October 31, 2007
Things That Don't Surprise Me
Tyler Cowen links to a Cato book that he calls "a good introduction to the empirical literature on vouchers and charter schools." The book, according to Amazon, shows that "The consensus of this research overwhelmingly favors competition and parental choice in education." On the other hand, a recent RAND book on the very same subject concludes, "In the end the evidence shows nothing, but it doesn't refute anything either." And over at EPI, we get Helen Ladd, of Duke University, saying, "On average, students who use vouchers to switch to private schools achieve at no higher levels than those who remain in the public schools. So much for the view that the autonomy of private schools makes them more effective."
One thing that is a bit unclear to me is why Congress doesn't have the courage of its convictions. In other words, why don't they appropriate massive amounts of money for two grand experiments, one testing a conservative education solution, the other implementing an ideal-world progressive alternative. Convince some demographically similar, money-hungry localities to take the funds and create the programs, and then see what happens. It may not settle the debate, but at least we'd have more data. And in general, you'd think you could get these bills through, so long as they twinned conservative and progressive solutions.
October 31, 2007 | Permalink
The teachers' union is very powerful and fights vouchers viciously. Next time someone sticks a Dem political flyer in your hand ask them if they have anything to do with the teachers' union. I think you'll find a 1 in 10 odd that they will be.
Now, ask why more merit pay based solutions haven't been tried. Maybe we could make a grand experiment. Oh wait, see above.
Posted by: Josh | Oct 31, 2007 10:56:45 AM
"One thing that is a bit unclear to me is why Congress doesn't have the courage of its convictions."
This is unclear to you? You've been writing a political blog for how long?
Posted by: Ryan | Oct 31, 2007 10:58:13 AM
Josh gets half the story right in his first comment. I am not a Kausian teacher union-hater. However, it it simply a fact that on issues of education inside the Democratic party, they have a lot of sway. So the Dems would be hard-pressed to find support for this sort of experiment.
However, the bigger part of this is that the Republicans would never really go for this. Much like with abortion or gay marriage, they don't really want to solve what they see as a problem. Instead, if they do nothing, but continue to rant and fume, they can continue to use 'Vouchers!' as an issue to try and keep their constituency together.
That's why, when they do support vouchers, they don't support oversight of analysis of whether it's actually working. Because, on the chance it didn't, they might have to change policies, while it's so much easier to use issues like this to keep getting elected and handing themselves massive tax breaks.
Posted by: David S | Oct 31, 2007 11:25:13 AM
"And over at EPI, we get Helen Ladd, of Duke University, saying, "On average, students who use vouchers to switch to private schools achieve at no higher levels than those who remain in the public schools."
It shows how intractable the problem of raising scores is. In large part of the tests are IQ tests. Schooling is only part of education, I would say a small part. The goal should be to cut school spending and get the same results because there may not be a way to get better results.
Posted by: Floccina | Oct 31, 2007 11:33:14 AM
why don't they appropriate massive amounts of money for two grand experiments...
This seems to be the solution to all of your agenda, as if every problem, every issue is a federal issuse and requires massive federal financing and, of course with that comes federal control.
I guess it depends upon what you belive the role of the federal government really is. I look at the constitution and see little there for federal intervention in this issue. You may, however, look into the constitution using tortured language, ephamisms, and precendece over content, and see cradle to grave responsibility.
Posted by: El Viajero | Oct 31, 2007 11:53:57 AM
Since schooling IMHO is in large part signaling and (One’s relative outcome is more important than what they learned. As evidence people value their diplomas more than what they learned) and IMHO more funding seems to have little effect on learning (see Kansas City) the goal of school vouchers should be to reduce overall spending.
Off Topic but as far as I can see testing/grading humans often squeezes out teaching the students what they need to know to live a better life. Our schools it seems don’t spend much time on practical things that would be good to know and are simple enough for those with 80 IQs to learn.
To learn something we tend to get a tutor or ask a friend or read a book or go to a for profit school, but to get credentials we need to go to a not for profit school.
I think that it might be good to separate teaching and credentialing. Let employers figure out who are the best candidates for jobs. IMO employers are over consuming diplomas/schooling because it is subsidized. There are much cheaper ways to screen employees.
There should be less focus on schools as a test. Diplomas are given as proof of passing a test. Schools should focus on teaching what the students need to know. Testing as a tool for knowing if the students understand what you are trying to teach them is fine but I think that testing/grading people has gotten to the point in schools where it often squeezes out learning. Things are taught in a way that makes them a good test. A few examples:
I know people who love the history channel but who hated history in school. They have learned more history from the history channel than they learned in school. IMO part of the reason why history is boring in school is that schools they need to grade people and so they use the easily to test dates and names. If they just showed movies and focused on what makes and moved history the class would not be considered rigorous enough. Not rigorous enough means not a good test.
The basic principals of qualitative physics are mostly simple, and useful to most people in life and they are easy to learn but in order to make physics rigorous enough it is almost always taught quantitatively.
The basic principals of chemistry simple, useful to most people in life (to avoid scams selling cars that can be run on water) and easy learn but in order to make chemistry rigorous enough it is almost always taught quantitatively.
May be a little probability taught so that a 6 year old could understand it would help people avoid the lottery.
I actually think that it is somewhat rude that a person pays to send your child to school and the school grades him and then, even if his grades are bad, they blab them to the world. I understand that to many students grades are motivational and that needs to be taken into account but why not focus more on teaching people what they need to know and if they all get it they all get A’s regard that as a sign of success rather than a sign that the school was not rigorous enough.
Interesting in this regard is Robert Frank on teaching economics (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QalNVxeIKEE).
BTW I liked Richard Vedder’s book “Going Broke by Degree”.
Posted by: Floccina | Oct 31, 2007 11:56:57 AM
Because conservatives don't want vouchers for empirically-based reasons - they just know that vouchers work better - verification is unnecessary.
Posted by: matt | Oct 31, 2007 1:28:02 PM
BTW Conservatives are split on vouchers. Some fear that they will lead to Government control of non-Government schools. Some prefer tax credits or means testing for Government schools.
Posted by: Floccina | Oct 31, 2007 2:09:06 PM
Personally, given the lack of difference between voucherized/choice-based outcomes and non-voucher systems, I'm inclined to support some form of vouchers or internal choice within the public school system. While such changes may not improve test scores, numeracy, or other educational outcomes, it doesn't degrade them either. Creating circumstances in which kids are more able to escape circumstances that, while they may not have any effect on whether they'll be able to prove the fundamental theorem of calculus when they're 18, are unpleasant while they're enduring them. (After all, we should worry about kids while they're kids independently of what effect their experiences will have on them twenty years from now, although we should certainly worry about their future as adults as well.) The current school system often creates very unpleasant circumstances for a large number of schoolchildren for social reasons. While not everyone can have a great social life at school or expect to love it, school choice might be able to at least provide an escape valve for the socially worse-off kids who suffer emotional abuse or even outright physical bullying.
Posted by: Julian Elson | Oct 31, 2007 2:23:32 PM
While not everyone can have a great social life at school or expect to love it, school choice might be able to at least provide an escape valve for the socially worse-off kids who suffer emotional abuse or even outright physical bullying.
Many school districts have schools for those kids, and while they generally require some hoop-jumping for those kids to attend the alternative schools (generally at the high school or junior high level), those alternatives do exist. I fail to see how "school choice" writ large solves that problem without creating others.
And of course, many of the school districts that don't have the alternative schools won't really be interested in creating them to foster "school choice", either because of resource constraints or victim-blaming. Remember, it's the most conservative people who resist various anti-bullying initiatives because (ostensibly for "religious" reasons) they want their kids to be able to shit on gay kids or use just continue to use "gay" as a bat to beat kids with generally. If a school district is already disposed that way, why would they set anything up that would actually address the needs of the shat-upon?
Posted by: paperwight | Oct 31, 2007 2:49:38 PM
"...why don't they appropriate massive amounts of money for two grand experiments,
one testing a conservative education solution, the other implementing an ideal-world progressive alternative."
Ezra...never happen 'cause that's.. real science.
Posted by: has_te | Oct 31, 2007 3:06:23 PM
What specific problems do you see with school choice? I understand your reasons for believing that it won't be a panacea, I understand your reasons for distrusting many of the (frequently conservative) proponents of school choice, and I understand that there are also other measures that can improve kids' experience in school than can (and should) be implemented. However, I don't really see what you think is bad about school choice or vouchers.
Perhaps you've seen other studies, which, unlike the RAND book or the Helen Ladd study cited in Ezra's original post that show that these measures have a harmful effect on educational outcomes, and aren't just neutral? Or do you think that there are intangible factors unrelated to measurable outcomes that argue against school choice or vouchers, just as I argue that there are intangible factors unrelated to measurable outcomes that argue in favor or them?
Posted by: Julian Elson | Oct 31, 2007 3:09:40 PM
Analysis from Milwaukee:
Posted by: Alejandro Gonzalez | Oct 31, 2007 3:50:06 PM
I'll be more interested in merit pay for teachers when they get to cherry-pick their students like charter schools do.
It takes a lot more work to fashion a finished product out of ore than an ingot.
Posted by: ThresherK | Oct 31, 2007 11:05:48 PM
Julian - ok, if I may rephrase your question a bit: Given that school choice doesn't seem to actually help (as far as we can tell), that we distrust many of its advocates and suspect them of having unwelcome & harmful ulterior motives, (and believe many of the rest are misguided), and that it would likely undermine other measures that actually would help, what's the problem?
I mean yes, you're asking something more complicated, but do we even need to get to that level? I think the answer's right here . . .
Posted by: Dan S. | Nov 1, 2007 12:11:17 AM
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