Should we allow the experts to decide the specifics of policy?

In the UK the Coalition government's Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, is pushing three new policies for education in England:

1. The conversion of schools into Academies. Schools are taken out of the control of local councils and controlled by central government. While admittedly a policy that started under the previous government, Gove has taken the programme and made it a flagship poicy for the education department.

2. Formation of Free Schools. Any group (e.g. community groups, churches) that wish to set up a school can apply to open a school that matches their desires for the direction in regards to what and how their children are taught.

3. Replacement of GCSEs, the base level exams taken at 16, with a new English Bachelorette Certificate. This new exam will be more rigorous and be a better measure of ability while still having a majority pass rate.

While you can argue either way about all three of these policies there is one thing that is apparent; these are major overhauls of a system that are more ideological in nature than functional.

Academies are touted as being more efficient and giving stellar improvements over current grammar schools controlled by local authorities. However each of the first wave of schools were well over budget, by up to 3M each on top of an extra 5M initial funding compared to traditional schools.

Unfortunately the results are not matching up with hopes. When comparing schools that have seen improvement in 2011, academies never manage to surpass non-academies. The academies considered were all formed before 2009 so should have no teething problems. If academies are not improving things is there any practical reason to continue?

The new qualification comes on the back of claims that the UK had dropped down global league tables between 2000 and 2009 - from 4th, 7th and 8th in Science, English and maths (respectively) to 16th, 25th and 27th. However these claims were debunked due to errors in the data gathering and the UK Statistics Authority reprimanded the education department for using this data.[1]

Gove has many times referred to the new exams as returning to the quality education of O-levels, a system he would have been taught under. While it's a good idea to reform exams (if only to shut people up about 'dumbing down' exams) the promises made are all but impossible; the exam will be more rigorous (read: tougher) and will be a better judge of skill for higher education and the jobs market while simultaneously having a pass rate that won't damage a schools standing. The Head of of Ofqual, the UK body responsible for maintaining quality levels in exams, wrote to Gove to tell him that his exam will unlikely not be able to do everything he says it will.


Anyway I've rambled enough. My overall point is that this is a major shake-up of the way education is handled in England and much of it may not be functionally necessary. If Academies and new qualifications do not do anything simple restructuring and investment in current policy can not, is there any functional need to rewrite a new set of procedures? Government making decisions based on what they believe in ideological terms rather than evidence is worrying as thousands of kids could be effectively screwed by policy that is misguided by ideological blinkers.

If reform is needed (and it always is) then should it be a political football being debated back and forth and debated into an unworkable mess? Or should the experts be allowed to make the right decision?

There are two main government organisations for education; Ofsted (monitors school quality) and Ofqual (monitors exam quality). How hard would it be for these 2 to get together with a couple of teacher groups and education think tanks and come up with a)a new system that works for ever pupil b)the way kids will be tested and c)how teachers will teach it? This group rattles out a well thought out plan that works rather than a slap dash job[2] designed to please voters.

Government says they want reform, think tank goes away and comes up with great policy, government gets a yes/no vote. Rinse and repeat. This system should (IMO)work much better than relying on rose-tinted nostalgia and political wrangling.


So in conclusion (got there eventually); when considering policy should government give all responsibility of deciding the specifics to expert groups and only get a veto on policy to avoid damaging the effectiveness of policy through ideological and political beliefs?

[1] incidentally England sits in 5th place, only beaten by Pacific Rim countries, in similar grading systems
[2] New qualifications for around 5 subjects come in in 2015 and teachers have no idea what they need to teach, it'll be the fiasco of bringing in GCSEs all over again

Which experts? The people did not vote those experts, whoever they are, to represent them.

Now, certainly, the government should listen to advice from people deemed to know what they are talking about (judging who is and who is not isn't easy, though), but taking the decisions away from them seems unwise.

Supposing these experts actually know what they are talking about, and there is one true way of looking at the problem (neither of those are givens), the government has to look at the problem and how it affects everything else, they shouldn't be concerned with it to the exclusion of all else. It might seem fine by itself, but interfere with other things.

Experts don't always have anything close to consensus, and it's not like they're completely unaffected by politics (which I imagine would only be made worse if they were allowed to decide policy). That, and their inexperience with policy-making, would probably lead to either them never reaching a decision, or reaching one that works in theory but fails in practice.

Though, I guess that's not too much different from our current policymakers.

Yes, definitely. The lack of educated representation in modern government is horrifying. It's entirely possible for our "elected representatives" to pass laws on things they don't understand, thus fucking over everyone involved. And as for the public vote? To quote something I read elsewhere, "think of how stupid the average person is. Now realize that half of them are stupider."

dyre:
Experts don't always have anything close to consensus, and it's not like they're completely unaffected by politics (which I imagine would only be made worse if they were allowed to decide policy). That, and their inexperience with policy-making, would probably lead to either them never reaching a decision, or reaching one that works in theory but fails in practice.

Though, I guess that's not too much different from our current policymakers.

Except that they would actually be informed on the subjects at hand, rather than just mouth-farting whatever idiocy they've cribbed from the pages of a tabloid/heard at a dinner party.

The key is Evidence Based Policy. Force the politicians to run the government like an experiment, regardless of how much that concept terrifies the Luddites and morons among the voting public. Before a government can enact a policy, they must have a sound hypothetical construct with strong supporting arguments, and have run extensive simulations of the effects. The policy then MUST undergo a local-but-representative trial during which independent agencies observe and document. Only if the policy succeeds in its aims within the confines of the proposed budget and framework would it be allowed to be rolled out nationally, and all policies spread nationally would be thoroughly reviewed after five years. Governments would have very limited authority to enact "emergency" legislation outwith the normal framework, bypassing the need for local testing, but such legislation would have special conditions attached, such as the review process being brought forwards so that it ALWAYS falls inside the current government's Parliamentary term(so they cannot avoid the political fallout).

On top of that, replace some of the vast swathes of Lawyers and Press Relations Officers who inhabit the Civil Service with permanent panels of experts, each government department having a panel with scientific or engineering experience related to their area of responsibility. Then force the government to publish ALL the advice these panels give them, IN FULL, excepting the small number of situations where that release would jeopardise a currently active covert or military operation. The membership of these panels should NOT be decided by the government. At least then, even if people are unwilling to do the sensible thing and entrust policy formation to experts with relevant experience rather than ex-Lawyers engaged in a popularity contest, the government will have to publicly defend themselves when they ignore expert advice, rather than just quietly sweeping it under the rug and pretending they never asked for any.

Well I'd question whether the initial experts where what I would call expert enough, one person can't make an official decision that affects a country. Education experts of all types should be making that decision with a long process of elimination before a final decision is reached.

But yes some policy should definitely be vested with experts. I mean do we want Congress( in the case of the US) to hold the power for the treasury department. Deciding which monetary policy should be used to combat things like inflation from a non stimulus tax break perspective. Just because we the people vote a guy into office doesn't mean he has the ability to decide whether interest need to rise or lower or how debt should be handled in our country. Sure Congress can still inject stimulus or cut budgets but overall it shouldn't be allowed to make intricate monetary policy or education policy. I actually prefer the idea of creating a committee based on people's expertise so that a good solution can be found regarding health, economics, and education. The group should be apolitical an filled academics which might be a bad word to some but goddamn who do you want deciding how the country changes policy a Harvard professor or a wall street banker?

Democracy is about electing candidates suitable to wield power and lay out the course for society. It is then for them to decide where the line between "laying the course" and "executing it" lies, and if you want experts involved, vote for candidates that campaign on involving them.

You're also assuming there's "one true good" experts can work towards, rather than many different conflicting ideologies on what's good/important. Some ideologies even prefer clear class differences and/or passive and gullible citizens: Including the one you're pulling from The Republic here, where you want to put a select group of "experts" with no democratic legitimacy in charge.

thaluikhain:
Which experts? The people did not vote those experts, whoever they are, to represent them.

Now, certainly, the government should listen to advice from people deemed to know what they are talking about (judging who is and who is not isn't easy, though), but taking the decisions away from them seems unwise.

Imperator_DK:

You're also assuming there's "one true good" experts can work towards, rather than many different conflicting ideologies on what's good/important.

But is it not better to have a committee bring half a dozen ideologies and theories to the table and debating which is the best than a government deciding to use it's idea because it's theirs, not because it's the best.

Imagine R&P users were creating a theoretical policy. Our 3 'experts' bring their own ideas; Dyre says X, dmase says Y and Magichead says Z. They all sit down together and pick apart their ideas, decide what bits work best together and draw up a final plan, A, which is well thought out, sustainable and efficient. Now lets say Ravinoff (who will be our elected official but has no expertise in this area) get to decide what policy we pick and instead of going on the group recommendation he chose his own policy, B, that is a much poorer policy than A.

Is it a better thing to have Rav pick simply because he was elected?

The government would not be completely removed from decisions. As I said in the OP they would be given a veto on any decisions if they were opposed to the policy. Another thing would be that government can say they want a certain initiative (say changing exam formats) but could not control specifics (like how soon).

The problem with the new exams in England is they are coming in piecemeal with teacher likely going to struggle due to the changes coming in too fast to prepare for them. By saying to our expert panel "set up the transition to the new format" the government can set it in motion but the timing is not rushed to suit a government rather than teachers and pupils[1]. Instead the panel can decide milestones and deadlines that insure everyone is ready for the switch and pupils do not suffer due to teachers being unsure of what they need to be teaching (as happened when GCSEs were brought in).

[1] next general election - May 2015,New exams start - September 2015 (and it's doubtful a Labour government would scrap the policy 4 months before school starts)

Magichead:
snip

I'm sorry, is this an actual political movement in the UK? What you just posted seems a bit more planned out than just a desire to see experts in power.

This letter is a good example of what's being talked about: http://www.ofqual.gov.uk/files/2012-11-19-letter-glenys-stacey-to-secretary-of-state.pdf

Essentially Gove made a load of assumptions without any basis in evidence and the head of the UK education regulator had to point out that the aims of Gove's new EBacc exam were unrealistic, that he shouldn't be introducing it in the way he plans to and that it will systematically damage the ability of marking bodies to function properly.

Of course we have only found out about this after Gove refused to disclose the details of the letter, at which point opposition MP made a Freedom of Information request to get the info released.

I think some people are getting the wrong impression about this and are thinking that it's being suggested that we go full on technocracy. That's not the case. It's more just a case of point out how ideological and anti-evidence the current government (and the governments of the last few decades) have been, to be honest.

Take the Leveson inquiry. The biggest investigation into media ethic in the history of the Uk, possibly in the history of the world, took place over the last year and a half. The results came out a week back and despite it being a government inquiry, the government proceeded to ignore the results and implement what they wanted to implement. If you don't want to use that example there's plenty more, like the 2009 reclassification of cannabis, sacking of David Nutt and then resignation of several scientific advisor. The whole affair basically revolved around the government's continued denial of scientific advice to pursue politically motivated goals.

Experts, or "experts," still are human, can be bribed and can influence policy to benefit themselves over everyone else in that scenario.

Who ever gets to decide who and who doesn't count as an "expert" in any given field also has a ton of abusable power. "Sorry, a Masters degree in evolutionary biology from Harvard doesn't make you an expert in Biology, move aside so the real experts, who bought a PHD of Theology from Creationist university write the new Biology text book."

Karma168:

So in conclusion (got there eventually); when considering policy should government give all responsibility of deciding the specifics to expert groups and only get a veto on policy to avoid damaging the effectiveness of policy through ideological and political beliefs?

So you are asking about Technocrats, yes?

In regards to your question, I would be cautious about giving all responsibility to one group, regardless of how good the intention is because corruption occur in such an oligarchy.

thaluikhain:
Which experts? The people did not vote those experts, whoever they are, to represent them.

How would that work? Some kind of X-Factor style contest where we have to choose our favourite experts in certain fields?

"Well I disagree with Daniel's opinions on global warming, but he did tell that really heartwarming story about his struggle to overcome dyslexia and win the contest, so I think I'll vote for him"

thaluikhain:
Supposing these experts actually know what they are talking about, and there is one true way of looking at the problem (neither of those are givens), the government has to look at the problem and how it affects everything else, they shouldn't be concerned with it to the exclusion of all else. It might seem fine by itself, but interfere with other things.

Except that, as the OP says, this is entirely ideological. It has nothing to do with what might be the best thing, it has everything to do with decrying how modern children are undereducated hoodies who spend their time smoking crack and mugging grannies. Reforming the school system will go over well with Tory voters regardless of the expected outcome, because many of them attritubte the notion of "Broken Britain" in part to our supposedly awful, overly-liberal public school system. At least, the parts of Broken Britain they don't blame on immigrants, Muslims or Gordon Brown.

Karma168:
In the UK the Coalition government's Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, is pushing three new policies for education in England:

Just to go totally off-topic for a moment, I can't possibly be the only person who is waiting for Michael Gove to rip off his plasticky human-looking face mask and reveal the utter horror that lies beneath? He looks as fake as a monster from vintage Doctor Who, and my guess is that he's either an alien or some ancient Lovecraftian creature which haunts this world, luring naive young civil servants into his office and sucking the juice from their eyeballs with his face-tentacles.

image

"Cower, puny mortals! The bitter tears wept by your secret soul are my sustenance! I feast on your sadness!"

thaluikhain:
Which experts? The people did not vote those experts, whoever they are, to represent them.

Fair enough, but remember that SOPA and PIPA were being seriously considered for passage, and it took perhaps the most massive online protest in history to get them to take a second look. I think there is greater danger in having people legislating on things they have no understanding of.

Of course, the only democratic way to do this would be to have a public well-educated enough that it chooses representatives based on ability instead of popularity.

dyre:

Magichead:
snip

I'm sorry, is this an actual political movement in the UK? What you just posted seems a bit more planned out than just a desire to see experts in power.

Not so much "in the UK" as "in my ever hopeful and fervent dreams" :P Dr Ben Goldacre argued for something similar in one of his columns a while back, and was predictably swamped with braying morons calling him a Nazi and a fascist etc etc, so I don't hold out much hope it will ever see the light of day.

EDIT
SonicWaffle: LOL.

Helmholtz Watson:
So you are asking about Technocrats, yes?

In regards to your question, I would be cautious about giving all responsibility to one group, regardless of how good the intention is because corruption occur in such an oligarchy.

Not quite but it may depend on what people define technocrats as. My definitions would be the actual decision holders are chosen based on expertise. That's not what I'm talking about.

Think of it like building a house, you probably aren't going to design it yourself, you hire an architect. The architect goes away and does the designing then shows you what he's got. You aren't forced to take what he's drawn, you still get to say "nah, don't like the layout of the bedrooms, can you change it?". He then goes away, tweaks it until your happy.

That's the idea of the expert committees; they get a task, go away and design a policy then the politician decides whether it's what they want it or not. If not the group go back and tweak it until they get something the politician will agree to.

The problem now is politicians are creating policy based on ideology instead of merit; They create a policy that fits their ideals that may be completely useless. Going back to the house analogy you can ask for certain things but the architects not going to design you a house that isn't possible, he'll change the plans to get as close as he can but eventually you have to take his advice.

Politicians could still put an ideological spin on it just by the nature of what they want but the way the change is brought in would be done in such a way that there are no problems due to bad planning.

The final yes/no decision would always be in the hands of elected officials though, they just wouldn't be allowed to put half thought out plans into action that come back and bite us on the ass further down the line.

thaluikhain:
Which experts? The people did not vote those experts, whoever they are, to represent them.

Even better. That means that they will probably know what they are doing.

 

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