Four Years

I started the JPGB four yeas ago in part out of frustration with the inability of the Manhattan Institute to place and promote my work and in part out of recognition that one no longer needed to go through traditional media outlets to engage in policy discussions.  I figured I could do this myself and on my own terms by blogging.

But I quickly realized I couldn’t do this all by myself.  People advised me that blogs needed regular postings of fresh content, about once every weekday, and I knew that I was not up to writing five posts per week.  So I asked Greg and Matt if they would be willing to post once a week as guest bloggers to ease my burden and keep the blog active and enticing.  Little did I realize how long-running and important their involvement would be.  I feel like they are full partners in this effort and blogging with them has deepened and strengthened our friendship more than I can say.

Very early on it was Greg who proposed the Prime Directive that guides us in this enterprise:  The purpose of the blog is to amuse ourselves.  I started the blog with grand thoughts that it would promote my work and influence policy discussions, but once we adopted the Prime Directive we lowered our ambitions.  How could a crappy little blog change the world?  So we just decided to write whatever we felt like, with no agenda, no inhibitions, and no delusions of influence.

The irony is that perhaps because of our devil-may-care approach, we have probably had more impact on policy discussions than if we were trying to do so.  Our blog posts have spawned news articles, editorials, internet debates, reactions from public officials, and — most importantly from our perspective — a whole lot of fun.

All of this is especially amusing given that all we have is  a domain name, some computers, and a few people devoting their spare time.  Other organizations have paid bloggers working full time, expensive web-designs, and carefully orchestrated PR campaigns and still  can’t gain traction.  Matt, Greg, and I have regular jobs for which we receive no credit or pay for blogging.  We do it because we believe in what we write and enjoy describing the truth as best as we can see it.  The moment this blog becomes affiliated with an organization seeking to advance a particular agenda is the moment it will suck.

Greg and Matt have already done an excellent job of picking some of the best posts from the last four years.  Rather than repeat their good taste, I’d like to use this occasion to describe some of the different types of posts we have on JPGB and illustrate each type with some excellent examples.

Over the last four years we’ve had posts in almost all shapes, sizes, and flavors.  In total we’ve had 1,576 posts, which works out to a little more than one per day.  I’ve written about 642 of them, Matt has written 527, and Greg has 383, with a smattering written by others.  These posts have been viewed more than 718,379 times by readers and have elicited 7,512 comments.  I think I could categorize most of these posts into 7 types:

1) Mocking — I think we are often at our best when we are mocking the sloppy language, sloppy thinking, and herd-like behavior of advocacy groups, bloggers, and journalists.  Some excellent examples of mocking sloppy language include The Fordham Report Drinking GameFamous SteakholdersBloggers Shouldn’t Have Rapper Names, Fordham and the Use of Passive Voice, and Buzzword Bingo.  Some excellent examples of mocking sloppy thinking include Hemisphere Fallacy SightingLittle Ramona’s Gone Hillbilly Nuts, and Gates Foundation Follies (Parts 1 and 2).  And my favorite mocking of faddish herd-behavior includes The Heathers Think-Tanks,  Kevin Carey’s Too Cool for Vouchers… and Cooler Than You, and Valerie Strauss is the Lou Dobbs of Education.

2) Pop Culture — I don’t think I’ve ever seen better and more entertaining analyses of movies, music, and TV than the posts by Matt and Greg on this blog.  In particular, Greg’s marathon examination of the Batman movie, Pass the Popcorn: City of the Dark Knight (Issue #0 through #5) is a masterpiece.  And who could forget his write-up of great summer movies and sequels?  Matt has made his contributions to the movie discussion, notably with his praise of Inglourious Basterds (which I agreed was one of the best movies I’ve ever seen).  But Matt’s bigger pop culture contribution has been in the area of music and kitsch, with posts like Random Pop Culture Apocalypse: Cover Songs,  Random Pop Culture Apocalypse: The Decade in Pop Music and this mashup.  And our pop culture post list couldn’t be complete without mentioning our running commentary on the TV show, Lost.  If only a new series could take its place.  Oh, and then there are lightsabers.  Simply. Awesome.

3) Original Empirical Analyses —  Obviously, a blog is not a place for serious empirical work.  But blogs can feature some interesting facts derived from simple analyses that reveal patterns about the world that were not obvious.  Newspapers used to do this type of simple descriptive work, but now reporters are too busy covering government and Gates Foundation press releases when they aren’t working on their resumes in anticipation of the next round of layoffs.  I did more of these quick and dirty empirical analyses early in the history of the blog and am especially proud of Proximity and Power and Priest and Teacher Sex Scandals in Perspective, which were the two first posts on JPGB.  I was wrote Political Donations from Academia and Arabian Gulf Money and US Universities in the first month of the blog.  More recently I analyzed patterns in school mascot names in a series of Mascot Mania posts.  Matt has also made very very good use of simple charts to illustrate issues we should consider, including on edujobsalternative certification, teacher quality, and progress in Florida.

4) Recognizing the Unrecognized —  This category can be summed up in two words: Al Copeland.  My favorite winner was Greg’s nomination of Wim Nottroth. But Brian’s nomination of Mary Quant, who did not win, also nicely captures the spirit of The Al.

5) Summarizing Research Findings — We’ve had a number of very useful posts that summarize the research literature, such as this one on participant effects from vouchers, this one and this one on systemic effects, this one on vouchers effects in general, and this one on charter participant effects.  We’ve also highlighted a number of important individual studies, including this one on Head Start, this one on small schools, this one and this one on the Gates Measuring Effective Teachers study, this one on merit pay, and this one on administrative bloat in higher education.  We’ve also notes the foolishness of having a government effort, like the What Works Clearinghouse, attempt to summarize the research literature.

6) Big Think Visions for the Future — Greg and Matt have really excelled in these Big Think pieces.  Matt has a running series on The Way of the Future in American Schooling that describes how digital learning could fundamentally alter (and improve) our system of education.  Matt also has a series of Big Think posts applying Rawls’ ideas of justice to the education system as well as a series advocating Rock Star Pay for excellent teachers (while getting rid of bad teachers and increasing average student teacher ratios).  Greg has some Big Think series that address the philosophical underpinnings of reform strategies, including his series on Command v. Choice and his analysis of incentives and motivation, as well as on the role of science in education policy, such as Vouchers: Evidence and Ideology and The Value-Add Map Is Not the Teaching Territory, But You’ll Still Get Lost without It.   I have my own effort at Big Think pieces, with posts like Build New, Don’t Reform OldThe Dead End of Scientific Progressivism, and Replication, The True Test of Research Quality.

7) Rile Up and Cool Down — This last category consists of two opposite types of posts: those that rile us up against some outrage and those that cool us down to put issues in perspective.  I put them together because they blog really needs both in an appropriate balance.  I tend to get riled up and Matt tends to cool things down (and Greg does some of both, although he tends to do more riling up than cooling down).  For example, I’ve led the blog’s charge against Common Core national standards, lamented the inability of DC folks to generalize beyond their immediate experience, and puzzled over the inability of reporters to accurately summarize research.  Matt, on the other hand, takes a more positive approach, praising the progress that Florida has made and recognizing gains made under Michelle Rhee in DC (while acknowledging the limitations of the  heroic reformer approach).  Greg helps bring balance to The Force by joining the riling up or cooling down side as is necessary.


I want to thank you readers for coming along on this ride.  But I have to tell you that I would be happy to keep blogging even if my only readers were Greg and Matt.  They are the audience I usually imagine when I write a post.  And after posting the first thing I do, quite often, is pick up the phone to ask them, “Did you see what I wrote on the blog?”

It has been an honor blogging with Matt and Greg over the last four years.  And I look forward to keep on doing so as long as the Prime Directive continues to be satisfied.

6 Responses to Four Years

  1. Greg Forster says:

    If I bring balance to the Force, that makes me simultaneously this blog’s messianic savior figure AND its Darth Vader. I look forward to enjoying the rights and privileges pertaining to both these positions, which are numerous, lavish, and exclusively existent in my head.

    Prime Directive satisfied, captain!

  2. matthewladner says:

    Four more years baby!

  3. Hal says:

    Thanks to Jay and Greg and Matt for providing a high level of though-provoking content plus entertaining tangents. I appreciate the focus on reason, evidence, and results in presenting topics. Even in matters where I have ideological differences, I generally find the text enlightening. As noted, plenty of levity keeps this blog very readable. Looking forward to seeing more posts in the years ahead.

  4. Daniel Earley says:

    This blog has gradually hijacked a happy little minute of my morning routine. Here’s to four more years!

  5. Joy Pullmann says:

    I hope this doesn’t sound stupid or weird, but this blog has been like a mini-mentor for me in attempting to dive into education policy. Most days, it’s just me, my phone, and my computer, along with two tiny kids just to stir things up, and I often feel over my head at the amount of stuff to dig into that no one else does (Race to the Top paperwork, anyone?). I’ve really benefited from the analysis and jibes here, and hope to put your insights to good use in my own work. Thanks for the blog, and I’ll join the cheer: “Four more years!”

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