Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I'm joining the Policy Committee

...and I'm starting with a blank piece of paper. It's nice and clean. It's a great policy - short, sweet, portable.

I guess if I'm going to have to think about policy I had better start with suggestions from successful industry. Here's some of what Google's CEO has for Ten Golden Rules;

Hire by committee. Virtually every person who interviews at Google talks to at least half-a-dozen interviewers, drawn from both management and potential colleagues. Everyone's opinion counts, making the hiring process more fair and pushing standards higher. Yes, it takes longer, but we think it's worth it. If you hire great people and involve them intensively in the hiring process, you'll get more great people. We started building this positive feedback loop when the company was founded, and it has had a huge payoff.
Uh, oh - everybody's opinion counts! That's not the way things work in Bushworld. This No Child Left Behind (NCLB) stuff is all about soviet style central committee control of education by the state and feds. The first policy note I have is to work to eliminate NCLB.
* Cater to their every need. As Drucker says, the goal is to "strip away everything that gets in their way." We provide a standard package of fringe benefits, but on top of that are first-class dining facilities, gyms, laundry rooms, massage rooms, haircuts, carwashes, dry cleaning, commuting buses—just about anything a hardworking engineer might want. Let's face it: programmers want to program, they don't want to do their laundry. So we make it easy for them to do both.
Teachers are knowledge workers. So are students. Lots of Americans used to be and still are. EO provides lots of first-class stuff. The students earning money give great car washes, they commute a lot... My thought is that teachers want to help every student reach their individual learning goals not usher them into social engineering experiments that turn them into automa-test-takers. I keep hearing that tests get in the way of learning and burn out the kids from caring. NCLB must go!

But I'm going to add something here. Everybody must be fed. I'm sick of reading that Connecticut is skimping on kids getting a decent breakfast in school programs that should be caring for these kids. This is not necessarily a Region 19 issue but the voters better start chasing the State around to feed the kids. Hungry kids make life harder on teachers and parents.

And while I'm ranting, what ever happened to employer subsidized lunches? These guys are making way too much to say we can't afford feeding employees more economical meals.

* Pack them in. Almost every project at Google is a team project, and teams have to communicate. The best way to make communication easy is to put team members within a few feet of each other. The result is that virtually everyone at Google shares an office. This way, when a programmer needs to confer with a colleague, there is immediate access: no telephone tag, no e-mail delay, no waiting for a reply. Of course, there are many conference rooms that people can use for detailed discussion so that they don't disturb their office mates. Even the CEO shared an office at Google for several months after he arrived. Sitting next to a knowledgeable employee was an incredibly effective educational experience.
Check. The school is packed all right and the teachers I've met are very knowledgable and involved. My nice white sheet of paper is still mostly empty. This policy stuff is a snap.

* Make coordination easy. Because all members of a team are within a few feet of one another, it is relatively easy to coordinate projects. In addition to physical proximity, each Googler e-mails a snippet once a week to his work group describing what he has done in the last week. This gives everyone an easy way to track what everyone else is up to, making it much easier to monitor progress and synchronize work flow.
You know, a lot of teachers are doing this already. It's better than testing because we know exactly what kind of progress is being made by our kid. This isn't a policy thing, this is just good parent-teacher-student communication.

* Eat your own dog food. Google workers use the company's tools intensively. The most obvious tool is the Web, with an internal Web page for virtually every project and every task. They are all indexed and available to project participants on an as-needed basis. We also make extensive use of other information-management tools, some of which are eventually rolled out as products. For example, one of the reasons for Gmail's success is that it was beta tested within the company for many months. The use of e-mail is critical within the organization, so Gmail had to be tuned to satisfy the needs of some of our most demanding customers—our knowledge workers.
Now I've got something to work with. Before I was on the BOE a teacher mentioned that the State and NCLB tests didn't have feedback loops that allowed teachers and test administrators to talk back and comment on the appropriateness of the tests. I'm thinking maybe we need to change the government policy on this.

Let's open-source these tests so that the profit motive isn't driving education. Let teachers pick and choose and design tests that make sense. Let's get the edu-business lobbyists out of our lives and save time and money by getting the middlemen and middle bureaucrats out of our lives.

Policy Note; let's deal our own hand when it comes to educational materials and metrics.

* Encourage creativity. Google engineers can spend up to 20 percent of their time on a project of their choice. There is, of course, an approval process and some oversight, but basically we want to allow creative people to be creative. One of our not-so-secret weapons is our ideas mailing list: a companywide suggestion box where people can post ideas ranging from parking procedures to the next killer app. The software allows for everyone to comment on and rate ideas, permitting the best ideas to percolate to the top.
I like this! Letting students and teachers choose their own goals - think outside the NCLB borg - it's wild its radical - policy suggestion #3.

* Strive to reach consensus. Modern corporate mythology has the unique decision maker as hero. We adhere to the view that the "many are smarter than the few," and solicit a broad base of views before reaching any decision. At Google, the role of the manager is that of an aggregator of viewpoints, not the dictator of decisions. Building a consensus sometimes takes longer, but always produces a more committed team and better decisions
So maybe building kids who know how to negotiate, assimilate, and co-operate is a goal we should strive for. Is there a policy that can help this?

* Don't be evil. Much has been written about Google's slogan, but we really try to live by it, particularly in the ranks of management. As in every organization, people are passionate about their views. But nobody throws chairs at Google, unlike management practices used at some other well-known technology companies. We foster to create an atmosphere of tolerance and respect, not a company full of yes men.
Man, this has got to be on page one of the policy manual, Don't be evil. What if voters practiced this? Politicians? Government Education Departments? Hmmm. I like it.

* Data drive decisions. At Google, almost every decision is based on quantitative analysis. We've built systems to manage information, not only on the Internet at large, but also internally. We have dozens of analysts who plow through the data, analyze performance metrics and plot trends to keep us as up to date as possible. We have a raft of online "dashboards" for every business we work in that provide up-to-the-minute snapshots of where we are.
I've been very impressed with this administration's attention to detail. Principal Delereto's data is a monthly analysis of one aspect of educational activity at EO or another.

* Communicate effectively. Every Friday we have an all-hands assembly with announcements, introductions and questions and answers. (Oh, yes, and some food and drink.) This allows management to stay in touch with what our knowledge workers are thinking and vice versa. Google has remarkably broad dissemination of information within the organization and remarkably few serious leaks. Contrary to what some might think, we believe it is the first fact that causes the second: a trusted work force is a loyal work force.

That's what this blog is about. We're going to work together to make things better if we can.

I'm guessing there's more to policy than this so I'll get back to you after our first meeting.

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