Tag: markets

Education Policy, The Use of Evidence, and the Fordham Institute

In recent weeks, the Fordham Institute has repeatedly called for government testing and reporting mandates to be imposed on private schools participating in school choice programs (here and here), on the grounds that such “public accountability” improves private school academic outcomes. In defense of this claim, the Fordham Institute cites a study of Milwaukee’s voucher program in which test scores rose following the introduction of such mandates.

Patrick Wolf, director of the research team that conducted the study, has now responded, explaining that his team’s results do not necessarily support Fordham’s claim:

[B]y taking the standardized testing seriously in that final year, the schools simply may have produced a truer measure of student’s actual (better) performance all along, not necessarily a signal that they actually learned a lot more in the one year under the new accountability regime….

What about the encouraging trend that lower-performing schools in the MPCP are being closed down?  [Fordham] mentions that as well and attributes it to the stricter accountability regulations on the program.  That phenomenon of Schumpeterian “creative destruction” pre-dated the accountability changes in the choice program, however, and appears to have been caused mainly by low enrollments in low-performing choice schools, as parents “voted with their feet” against such institutional failure. Sure, the new high-stakes testing and public reporting requirements might accelerate the creative destruction of low-performing choice schools in Milwaukee, but that remains to be seen. [emphasis added]

But there is a deeper problem with the Fordham claim, to which Wolf alludes: a single study, no matter how carefully executed, is not a scientific basis for policy. Because a single study is not science. Science is a process of making and testing falsifiable predictions. It is about patterns of evidence. Bodies of evidence. Fordham offers only a toe.

And Fordham’s preferred policy not only lacks a body of supporting evidence, it is undermined by a large body of evidence. When I reviewed the within-country studies comparing outcomes among different types of school systems worldwide in 2009, I sorted the results into two categories: 1) all studies that compared “public” schools to “private” schools, where those terms were loosely defined; and 2) studies that compared “market” schools to “monopoly” schools. “Market” schools were those paid for at least in part directly by parents and only minimally regulated. “Monopoly” schools were public school systems such as those common in the U.S.

The purpose of these separate categorizations was to see if limited regulation and direct parent funding make a real difference, or if private schools that are paid for entirely by the state and subjected to Fordham’s “public accountability” have the same advantages as their more market-like counterparts.

The result of this breakdown of the literature was stark. Studies looking at truly market-like education systems are twice as consistent in finding a private sector advantage as those looking at “private” schools more broadly construed (and thus including state-funded and regulated private schools).

The pattern of evidence thus seems to contradict Fordham’s belief in the merits of “public accountability” in market education systems. What it favors are policies that promote the rise of minimally regulated education markets in which parents pay at least some of the cost of their own children’s education directly themselves, whenever possible.  That’s just the sort of system likely to arise under education tax credit programs.

Minnesota: Beware of Free Education

Imagine that it’s the 21st century, and that at least a handful of people in the education business have realized this. Putting their insight to good use, a few of them create an online service called “Coursera” that offers free lectures from some of the top universities in the nation (Stanford, Johns Hopkins, etc.). Then imagine that the state of Minnesota has decided that it is illegal for Coursera to offer these free lectures to its citizens.

I know, it’s hard to imagine. Unfortunately, you don’t have to, you can just read about how it’s actually happening.

One of the classes you can take at Coursera is “Principles of Macroeconomics.” Maybe the folks who lobbied for and enacted the state’s education regulations are afraid that free learning and economic literacy would threaten their phony-baloney jobs.

Another Newspaper Attempts Suicide

Last Friday, the often-respectable newspaper Education Week published a blog post that seems designed to destroy its credibility. The piece makes a claim so egregiously false that it could have been caught by a motivated 10-year-old using a second-rate search engine:

A growing number of countries are surpassing the United States in student performance and are spending less per student than the United States.  Not one has used choice and market incentives to do it.

In fact, according to the latest PISA international test results, the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, and Canada all significantly outperform the United States in every subject tested. They also all spend less than the United States per pupil, and make use of choice and market incentives such as competition between schools, to varying degrees. The Netherlands, for example, has had a universal public and private school choice program for the last 95 years, which, according to the National Center on Education and the Economy is “one of the [Dutch] education system’s primary strengths.”

Could the author of the Education Week commentary possibly be ignorant of the Dutch and other examples that flatly contradict his claim? That seems unlikely since he is the president of the National Center for Education and the Economy.

In addition to its central falsehood, the piece also relies on an oversimplified and flawed understanding of how to draw lessons from foreign educational experiences. It fails to consider the very different cultural, demographic, and economic conditions prevailing in different countries and therefore offers no basis for apportioning responsibility for a nation’s educational outcomes between environmental factors and the design of its school system.

That is an unforced error, because there is a reliable way of learning from the educational experiences of other nations: within-country comparisons of different education systems. Many nations have two or more education systems operating side-by-side, sometimes in similar communities and sometimes in the same communities. By comparing the relative performance of these systems within countries (taking into account any differences in student/family background across sectors) it is possible to avoid the confounding variables that plague between-country comparisons.

When I surveyed this within-country scientific literature for the Journal of School Choice I found 150 separate statistical findings reported by 65 papers. The results not only favored private over government provision of schooling, they revealed that the most market-like, least regulated school systems have the biggest advantage over state school monopolies such as are the norm in the United States.

It is disappointing to see Education Week publish such obviously false and confused twaddle. If it wishes to remain a serious publication it should establish some minimal standards for the veracity and coherence of its commentary and enforce them with at least a cursory editorial review.

How to Recognize a Government Contractor, or a Federal Takeover

Here’s a poor, unsuccessful letter I sent to the editor of the Washington Post:

GOP stalls on insurance marketplaces” [May 12] reports that “the conservative firm Leavitt Partners…is working with a number of states on their plans” to create the government bureaucracies that the new health care law calls insurance “exchanges.”

The article should have informed readers that this “conservative firm” (whatever that means) is a for-profit government contractor that makes money by helping states create those exchanges, and is acting against the advice of the nation’s leading conservative think tank. The Heritage Foundation counsels states not to create exchanges, and to send all related funds back to Washington.

Finally, the article claims states can avoid a “federal takeover” by creating an exchange. On the contrary, the law requires state-run exchanges to obey all federal edicts, just as a federal exchange would. The federal takeover has already happened. States that create their own exchanges merely pay for the privilege of losing their sovereignty.

Repeat after Me: There Is No Health Reform but ObamaCare

Here’s a poor, unsuccessful letter I sent to the editor of Politico:

An item in Politico’s health care newsletter Pulse [“Today: Christie Vetoes Exchange Or Else,” May 10] told readers that, because I oppose ObamaCare, I am a “health reform foe.”

Is that what Politico gleans from my conversations with its reporters about the need for health care reform, and how I would go about it? From the hundreds of articles and opeds and speeches and blog posts in which I detail my preferred reforms? And from the book I coauthored about how to reform health care? Is it Politico’s editorial policy that one cannot support health reform without supporting ObamaCare?

Other news organizations, moreover, avoid describing ObamaCare as “reform,” a term that connotes improvement. Is it Politico’s editorial policy to convey to readers that ObamaCare is an improvement?

By Edict of King Andrew, New York Employers Will Be Subject to ObamaCare’s Employer Mandate

Here’s a poor, unsuccessful letter I sent to the editor of the New York Times:

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) created a new ObamaCare “exchange” by executive order, it was indeed “A Deft Health Care Move” [Apr. 18].

Really, what was he supposed to do? Let legislators decide whether to commit taxpayers to such an expense? (They had declined.) Sit back and let the federal government pay for its own Exchange? (That was the alternative.) Block a $3,000-per-worker tax on employers? (Had Cuomo done nothing, New York employers would have been exempt from ObamaCare’s “employer mandate.”)

Cuomo brilliantly and single-handedly volunteered New Yorkers to pay for a new government bureaucracy and burdened New York employers with a new, job-killing tax. Who needs a legislature!

Yes, the IRS Can Use Liens and Incarceration to Enforce ObamaCare’s Individual Mandate

Here’s a poor, unsuccessful letter I sent to the editor of the Washington Post:

A recent article [“Could the health-care law work without the individual mandate?”, Mar. 28, A8] claims the IRS “will be barred from using … collection tools such as placing liens or threatening incarceration” to enforce compliance with the requirement that Americans obtain health insurance. Not so.

Suppose the IRS assesses me a $1,000 penalty for failing to obtain health insurance. It is true that the law prohibits the IRS from using liens or incarceration to collect that $1,000. But, money being fungible, the IRS may simply deem my first $1,000 of income-tax withholding to be payment of that penalty. As a result, I would owe an additional $1,000 in income tax at the end of the year, and the IRS could come after me with every tool at its disposal, including liens and incarceration.

Pages