A Modest Proposal for B.B.

The advocates of B.B. (Broader, Bolder; or is it Bigger Budgets? or is it Bloated Behemoth?) have yet to muster the evidence to support widespread implementation of their vision to expand the mission of schools to include health care, legal assistance, and other social services. They do present background papers showing that children who suffer from social problems fare worse academically, but they have not shown that public schools are capable of addressing those social problems and increasing student learning.

And if you dare to question whether there is evidence about the effectiveness of public schools providing social services in order to raise achievement, you are accused of being opposed to “better social and economic environments for children.” Right. And if you question the effectiveness of central economic planning are you also then opposed to a better economy? And if you question the effectiveness of an untested drug therapy are you then opposed to quality health-care?

To help the B.B. crowd generate the evidence one would need before pursuing a reform agenda on a large-scale, I have a modest proposal. How about if we have a dozen large-scale, well-funded pilot programs of the “community school” concept advocated by B.B.? And, at the same time let’s have a dozen large-scale, well-funded pilot voucher programs. We’ll carefully evaluate the effects of both to learn about whether one, the other, or both are things that we should try on an even larger scale.

I’m all for trying out new ideas and carefully evaluating the results. I can’t imagine why the backers of B.B. wouldn’t want to do the same. So as soon as Larry Mishel at the union-funded Economic Policy Institute, Randi Weingarten of the AFT, and Leo Casey of the AFT’s blog, Edwize, endorse my modest proposal, we’ll all get behind the idea of trying new approaches and studying their effects — “community schools” and vouchers.

Wait, my psychic powers are picking something up. I expect that some might say we’ve already tried vouchers and they haven’t worked. In fact, Randi Weingarten just wrote something very much like that when she declared in the NY Daily News that vouchers “have not been shown by any credible research to improve student achievement.” Let’s leave aside that there have been 10 random assignment evaluations (the gold-standard in research) of voucher programs and 9 show significant positive effects, at least for certain sub-groups of students. And let’s leave aside that 3 of those analyses are independent replications of earlier studies that confirm the basic positive findings of the original analyses (and 1 replication does not). And let’s leave aside that 6 of those 10 studies have been published in peer-reviewed journals (including the QJE, the Journal of the American Statistical Association, and the Journal of Policy Studies), three in a Brookings book, and one in a federal government report (even if Chris Lubienski somehow denies that any of this constitutes real peer-review). And let’s leave aside that there have been more than 200 analyses of the effects of expanding choice and competition, which Clive Belfield and Henry Levin reviewed and concluded: “A sizable majority of these studies report beneficial effects of competition across all outcomes… The above evidence shows reasonably consistent evidence of a link between competition (choice) and education quality. Increased competition and higher educational quality are positively correlated.”

Let’s leave all of that aside and ask Randi Weingarten how many random-assignment studies of the community school concept she has. Uhm, none. How many evaluations of community schools, period? Uhm, still none. But that doesn’t stop her from drawing the definitive conclusion: “Through partnerships with universities, nonprofit groups and other organizations, community schools provide the learning conditions and resources that support effective instruction and bring crucial services to an entire community.” How does she know?

But I’m eager to help her and all of us learn about community schools if she is willing to do the same to learn about vouchers. Better designed and better funded voucher programs could give us a much better look at vouchers’ full effects. Existing programs have vouchers that are worth significantly less than per pupil spending in public schools, have caps on enrollments, and at least partially immunize public schools from the financial effects of competition. If we see positive results from such limited voucher programs, what might happen if we could try broader, bolder ones and carefully studied the results?

And if community schools really deliver all that is being promised, great, let’s do that too. But if our goal is to do what works, why not give both ideas a real try?

(Link added)

10 Responses to A Modest Proposal for B.B.

  1. Greg Forster says:

    “B.B.” . . . “B.B.” . . . that rings a bell. I’ve heard those initials before. I have a distinct memory of it – people were chanting them in unison over and over, in a deliberate attempt to extinguish all independent thought and fill their minds solely with the will of their master and his collectivist ideology . . . and the ritual chanting of “B.B.” came right after a focused effort to demonize anyone who opposed the will of the master . . . for some reason the phrase “minute of hate” is standing out in my memory . . . something about ignorance being strength . . . darn, I just can’t put my finger on it. But I’m sure it’s all a coincidence and has nothing to do with the AFT’s newer, friendlier version of “B.B.”

  2. tfteacher says:

    You want evidence of something that has yet to occur? And you realize that teachers already do a bunch of the stuff proposed. Kids need what it offers, yet you poo poo it because there is not yet evidence that it works. I think we need to try it to see if it works, no?

  3. Greg Forster says:

    It was the B.B. people who said that they had evidence (see Jay’s previous post and the links there). We’ve been pointing out that the evidence they point to doesn’t back up their claims. The evidence establishes that kids do better in school when they’re less poor, have better health, etc., not that providing social services in schools is the best way to achieve the goal (which everyone agrees to) of reducing poverty, ill health, etc. “I think we need to try it out to see if it works” is exactly Jay’s point here – the B.B. people should stop claiming that we already know the B.B. approach works, and instead let’s have some large-scale pilot programs to see whether it works, along with equally large-scale pilot programs for other approaches that have already produced positive results in small-scale pilot programs.

  4. Patrick says:

    I’d love to see such a large scale experiment for education, but it will never happen…they know they’ll be proven wrong.

    Heck I’d love to see a large scale random experiment for liberty itself.

    I’m willing to bet that a free market region, with low taxes, low regulation, school choice can outperform any other region in the country on any measures of quality of life, health, and education that the left chooses to study. I’m also willing to extend the bet and allow them to select the location of the region itself.

  5. Greg Forster says:

    But don’t let them set the size, or draw the boundaries. 🙂

  6. Ryan Marsh says:

    Also, don’t let the government then take money from this region and add it back into the other region to insulate them from the effects of their own actions.

  7. […] research for something, anything that can be cherry picked to support vouchers. Just look at what Greene has been reduced to: glittering generalities that repeat the same tired misrepresentations, […]

  8. Please give the private schools the cherries that are rotting on the ground. We would love to turn their lives around.

    Oh, I forgot. You need to warehouse those kids so that you can have the government payments that they represent.

    Oh well, no worries. When they get to high school they can then exercise school choice. They will drop out!

  9. […] challenge*: Jay Greene asks the Broader, Bolder crowd to put their words to practice by coming up with a test model of their […]

  10. […] on the Ohio voucher program. Andrew Coulson also joins in on the fun. All of this began with Greene demanding that Casey and his allies in the Broader, Bolder Coalition submit their concept for school reform […]

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