Research And Ideology

The first part of this Greg Forster blog post is just more of the back and forth over Sol Stern’s recent article on vouchers but the second part is an interesting discussion of how ideology and research intersect. It’s worth checking out.

My view has generally been that part of the problem with the debate about vouchers is that people are using research findings about student achievement (that for practical purposes are pretty small effect sizes) as clubs in the debate. If you really think that people should be able to send their child to any school they want at public expense, a view I don’t share, then what do you care about a few randomized studies in places like Milwaukee or Cleveland? Likewise, stridently anti-choice advocates are not really arguing an empirical point either. In both cases the viewpoints are ideological and also perfectly legitimate. The debate is really about how to organize education in our society.

But Greg offers an interesting addendum on that point, in terms of how people think about progress and what drives it.

9 Replies to “Research And Ideology”

  1. Andy,
    Sounds like you attended a very interesting policy forum earlier today…I agree with your comment about how ideology tends to trump research on many of these larger policy questions about ed reform. We should not pretend what the research “says” when the research isn’t talking.

  2. “If you really think that people should be able to send their child to any school they want at public expense, a view I don’t share…”

    I’m intrigued by this, Andy. If you believe that having well-educated children is a public good, why does it matter how — or by whom — that education is delivered? If it can be demonstrated that a child is being educated to state standards, why shouldn’t public dollars fund that public benefit?

    Or to put it another way, what is good for the child is good for the state. The opposite is not true, so why fund education as if it is?

    Before you say that there are church/state issues, by the way, remember that there are tax advantages — public dollars in play — for 529 college plans that parents can use to send their child to any school, public, private or religious.

  3. You know what I think about this: what really matters is the quality of instruction. There is nothing about charters or vouchers that will necessarily improve teaching.

  4. From my experience working in a private school for special education students (mostly low-income students from the inner city), the main reason that school choice works is student self-selection and motivation.

    Charter schools and private schools work because their students care enough to apply, travel to, and attend the schools. Parents care enough to pay – or make up the difference in tuition b/w vouchers and the full tuition price.

    I’m still waiting to be convinced that this “solution” would work for ALL students – including those who don’t care much about school, have little parental support, are involved in gangs, etc.

    If you forced ALL students to pick a school to attend (“school choice”), would ALL students then become motivated, attend class, focus on their assignments, and not play truant?

  5. Note: For those charter schools that don’t cost parents any extra tuition, I still think parental involvement is crucial: They have to help their children apply and often assist w/ transportation. I shouldn’t have limited my initial post to financial contributions of the parents.

  6. <<< Charter schools and private schools work because their students care enough to apply, travel to, and attend the schools. Just so. I taught for several years at an elementary not far from the South Bronx KIPP Academy. Getting there would require a bit of an effort compared to our neighborhood schools, but nothing extraordinary. Over time, I must have recommended entering the KIPP lottery to 2-3 dozen families. Only one ever did so. One.

  7. To Robert Pondiscio: Thanks for backing me up. Although I haven’t had any direct experience w/ KIPP schools, I’ve read that they require even greater committment from families than normal charter or private schools (and of course than typical public schools).

    Specifically, KIPP schools require parents and students to sign contracts agreeing to comply with behavior, attendance, and homework guidelines. Also, KIPP apparently holds an extra day of school on Saturdays and longer daily hours as well.

    Again: Students who make the decision to attend (and stick with) an education at a KIPP charter school are NOT the run-of-the-mill student. Extrapolating results from charter school students to ALL students fails to take into account the dedication and motivation of students (and their parents) who choose to attend these alternative schools.

  8. Keep an eye on the NYC charter school study coming out of the national center on charters/choice. Caroline Hoxby is the principal investigator, and the study matches kids who got into charters in the lottery to those in the lottery who didn’t.

    Her initial findings show that some charter schools get better results in terms of student achievement. But why?

    She says that a longer school day/year is associated with the greater results…but does that mean that making every school have a longer day/year will lead to greater student learning?

    I wonder if schools that have longer day/year actually do something else, like they teach in a way that really makes use of all that time. It might be that time is just an flag for schools that are working hard to improve instruction. Even if they cut back on time, they might still get better results.

  9. Anonymous: My quick take on the improved performance of students in the charter schools that you reference above is that it relates back to student motivation and behavior of the student body.

    In a charter school, ALL the students are relatively motivated, and wouldn’t be there if they weren’t. In a public school, the charter lottery “losers” are motivated, but many of their peers are goofing off and creating a disruptive environment.

    As most teachers can tell you, in a class where half the kids are trying to learn but half are goofing off/acting disruptive, it’s difficult for anyone to learn well. However, in an environment where all the kids are self-selected for higher academic focus, you don’t have the distractions or the negative peer influences that create so many problems.

    This also reflects my personal experience as a high school student at a magnet school: No one in my high school disrupted the lessons or mocked people for being smart or caring about grades. This certainly wasn’t the case at my (suburban) non-magnet middle school, or at many of my friends’ high schools.

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