Although micromanagement seems to be a growing trend, there are some cases where its excesses have produced a backlash against it and in some cases genuine (though limited) reform. In my last blog I mentioned excessive standardized testing of students and use of these tests to evaluate teachers as well as mandatory sentencing of individuals convicted of a crime. Recently the Obama administration, after the announcement that its testing hawk Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan, would be stepping down, published new guidelines that call for limits on the amount of standardized testing students will be required to particpate in (in other words, endure). This reversal of former policy came after a growing reaction against testing that was seen as excessive by teachers’ unions, legislators, and most importantly, parents. In New York State, for example, a growing number of parents were boycotting these tests, keeping their children at home the days of these tests. Faced with what could have been a full-scale rebellion of angry moms and dads–a public relations nightmare for even the most hardened bureaucrat or calloused politician, the testing hawks backed off.
In criminal justice, some states that were the leaders in harsh, mandatory sentencing, such as New York with the Rockefeller drug laws that mandated very lengthy sentences for even relatively minor violations, have also backed off. Obama himself has spoken against harsh sentencing guidelines and has commuted the sentences of over 40 individuals who had been sentenced for extremely long terms. The high costs of long-term imprisonments, the failure of the “War on Drugs” (for those of you old enough to remember that battle cry), and the hangover and regret that seem to accompany the aftermath of many American political crusades to drive evil from the world are all factors here.
Even in medicine, where the clamor for “evidence-based” practice is loud and continuous, concerns are being raised about the risks of this drive. Of course, we all want doctors who examine the evidence, particularly the evidence in our particular case. The problem is that the evidence in “evidence-based” practice is based on the group, not you as a particular patient. You, your employer, or the government is paying a medical practitioner to address your individual needs, not what will work for 95% of the population. What works for that 95% might just be the end of you. As a recent opinion piece in the New York Times also notes, even “surgical-report cards” rating a doctor’s effectiveness are highly misleading, since the better surgeons tend to take on tougher cases that are more likely to end badly. The report cards also have the perverse effect of discouraging doctors from taking on tough cases that are likely to lower their score. (Sandeep Jauhar, “Giving Doctors Grades,” New York Times, July 22, 2015. Opinion)
So there is some good news to report from the battlefield. Whether it is enough remains to be seen. I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. If and when I do, I would still have to ask who is riding on that train. More to follow…