious about an education revolution? Brian Caldwell
(many of the comments following the Caldwell blog are worth reading – I try to cover an aspect of the “big picture” here not covered in those comments)

Some stand out, slap in the face ideas / facts from Caldwell (his article is short, worth reading the whole thing):
“The gap between our high and low performing students is amongst the widest in OECD nations. Up to one-half of all teachers plan to leave the profession within 10 years. The number of students in private schools has jumped by 21.5 per cent in the past 10 years compared to 1.2 per cent in government schools ”

“Every teacher in Australia entering the profession from a university should have a master's degree - as in top-performing Finland - with targets for minimum ENTER scores progressively raised to match those for entry to other highly-sought degrees.”
My context for this is the Kevin Rudd / Julia Gillard promise for an “education revolution” and the inadequacy of what they have delivered (no documents indicating deep thought) so far

What McKinsey and Caldwell are both saying is that to improve education you have to improve the quality of teachers and the status of the profession.

Teacher quality is the most important factor. "The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers". The early years are particularly important. The negative impact on students of a series of bad teachers in the early years is severe and irreversible

That is a bit startling because in a way its pretty obvious. How did we get to be where we are today and why hasn't this been tried before?

In Australia up until now the quality issue has been managed largely through elite, expensive Private Schools, which have had the right to hire and fire (teachers and students). Why is this no longer good enough?

With globalisation, the knowledge economy and increased competition, education has become more important. So, these reports are about the stronger possibility of governments being prepared to spend some money strategically in order to move up the ladder of OECD educational performance because that could well be more related to success in the current economy. These ideas have been around for a long time. Barry Jones wrote Sleepers Awake: Technology and the Future of Work, predicting these trends in 1982. Over the years with more globalisation and interconnection the need to work smarter has accelerated. And so it comes to pass that the need to get the best value for dollar in education expenditure has crept up the political ladder in terms of importance.

The detail makes sense if you keep this big picture in mind. It's a globally inspired outcome based cost-benefit analysis devoid of any wider educational vision. The authors are saying we should run schools in a similar way to how you would run a successful business. The vision is higher quality teachers on reasonable (but not high) money working harder in a profession with higher status. Nice trick if you can get it and according to McKinsey you can get it if you try

Where to spend more money:
  • On teacher quality and marketing of the profession
Other strategic reforms:
  • Select teachers before training them not after, the pay them while being trained with a guaranteed job at the end
  • Coaches for teachers in schools, including Principals who are coaches. ie. Principals as educational leaders not as bureaucrats who become overwhelmed with the paper work
  • Far more classroom based teacher training
  • Facilitate more of teachers learning from each other
  • Front loading compensation - the recommended wage structure is designed for the gullible: front end loading to suck them in initially but then a relatively flat increase in the ensuing years. I don't see how this is going to change the problem identified by Caldwell, “half of all teachers plan to leave the profession within 10 years”
Where to spend less money:
  • Have fewer teachers overall, reverse the trend to smaller class sizes
Much is made of the fact that measured literacy hasn't improved in the USA despite increased spending and reduced class sizes. A good quality teacher will produce better results with larger classes than a poor quality teacher with smaller classes. I would accept this as true. eg. many Private Schools in Australia have large class sizes and achieve better results. For those students the parents are more involved, the classes are better behaved and the overall culture is more pro-learning than in many of their government school counterparts

Some Charter schools have been successful but they have not been successful overall (McKinsey, p. 14). Hence, McKinsey loses interest because they are only interested in whole system change, not more radical but small scale change

Where to fudge:
  • On helping Disadvantaged schools, which are the ones that really need smaller class sizes.
It's true that you can get away with larger classes in elite Private schools but that doesn't work in Disadvantaged schools.


Real improvements in literacy, science and maths will ultimately develop internal to those domains and research into how to better communicate those subjects to young people. The outcomes based approach assumes that we already know what we are doing and just have to measure it.

I recall that brilliant books have been written about the search for quality. Zen and the art of motor cycle maintenance. And how much harder it is to find than measuring outcomes.

In view of the limited scope of the study the wider issues to do with literacy are not explored. eg. the impact of multimedia on reading scores, see "Why Johnny And Janey Can't Read, And Why Mr. And Ms. Smith Can't Teach: The challenge of multiple media literacies in a tumultuous time" by Mark Federman
Twilight of the Books: A recent study has shown a steep decline in literary reading among schoolchildren by Caleb Crain

How is teacher quality measured? In systemic cyclical fashion. The right stuff is defined as the top performers within the current education system (which is seen to be failing in many respects). South Korea selects its teachers from the top 5%, Finland from the top 10%, Singapore and Hong Kong from the top 30%. Those who succeed in the current system represent quality and should be the source of who we select to put back into the system.

information about the co-author:
(Michael Barber's) book was The Learning Game:Arguments for an Education Revolution. Its author, Michael Barber, former research officer for England's largest teachers' union and later professor of education, became Tony Blair's chief adviser on education the day after the election. He now works for McKinsey & Company and is co-author of McKinsey's report How the World's BestPerforming School Systems Come Out on Top, which is currently the most widely read study worldwide of what should lie at the heart of an education revolution

McKinsey quote: ... smart countries will succeed by being "swift to adapt, slow to complain and open to change"

“Slow to complain” ... you get it now? Just compete in the global economy – don't ask too many questions


shenki said...

"btw the McKinsey report pdf has the copy feature turned off"

Such "features" are not implemented in open source PDF readers; they allow you to cut/paste as you please.

Anonymous said...

Here in the US, our public school system worked great while it was training up drones for industrial age factories. As the world changed, the schools still try to use assembly-line techniques to produce homegeneous graduates.

The problem, by the way, is definitely not the teachers. Most of them are sincere and dedicated, willing to do whatever they can to help their students grow. The problem is the administrators who control the policies and the way that funds are divvied up.

Two things that I believe schools need are interested, involved, motivated parents, and teachers who contribute their energy and skills to convey knowledge to students.

I believe that smaller class sizes are only part of what needs to happen. We also need smaller schools and administrative districts, with more parental control replacing most of the educracy (educational bureaucracy).

Gary said...

McKinsey was a major architect of the Enron debacle.

Anonymous said...

where can i find the pdf of this report

Bill Kerr said...

anonymous, there is a link in the main article