For years, government has plastered new regulations upon old, thickening the bureaucracy and making it ever harder to move within its confines. In Colorado, for example, new rules for day-care centers specify exactly how to execute nearly everything—including the number of block sets (two) and the number of blocks (minimum of ten) needed in each playroom. An anecdote, yes; but hyperbole or exception, no. Modern regulation, as Common Good’s Philip Howard writes in the Wall Street Journal this week, “doesn’t just control undesirable practices—it indiscriminately controls all the work of regulated entities,” arresting all human discretion, good and bad. While the gut-wrench reaction is simply to blow up the house, thick plaster and all, there’s a smarter way. Some old-fashioned inputs are important (Colorado does want to ensure that their day-care centers aren’t operating in window-less basements filled with asbestos and chipping lead paint). But, Howard argues, the majority of regulation should be outcomes-based. (Seattle is experimenting with this on the energy front now.) He’s right, as far as he goes, but may have forgotten another key quality-control metric, articulated in our recent paper on QC in digital ed: market forces. If we’re going to get quality control right, we’re going to need all three.
“Starting Over with Regulation,” by Philip K. Howard, The Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2011.
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