The Moynihan Challenge: 5 Years Later

May 24, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Five-years ago yesterday, I posed a “Moynihan Challenge” to school choice opponents: provide a couple of random assignment studies showing academic harm resulting for private choice programs and I will buy you a steak dinner.

The response from choice opponents after 5 years:

Daniel Patrick Moynihan inspired the challenge with a story from his book Miles to Go. During testimony to Senator Moynihan asked Laura D’Andrea Tyson of the Clinton Administration for two supportive studies justifying the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on a favored program.

Moynihan received two studies the following day, but Moynihan did something strange and actually read the studies. Moynihan noted that both studies actually concluded similar programs had failed to produce any positive results.

In response, Moynihan wrote the following in a letter to Tyson:

In the last six months I have been repeatedly impressed by the number of members of the Clinton administration who have assured me with great vigor that something or other is known in an area of social policy which, to the best of my understanding, is not known at all. This seems to me perilous. It is quite possible to live with uncertainty, with the possibility, even the likelihood that one is wrong. But beware of certainty where none exists. Ideological certainty easily degenerates into an insistence upon ignorance.

Faced with a choice critic at the Arizona Republic displaying what I regarded as an insistence on ignorance, I invited him to put up or shut up. I could produce multiple random assignment studies showing academic gains associated with private choice programs, if the critic could produce merely two I would pay him out a delicious steak dinner. I wrote:

If opponents of school choice can offer no proof to back their assertions, they deserve neither my steak nor anyone’s confidence, leaving everyone to wonder: where’s the beef?

I repeated the challenge to the nation on NRO without receiving anything resembling a serious reply.

Ah well, 5 years have passed, and the number of random assignment studies finding positive results from choice programs have continued to increase.

The opponents?

The technical term to describe what they have in terms of high-quality evidence: still zilcho.

National Review Online on Education Savings Accounts

January 12, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

NRO’s Reihan Salam on the revolutionary potential of education savings accounts. Goldwater Institute proposal by yours truly and Nick Dranias coming soon…

Burke and Ladner Sing the real “Empire State of Mind” Duet on NRO

June 9, 2010

Now you’re in New York FLOR-I-DA!  Our minority children outscore your WHOLE STATE! There’s nothing we can’t do! 

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke and I hit National Review Online on Florida’s K-12 success in raising minority academic achievement.

In California, Meg Whitman won the Republican nomination for governor in overwhelming fashion on Tuesday. As you can see on her campaign site, Whitman wants to bring Florida reforms to California, which desperately needs them. California is a gigantic state that scores like an urban school district on NAEP. Without large improvements in California, it is unlikely that we will see the United States even begin to close the academic gap with European and Asian nations.

Two Awful Tastes that Taste Awful Together

March 10, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

The Democratic congressional leadership is now going to add their bill to eliminate all private student-loan lending, granting the government (i.e. themselves) a monopoly on all student loan business, to the same reconciliation process by which they’re jamming health care through.

As we know, the saga of federal involvement in student loans clearly illustrates the direct path from the “public option” to full-blown single-payer nationalization.

You would think they’d be shy to put the two right there next to each other. Then again, for those who haven’t learned this lesson by now, will hitting them in the face with it make any difference?


Twin Editorials on Milwaukee Vouchers

June 4, 2009

Weasley Twins

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

This morning the Wall Street Journal and National Review Online both take on the covert effort to destroy Milwaukee vouchers by political subterfuge.

From the Journal:

Because the 20-year-old program polls above 60% with voters, and even higher among minorities, killing it outright would be unpopular. Instead, Democratic Governor Jim Doyle wants to reduce funding and pass “reforms” designed to regulate the program to death. The goal is to discourage private schools from enrolling voucher students and thus force kids to return to unionized public schools.

From NRO:

Last week, the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee approved a series of auditing, accrediting, and instructional requirements that will force successful voucher schools to shift resources away from classrooms and into administration. Several schools will have to comply with new bilingual-education mandates, even though many immigrant parents choose those schools precisely because they emphasize the rapid acquisition of English instead of native-language maintenance.

Both editorials also mention looming cuts in funding for vouchers, even though the program saves huge taxpayer dollars and the bloated government schools are getting increases in funding. Both editorials cite Robert Costrell’s calculation that the difference between private school efficiency and public school bloat has saved taxpayers $180 million – though only NRO mentions Costrell by name.

And NRO also gets a gold star for this:

Researchers say that the program is beginning to show systemic effects. In other words, it doesn’t merely help its participants. It also gives a lift to non-voucher students because the pressure of competition has forced public schools to improve.

C’mon, Wall Street Journal, get on the ball!

Jay Praises the Stimulus!

February 4, 2009


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Don’t miss Jay’s article on NRO this morning praising the stimulus bill – that is, celebrating the fact that the stimulus isn’t even worse than it actually is.

As Jay reminds us, the Democrats made big promises about expanding preschool. The enormous slab of edu-pork in the stimulus bill could easily have been designed to lay the groundwork for fulfilling those promises, but it doesn’t:

Of course, if this money isn’t really going to help children learn, it would be best if we didn’t spend it at all. But Congress seems determined to burn giant piles of cash in the hopes that its warm glow will stimulate us. Given the circumstances, it’s some consolation that the current education stimulus won’t force us to burn larger and larger piles of cash forever into the future.

Burning large piles of cash, eh? Hmm. Sounds familiar.

A Few Comments

September 9, 2008

It must be the back to school season because there are a lot of interesting education pieces on the web.  I thought I’d just mention and briefly comment on some:

  • On Matt Ladner’s Little Ramona’s Gone Hillbilly Nuts about Diane Ravtich’s new-found enthusiasm for teacher unions and hostility to charter schools and merit pay — I posted this comment on his piece: “I liked Left Back, Language Police, and much of her historical work. That’s why it’s so disappointing to read what she is writing these days. From her earlier work one would never have guessed that she would accuse people who favor merit pay, reduction in teacher tenure rights, and charter schools of plotting to destroy public education.  And for someone whose past work relied on rigorous scholarship, it is shocking to see these new claims made without any evidence that merit pay, weaker tenure, and charter schools harm public education, let alone destroy it.  Other than the fact that Bloomberg and Klein support these policies, it is not clear why Diane Ravitch opposes them.”
  • Marcus Winters has a great piece on National Review Online about how reforming the teacher compensation system is the key to improving teacher quality and, in turn, student achievement.
  • Thomas Hibbs has a not-so-great piece on National review Online about how “the true teacher cannot simply be an instrument of the wishes of the student’s family.”  He’s right that parents can sometimes try to shield their children from burdens by lowering academic expectations and that teachers need to strive for excellence regardless.  But it’s unrealistic to expect that we can build an educational system based on “the teacher’s love.”  Parents, whatever their shortcomings, are more likely to be effective advocates for a child’s progress than even well-intentioned and well-trained teachers because the parents have a love for children that we cannot realistically expect from teachers. 
  • I don’t have time to comment on them, but you should also check out the rest of the National Review Online pieces, including those by Checker Finn, Neal McCluskey, Mike Petrilli and Amber Winkler, and Susan Konig.

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