July 15, 2009

Intellectual baubles

Jay Greene's comment about intellectual fetishes and think-tank cliques had me grinning from ear to ear this morning, in part because of the multiple layers I'm reading into the comment (and that I doubt Greene intended: I use Janice Radway as my excuse to poach) and in part because Heathers is one of my favorite teen movies:

Dismissing policies because they aren't on the agenda of the current majority is like the type of argument heard in the 1988 film, Heathers: "Grow up Heather, bulimia's so '87."

In this case, David Figlio's data-informed hunch aligns with mine: in the long run, the evidence will not show vouchers to improve the achievement of students who use them, and the asymptotic effect will gravitate towards zero. (The potential competitive effect of vouchers is a different research question, one that relatively few rigorous studies have touched, and the evidence is mixed: see Figlio & Rouse, 2006, for the only refereed study of Florida vouchers' competitive effects that I find to be sufficiently rigorous.) As Jeffrey Henig notes, in the long run research can matter, and I suspect only part of the reason why the Fordham Institute is shying away from voucher debates (Greene's instant target) is because it's not politically viable at the moment. If the evidence does not show that vouchers are a smash-bang-up success, it's going to be hard to justify them except on grounds of values, emotions, or political interest. The second and third may provide enough for current voucher programs to survive (see Florida's and DC's voucher politics for variations on a theme), but probably not to expand.

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Posted in Education policy on July 15, 2009 9:07 AM |