Education, National Politics

What We Can Learn from Google

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by Laura Ribeiro, MPA Candidate 2018

The news of Google’s downturn this past trimester shocked the world and raised serious questions about effective management and product delivery. Indicators on employee performance and financial returns tanked in an unprecedented way. When interviewed, the CEO argued that he wasn’t to blame for the bad outcomes, and that the government or the community should be held accountable for not supporting the enterprise.

Of course, the previous paragraph is a lie (don’t worry, Google is very much alive and well), but why don’t we see the same standards of efficiency and employee performance being set for our public education system? Why are our “school CEOs” so exempt of responsibilities?

It is common sense that education is the path to development and this has been at the center of the discussion in Brazil for quite some time. The controversies of the High School reform[1], PEC 241[2] and the occupied schools[3] have been not only in the newspapers but also in the minds of Brazilians across the country. There is no silver bullet for education. However, we have been focusing on more complex and costly initiatives and overlooking simple yet effective solutions – and we have been missing the point.

Inefficient school management and the lack of strong leadership in our public school system has been gradually undermining our chances of forming competent citizens and having a better performance in international tests. It is time to realize this is a problem, luckily with an easy enough solution.

Data on school management collected in a survey of 400 principals lead by Fundação Victor Civita[4] show that their main daily focus is on operational activities, leaving pedagogical support and strategic planning aside. Although this lack of involvement might be shocking, what is really alarming is the principals’ views on responsibility and accountability.

Even though 61% of school managers agree that external evaluations are an important tool, 36% admit not knowing their school’s Ideb[5]. In addition, when asked who is accountable for a low Ideb, 58% say the government, 16% say the community, 13% attribute responsibility to the teachers, 9% to students and 7% to the school. The principal is only seen as responsible for 2% of interviewees – I guess now you see why I mentioned Google.

A change in school management can have tremendous trickle down effects in the entire schooling system. It positively affects teachers and school staff (which could reduce time spent on administrative work by teachers, and therefore reduce teacher absenteeism), it affects school climate and ultimately, it can have an impact on student performance.

Students have already shown their power by occupying schools and blocking school reform in São Paulo in 2015[6]. Now is the time to push for a more concrete agenda: we must find out how your school principal was selected, if is he subjected to training, if he understands his responsibilities. It is imperative that we push for more effective leaders, by advocating for better policies, such as goal 19 of the PNE[7] (National Education Plan – Plano Nacional de Educação), to move up the agenda. Making a difference starts with a small step.





[5] Ideb is the main indicator used by the government to identify which schools are not performing properly and track their performance over time. The scale is derived from the national test “Prova Brasil” that groups students according to their level of proficiency in predetermined competencies for Math and Portuguese). For fifth grade, the scale ranges from 0 to 350 in Portuguese and 0 to 375 in Math.