David Brooks on What Works and What Doesn’t

Or, it would be a better world if people who pronounced on policy measures knew something about policy efficacy

Head Start will cover 57,000 less children come November as a consequence of the sequester. Just as well, says David Brooks, on Meet the Press, since Head Start doesn’t work. (transcript doesn’t quite get it right, but you can tell that he is dismissing Head Start if you watch the video.)

Why did Brooks assert that Head Start “didn’t work”? I suspect it’s a particular reading of a set of findings. As Cunha and Heckman (2010) observe:

Currie & Thomas (1995) document a decline in the performance of Head Start minority participants after they leave the program, return to disadvantaged environments, and receive the low levels of investment experienced by many disadvantaged children.

That’s where I think Mr. Brooks stopped reading. Cunha and Heckman continue:

It is essential to invest early to get satisfactory adult outcomes. But it is also essential to invest late to harvest the fruits of the early investment. Such dynamic complementarity helps to explain the evidence by Currie & Thomas (1995) that for disadvantaged minority students, early investments through Head Start have weak effects in later years if not followed up by later investments. … Our explanation is in sharp contrast to the one offered by Becker (1991), who explains weak Head Start effects by crowding out of parental investment by public investment. That is a story of substitution against the child who receives investment in a one-period model of childhood. Ours is a story of dynamic complementarity.

One conclusion would be, well if it doesn’t work permanently, then don’t do it at all. An alternative conclusion would be that Head Start needs to be buttressed by subsequent investment in human capital.

Cunha and Heckman (a Nobel laureate, by the way [1]) also note that test scores are not the only basis for evaluating an investment in human capital:

The controversy over Head Start fade-out may have been a consequence of relying only on cognitive measures to gauge performance. The Perry Preschool Program had an IQ fade-out but a lasting effect on a variety of participants through age 40. They work harder, are less likely to commit crime, and participate in many fewer social pathologies than do control group members.

This conclusion is echoed in a paper published in American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, by David Deming, entitled ”Early Childhood Intervention and Life-Cycle Skill Development: Evidence from Head Start”.

This paper provides evidence of the long-term benefits of Head Start for a recent birth cohort of children. While my results rely on nonexperimental comparisons between siblings who differ in their participation in the program, I find little evidence of systematic within-family bias in preschool assignment, and the results are robust to sensitivity checks and alternative specifications. I estimate that the long-term impact of Head Start is about 0.23 standard deviations on a summary index of young adult outcomes, with larger impacts for African Americans and relatively disadvantaged children. This gain is about one-third of the size of the outcome gap between the bottom quartile and the median permanent income in the CNLSY sample, and is about 80 percent as large as the gains from the Perry Preschool and Carolina Abecedarian model preschool programs (Carneiro and Heckman 2003; Anderson 2008).

I find an initial age 5–6 test score gain of about 0.15 standard deviations that fades out to about 0.05 by ages 11–14. Fade-out is particularly strong for African Americans and for very disadvantaged children, and yet they experience the largest long-term gains. This does not rule out, for example, an increase in latent cognitive skills that is more poorly measured by the same test as children age—but it does imply that a projection of future benefits for these children based on test score gains alone would greatly understate the impact of the program.

I’ve just touched the vast literature on the subject of early investment in human capital (after all, I’m a macroeconomist — but heck, in an era of Econlit and Google Scholar, one can learn a lot quickly if one wants to). In sum, there’s a lot of other research indicating that Head Start is well worth the investment. Instead of wailing over inequality, perhaps we should start increasing, rather than cutting, investment in the areas where we know we’ll get a payoff.


40 thoughts on “David Brooks on What Works and What Doesn’t

  1. raskolnikov

    Great post!
    This is why Brooks is more ideologue than conservative. Conservatives seek to use resources and capital as efficiently as possible, whereas, ideologues just want to hack away at spending without regard for its negative effects on growth, prosperity and social cohesion.

  2. steve

    I think this is a bit late. What Brooks said is the official right wing understanding of the effects of early intervention. They have had a pretty thorough and effective campaign promoting the idea of its failure, though to be fair, I think that the left has been guilty of overstating its effectiveness. I would also interpret this literature as showing a positive effect. The question is whether the ROI is adequate.

  3. tj

    Sequestration was another one of Obama’s stupid “red lines”. Similar to Syria, he painted himself into a corner on sequestration – “My message to them is simple: No. I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off ramps on this one.
    Fast forward to Syria. Another Obama ultimatum backfires and now Obama is looking at military strikes to save face.
    “We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons,” he said. “That would change my calculations significantly.”
    Of course, the left always wants to lay the blame somewhere else. But the blame falls squarely on Obama’s choice to paint himself into a corner on both of these issues.
    Head Start is a small but important piece of U.S. education policy. The left needs to be willing to shift it’s emphasis from protecting unionized teachers toward creative solutions that improve outcomes for students.
    Unions will not permit rewarding and promoting the best teachers. Nor will they permit firing or demoting the worst. This is just one example of how unions place the student below the teacher on the priority list. The left supports teachers unions, no doubt large campaign donars, and refuses to consider reforms that reduce the power of teachers unions and improve student outcomes. Thus, the left’s education policy is more talk than substance and the result is reflected in the sad state of education in the U.S.
    We find that test scores are higher in schools that offer individual financial incentives for good performance. Moreover, the estimated relationship between the presence of merit pay in teacher compensation and student test scores is strongest in schools that may have the least parental oversight.

  4. tj

    donor not “donar” above.
    To be fair, I like this Obama program – assuming the funds are distributed in a non-partisan manner. The part I like is the part that links students with businesses while still in school. Higher Ed should take this program and develop it into a modern version of a paid apprenticeship – a hybrid model of education and experiential learning while still in school. More like itnerships on steroids, with every student engaged multiple times with a variety of employers while still in school.
    Building on President Obama’s American Graduation Initiative, the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program invests in community college and industry partnerships that will provide more Americans with the skills they need to enter and succeed in the work force.

  5. Menzie Chinn

    steve: Re: return on investment. The standard in public policy is to evaluate benefit-cost. Here is a recent paper:

    There is credible evidence that Head Start generates long-term benefits and passes a benefit-cost test, at least for children who participated during the first few decades of the program. For the current version of Head Start, we have rigorous evidence of short-term impacts from a recent experimental evaluation but no direct data on long-term effects since experimental subjects have just recently finished participating in the program. However there are reasons to believe that with a cost of $7,000 per child Head Start does not need to yield very large short-term test score impacts in order to pass a benefit-cost test. Effect sizes of .1 or .2 might be enough, and impacts even smaller than this, perhaps much smaller, might be sufficient. The estimated effects of Head Start enrollment on children – the effects of treatment on the treated – implied by the recent experimental study of the program typically exceed this threshold. Many point estimates are not statistically significant when the results are presented separately for 3 and 4 year old participants, but the expected value of the program is still positive.

    In sum, the available evidence suggests to us that the Head Start program as it currently operates probably passes a benefit-cost test. Changing the program in various ways that have figured prominently in recent policy discussions may not make the program any better, and could make things worse.
    student outcomes.

    Ungated version here.

  6. pete

    Essentially, the segregation of households, which intensified in the 1960s, is the major issue. Lets face it we are discussin minority education. Minorities raised in integrated environments, not necessarily integrated schools, perform better…I cannot recall the cite right now. In the 40s and 50s, many commnunities were block by block black or white. After white flight, commnuties are black or white. More freeways (Rachel Maddow’s favorite) allowed those with more money (white) to liver farther away from the city, like deep into Montgomery County near DC, or Walnut Creek in California. Hence, 60 years after Brown v. Board, we have both incredibly segregated communities AND schools. Quiite a change. Head start fails because the home environment for many kids is simply not pro education…it works a bit and then reality sets in.

  7. jonathan

    My wife is an Early Ed teacher so I was very interested when research about the effects of Head Start came out and particularly when they showed effects wearing off.
    We look for social policy levers. Or rather, those people who don’t deal with actual social policy look for levers because they have a naive belief that some magic switch can solve problems. When policies don’t act magically, they blame the policy. Head Start was never expected to be magic.
    As for doing things, one can say we all die so why bother with medical care? Why especially bother to pay for care for sick children who’ll die anyway or for old people who are approaching death anyway?

  8. Rick Stryker

    HHS commissioned a recent study on Head Start. Their own study shows the effects are transitory and tend to disappear relatively quickly. The summary is available here:
    This is completely consistent with experience. The most important advantage any child has is a committed parent, guardian, or caretaker who consistently over many years pays attention, gets involved, helps, and disciplines. It’s just another fantasy of the left to think that a brief government program administered by disinterested bureaucrats can be any kind of substitute.

  9. Rick Stryker

    The better counter argument to the Head Start Impact study is here:
    In this paper, the authors analyze the STAR program in which elementary school children were randomly assigned to classes of different size, quality, etc.
    The authors show that improvements in kindergarten quality can improve test scores, but that the improvements fade out in subsequent grades, just as in Head Start. Nonetheless, an improvement in kindergarten quality is associated with higher earnings between ages 20 and 30. The paper provides some evidence that that may be because the improvement in kindergarten quality develops non-cognitive skills that aren’t measured on standardized tests but are useful in the labor market.
    Given that, you could argue that it’s premature to dismiss Head Start just because the impact study showed that the benefits as measured by test scores are transitory. In fact, there really are long run benefits.
    I would not be persuaded by this argument. Here’s what I think the study referenced above is showing.
    Johnny and Jimmy are both kindergartners in the same school. Johnny gets along with his playmates and is well-liked. Jimmy is a little bit smarter but tends to fight and not everyone likes him. When they grow up, Johnny becomes the manager at the local burger joint because he gets along with people better. Jimmy becomes assistant manager. But it’s a close call who should be manager and assistant manager.
    However, social engineers, who are trying to justify raising taxes and increasing government spending, decide to play God and run an experiment unbeknownst to Johnny and Jimmy. They put Jimmy in the better classroom and Johnny in the worse in kindergarten. It doesn’t really make any difference for their education long term. But now Jimmy’s social skills are a little better. And Johnny’s are a little worse.
    As a result, Jimmy now becomes manager, since he’s a bit smarter and not so obnoxious. And Johnny becomes assistant manager. Researchers from Harvard run some regressions and are excited to discover that yes indeed, even though the effects on test scores fade out quickly, the better kindergarten classroom had a long run effect, since in their data set Jimmy makes more money than Johnny.
    The left celebrates, concluding that this evidence shows that Head Start really works and we should be spending more on it. Higher taxes all around!! We should spend $9000 a piece to put Johnny and Jimmy into Head Start.
    And so the government spends $18,000 in Head Start to rearrange the chairs at the local burger joint.
    I wonder if Johnny could sue if he found out what happened? If his public school had taught him to read, Johnny might have thought the little experiment he unwittingly participated in was positively Orwellian.

  10. 2slugbaits

    Rick Stryker Your Jimmy/Johnny analogy is interesting because it reveals a lot about the conservative mind’s view of economic and social progress. Scratch a conservative and nine times out of ten you’ll find someone who, deep down in the reptilian part of their brain, sees the world in terms of a zero sum game. So Jimmy and Johnny are fighting over who gets which position. That’s how conservatives view many social and especially racial issues like affirmative action, bussing, etc. That’s why so many conservatives advocate policies that sound a helluva lot like “I’ve made mine, now it’s time to pull up the ladder behind me.” I think that view completely and utterly misses the point of programs like Head Start. The liberal view starts with something like a neo-classical Harrod growth model, updated with some new growth theory wingdings. The basic idea is that most per capita economic growth comes from making workers smarter; i.e., the labor augmentation parameter. So Head Start doesn’t just make Jimmy better off because Jimmy’s skill set is higher, but it also makes Johnny better off as well. Now it may well be the case that in relative terms Johnny ends up working for Jimmy. If you think the point of social policy is to concentrate on relative social status rather than improvements in the absolute level of material comfort, then I guess that makes you a conservative. Ahh…the good old days when the 47 percent knew their place in life.

  11. Rick Stryker

    As usual, you’ve completely missed the point. The Jimmy/Johnny parable says nothing about my worldview. If you knew me, you’d know that I most definitely don’t view the world as a zero sum game.
    To recap, I posted the link to HHS’s own impact study that reported what many people consider to be pretty negative findings on the efficacy of Head Start. Menzie countered by posting a study that suggests that the Head Start impact study results should not be interpreted as a failure.
    Rather than refute that study, I linked to the strongest study I know of that could be interpreted as providing evidence for Head Start having positive long term effects, Chetty et al. The point of the Jimmy/Johnny parable was to show that even if the empirical results reported in the paper are true, they do not imply that Head Start is really successful.
    As Paul Harvey might say, let’s now get to the rest of the story. The reason that Jimmy fights at school is because of what’s happening at home. It’s pretty terrible at home for him and his parent’s don’t really care what is going on in school. Without supportive, involved parents, it’s going to be tough for Jimmy, no matter what anyone does.
    Johnny’s situation is different. His parents do care. They want to get him into Head Start or anything really that might possibly help. They understand the public schools are terrible. They applied to the charter school and were devastated when Johnny didn’t get in. (See the documentary “Waiting For Superman.”)
    They’d like to send him to a private school but can’t afford it. The truth is of course that getting Johnny out of that terrible public school really would have a long term benefit for him. Wouldn’t it be great if the government gave Johnny the $9000 for tuition instead of wasting it? Wouldn’t it be even greater if Johnny’s parent’s could use a school voucher to help send him to private school? Johnny’s parents would really appreciate that.
    However, the school won’t allow it. The teachers’ unions and the school administrators don’t want to compete with private schools. Why should they? As it stands, they can do what they want without having to worry too much about what their customers think. If they had to compete, their incomes would go down if they didn’t do a good job–as defined by the parents, not by them. So they oppose it strongly.
    And they are confident that they will win that fight. After all, the President that they supported has their back on this one. Even though he can afford to send his own daughters to the one of the most elite private schools in the country, the President won’t help Johnny’s parents send Johnny to a private school because that wouldn’t be “fair” to Jimmy. The education lobby also knows that they can count on celebrities like Matt Damon to strongly support keeping Johnny in his public school, even though he’ll send his own daughters to an elite private school.

  12. ottnott

    2slugs wrote:
    “Your Jimmy/Johnny analogy is interesting because it reveals a lot about the conservative mind’s view”
    No kidding. I was feeling more than a little sorry for Jimmy and Johnny after they were buried alive in the pile of assumptions and limitations imposed on their world to yield the desired outcome.
    The disturbing thing about these constructed worlds is how grim they are even when their builders create them as examples of Randian/Austrian/Libertarian/Whateverian paradises.

  13. anon2

    The underlying problem with the education system is not teachers.
    It’s poverty.
    Arguing about anything else is worthless.

  14. Rick Stryker

    You missed the point as well. I would suggest that you re-read Menzie’s post carefully to see the point he’s making. Then, look at the HHS impact study summary I linked to. Then see Menzie’s reply and look at the paper he linked to. Then, see my reply and look at the paper I linked to. This has nothing to do with constructing libertarian paradises.
    I agree that most teachers are not the problem. The public schools are filled with dedicated, competent teachers. But I don’t think poverty is the problem either. The problem is parental negligence, perverse incentives, and poor educational policy. Unfortunately, that poor policy can be bi-partisan. For example, I believe the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind program was very destructive.

  15. benamery21

    Stryker: So after Bain Capital lays them off, and while they’re taking personal responsibility by working 2 full-time jobs on the McDonald’s budget, parents have less time to read to their kids? Hoocoodanode?
    FYI, half the parents are below average. That doesn’t mean their kids’ proper role in life is to serve you burgers.

  16. Rick Stryker

    In your first comment, you callously deny the tragic circumstances that too many kids find themselves in: a home life of drugs, crime, violence, and abuse. It’s hard for me to believe you think everything would be hunky dory for these kids if Romney weren’t out firing their parents, but I’ve come to realize that such uncompassionate attitudes are surprisingly common on the left.
    In your second comment, you interpret my argument to be that since half the parents are below average, then their children should serve me burgers. Then you tell me that’s false.
    Why stop there? Why not claim that I said that since a majority is greater than a minority, Head Start can’t be effective. Then you can triumphantly point out that just because a majority is greater than a minority doesn’t mean the Head Start is ineffective.
    What a clever new technique for dealing with conservatives you’ve invented!

  17. ottnott

    “You missed the point as well.”
    I wish I could believe you, but Jimmy and Johnny insist that the world you constructed is one where it is silly to have any public funding for education at all.
    In Stryker Earth, reducing or increasing spending on education does not change the outcome for the student population as a whole, so there is no reason not to zero the budget out and realize the benefits of reduced taxes.
    Your tale of Jimmy and Johnny illustrated that the student in the better classroom on Stryker Earth gets the better job, the student in the inferior classroom gets the assistant position and there is no other change of consequence to their society.
    If you didn’t deliberately construct Stryker Earth, where the optimal government budget for education is zero, as a libertarian paradise, I stand corrected and I offer my congratulations to you for achieving such a remarkable unintended consequence.

  18. Rick Stryker

    I did not construct “Stryker Earth” in order to create a world in which there were no returns to education. Instead, I was offering an example to show how the results in the Chetty et al paper might be real but not really evidence that Head Start affects things very much. It’s certainly not the case that my example implies that the optimal government budget for education is zero or that there are no benefits to education spending.
    In fact, I think education is incredibly important. But to make education pay off, you need really good teachers who are consistently present over the students’ educational career. If you look at what I wrote, I think you’ll see that I suggested that the $9000 would be much better spent helping Johnny to get out of the public school system. I also suggested that Johnny would be better off if his parents were allowed to use vouchers.
    Sweden has had a school voucher system since 1992. In that system, you can attend a public school or get a voucher to go to a private school. People are free to start private schools, but there are a lot of restrictions: you have to teach the national curriculum, you can’t choose students on the basis of academic achievement, etc. The Swedish system is not exactly the voucher system that many people favor for the US. It’s more like a very enhanced charter school system. But nonetheless, I think the evidence is that the voucher system in Sweden has improved both public and private schools there, primarily because of competition. I’d like to go much further than Sweden has, but if we could even do what they do, it would be a big improvement.

  19. Ricardo

    I wonder if Head Start gives better results than intact families. Why not pay fathers to stay in their homes rather than pay mothers to separate from fathers?

  20. Brian

    Ricardo and Rick got to the core problem. Why don’t we spend more time investigating why families do not remain intact, why parents don’t nurture their children, and why people think it’s the state’s job to raise young children? Does anyone really believe sending a four-year-old to school is better than spending time with parents and other family members?

  21. Rick Stryker

    For those who think I just made up the Jimmy and Johnny story to serve my libertarian purposes, let me give you a recent real world example.
    The Lousiana Scholarship Program is a school voucher system that allows low income families to attend a private school. About 5000 students received vouchers in the 2012-13 school year. 91% are minority students. 61% left a D-rated public school and 17% left an F-rated public school. To qualify, you have to be under 250% of the poverty level in income and either entering Kindergarten or currently attending a C, D, or F-rated school. 117 private schools are in the program to take students.
    This is exactly what I’m talking about–giving students the chance to get out of failing public schools, which will make a real difference in their lives.
    However, the Obama justice department has just sued to block the program. Thus, students who expected to get out their failing schools this school year have been forced to return.
    This is so outrageous that even the Democratic editorial board of the Washington Post took the Obama administration to task. The editorial is available here and is well worth reading:

  22. ottnott

    What have you got against Jimmy and Johnny?
    Now you are championing a program that sends them to schools where they are taught a science curriculum so bad that the Univ. of California won a lawsuit allowing them to ignore the high school credits for such courses when considering an applicant’s qualifications for admission:
    Most of the schools in the voucher program are Christian schools. Some 20 of the schools have been identified through their websites or other materials as promoting the teaching of creationism and other young-Earth beliefs in place of science:
    Many of the other schools may also be teaching creationism, but don’t mention it on their websites.
    So, as your Jimmy and Johnny get your order ready at the burger counter, you can have a nice conversation with them about the fact that dinosaurs not only coexisted with humans 2000 years ago, but still exist today in places like Loch Ness:

  23. ottnott

    Of course, the curriculum won’t be an issue if Jimmy and Johnny don’t survive:
    “BeauVer Christian Academy in Beauregard Parish operated during the 2011-12 school year while violating safety and fire code violations and ignoring official requests by the state Fire Marshal’s Office to cease and desist occupancy. BeauVer was preliminarily approved for 119 vouchers.”
    Or if they are left standing around outside, because a school was approved for far more vouchers than they have facilities/materials/teachers for:
    “New Living Word School in Ruston has been approved by the Louisiana Department of Education to accept 315 students as part of the state’s scholarship program, but the school doesn’t currently have the facilities, computers or teachers in place to accommodate that many students.
    State education officials wouldn’t know that because site visits aren’t a part of the approval process. Representatives of the education department spoke only by phone with school officials before issuing approval.”
    Or if the voucher money gets drained away for uses other than education:
    “A small private school in DeRidder in line to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars through Louisiana’s newly expanded voucher program experienced financial trouble in its previous incarnation, The Town Talk and Gannett Louisiana have learned.
    In addition, court records show that the registered agent who also is an officer for the current and former schools is on probation for writing bad checks and is prohibited from signing checks on personal or business accounts.”
    “The audits were conducted to ensure that, “Scholarship funds shall be spent only on ‘educational purposes,’ as defined in the most recently approved Minimum Foundation Program formula. Any expenditure of scholarship funds constituting gross irresponsibility or gross individual enrichment is prohibited.”
    In fact, the audits revealed that the afore-mentioned standard “could not be completed for forty-nine of the fifty-one private schools reviewed.” One audit is littered with the following statement, concerning the records of dozens of voucher schools: “We were unable to perform the procedures because the school did not have a separate checking account or other procedures to account for scholarship expenditures separate from other expenditures.”
    Most of the schools were also unable to verify that their “expenditures do not constitute gross irresponsibility and are not individually enriching.””

  24. ottnott

    But, thank libertarian heaven for a program that gets kids out of low-performing schools.
    “Under the new rules, schools will not be penalized for poor scores on state standardized tests if they have fewer than 40 voucher students enrolled in the upper elementary or secondary grades. Those schools can continue to receive state funds even if their voucher students fail to demonstrate basic competency in math, reading, science and social studies.
    White estimated that 75 percent of the 120 private schools in the voucher program this year will fall into this protected category.”
    Well, at least the larger schools will have to perform or die. Sort of:
    “Schools with larger enrollments will get a numerical grade from the state based on their voucher students’ test scores. A school that scores less than 50 on the 150-point scale will lose the right to bring in new voucher students. But it can continue to receive public money indefinitely to serve students already enrolled.”

  25. strykerperplexed

    it is obvious, your push and other conservatives for the voucher and charter school system, is to impose the free market captitalist model on the education system. let the market dictate who gets the students based on choice, and the good schools will grow and prosper while the poor schools get closed down. we can rid the world of poor schools and teachers, and the strong will survive and thrive.
    the problem with this logic, is the education system (similar to the medical system), is not a good free market place. failure has significant consequences that cannot be overlooked by saying, firm A built a poorly working widget so i will take my business to firm B, which has a better widget. thus firm A will either be forced to improve, or go bankrupt-with good widgets forevermore.
    you assume these new charter schools are better, and if only students could move to them (or use vouchers to transfer to better schools) the education problem would be solved. education systems are not that dynamic. schools cannot “up” the enrollment without many detrimental effects. hiring, expansion, etc takes “TIME” as well as money. you conveniently overlook the students caught in this transition. they are being sacrificed to implement your free market capitalist system in education. if that new charter school is not up to snuff, or needs to take on too many students, the student is failed. of course he could follow the market lead, and move to another school. but that is now the second school in as many years. i think you severely underestimate the value of consistency in the education system.
    stryker, your model really requires failure to occur for change (good or bad) to happen. that is not a good model for education. just like it is a poor model for medicine. do you want to be one of the many dead patients needed to show that a hospital is operating poorly, and an alternative should be chosen?

  26. Rick Stryker

    You sound like a representative of one of the Louisiana teachers union, which is mounting a no-holds-barred ferocious assault on the school choice movement.
    Most of the current private schools are of course religious. And no doubt some of them teach creationism. But you are ignoring the fact that that’s what some parents want but can’t afford. Moreover, many parents look at their public school and conclude that although their child isn’t being taught creationism, they aren’t being taught much of anything else either. If they go to the private school, nobody will be selling drugs in the cafeteria, no one will be assaulting their child, their child will be taught discipline and responsibility, and they will emerge literate and numerate.
    Over 10,000 parents have made that comparison and have voted with their feet. I believe they should be allowed to make their own choice about what’s best for them and their children regardless of what I think about it. You, as a typical representative of modern liberalism, believe they should not be allowed to make their own choice.
    You have it backwards. I want to give Jimmy and Johnny a chance not to serve burgers. Under the policies you advocate, they will be doing well if that’s how they end up.

  27. ottnott

    I hope that there are people in LA who would object to the notion that only a teacher’s union rep should care about things like:
    –religious nonsense taught as science
    –schools approved without any onsite inspection
    –schools approved while occupying buildings that a state fire marshal deems unfit for such use
    –schools excused from having to meet any standards for student performance
    –schools charging more for voucher students than for non-voucher students, in violation of the program rules
    –schools unable to provide any accounting for the use of the state funds
    –schools run by bad-check artists under court order to stop writing checks
    –schools approved for 3X the number of students their facilities and staff can handle
    In other words, a program with fraud and failure built into its DNA.
    Now, let’s talk about Jenny and Joan. They are still in a public school that suddenly has to support its fixed costs on a smaller budget. Either the money spent for teachers and educational materials has to be cut, or the infrastructure will decay and administration/management will be stretched thin.
    Their parents preferred the local public school, but now the voucher program has forced an under-budgeted version of that school on them.
    Even worse, those lunkheads at the burger place won’t stop telling Jenny and Joan that they are going to hell for studying evolution.

  28. Rick Stryker

    The Chicago newspaper article you cite presents a misleading picture of the accountability program in Louisiana. Not surprising come from the media, which is sympathetic to the teachers’ unions who wants to bash the program.
    The non-public school accountability program in Louisiana is designed to put assessment of the private and public schools on a common footing. Schools that have more than 40 voucher students in total or more than 10 students in any grade are judged by standards consistent with the public schools. First, the board of education calculates a performance score for the private schools that is similar to the public school score. In the second year in the program, a private school that receives a score under 50 cannot enroll any more voucher students until the score is above 50. Students in such a school receive priority status to transfer to a different school in the following year, if they choose to do so. Moreover, if any school in the program has a score under 50 for the majority of the first 4 years, or in a majority of any subsequent 4 years, then it can’t enroll any new students until its score is above 50 and it is reviewed by the Dept of Ed.
    It is true that the Dept of Ed will continue to pay for existing students if this situation develops, but that’s a good thing. Unlike the public schools, students can decide to leave and have priority status. However, the Dept of Ed recognizes that some students may not want to leave. These students might be happy in their particular situations and want to stay. So the Dept does not force them to leave. In the public school, of course, there is no option: you can’t leave.
    These rules don’t apply if there are fewer than 10 voucher students in any class or fewer than 40 students overall. The reason is that 10 students is too few to form a statistically reasonable sample to make a judgment about the quality of a particular grade level in the school. They also cap at under 40 because no public school has fewer than 40 students, other than the schools for expelled students, to which these rules also don’t apply.
    It’s important to compare to the standards applied to public schools, which must fail all 4 years to be put in the Recovery School District. Charter schools must fail consistently over 4 years to be closed.
    Overall, the accountability program for private schools is solid and features choice. That’s what school choice is about: choice. The parents and students get to decide for themselves what’s best for them even if you disagree.

  29. Rick Stryker

    Yes, I do advocate a free market in education. Public schools should compete with private schools and both should compete with home schooling, online education, and anything else entrepreneurs dream up. I do not see why education is different from any other market. If people don’t like what they have, they should be free to switch.

  30. Rick Stryker

    If the situation is as bad as you say it is in the private schools, I wonder why 10,000 people voted with their feet? Besides, who cares what you think? If people want to leave the public schools, they should be able to.
    You’ve brought up the standard education union argument about why school choice is bad–money will leave the public schools, which will now be even worse. People who are trying to defend their turf and budget always make this argument. But the truth is that faced with genuine competition, schools will magically figure out where they are wasting money, how to be more efficient, and how to give better service to their students. And Jenny and Joan will benefit from it.
    The education unions don’t want to do this, because that will threaten entrenched interests and the current power structure. That’s why they fight school choice so hard.

  31. ottnott

    All hail the God Emperor Choice.
    Well, not me.
    I see little merit in the choices produced by a system as poorly designed as the LA voucher system. It has the flaws you’d expect in a system designed by people who worship choice, or curse the government, or believe that the Constitution is just some elaboration on the ten commandments, or reflexively believe that the private sector can do anything and everything better than the government can.
    If your prime motivation was to improve the education of children, you wouldn’t approve vouchers to schools without even inspecting the facilities or vetting the officers. You wouldn’t hand out millions without demanding an accounting for the use of the funds. You wouldn’t create a loophole that allows 75% of the schools to keep enrolling voucher students without demonstrating any educational effectiveness at all. You wouldn’t permit science textbooks that are so counter to established fact and accepted theory that they leave students ineligible for admission to a major university system.
    The LA voucher system continues to fund some really bad schools and the accountability procedures that impress you so is too full of holes to keep the bad ones out. The rules exempt 75% of the schools from cutoff of the vouchers, don’t prevent new crappy schools from entering the system (and it wouldn’t be hard for the operators of a failed school to reincorporate that same failed package as a new and eligible entity), and allow schools to teach phony science as long as the overall school scoring achieve the 50-point minimum (out of 150 points).
    If you want to game the system in LA, you cap voucher students below 40, market the school with some attractive goodies for the parents (maybe an ipad for the home, and 10 months of internet service), spend minimally on education, mingle the voucher funds with other funds to hide the low spending, and then send home report cards better than the parents have seen in the past. Yes, Jimmy is really blossoming in his new environment. His report card says so. So does Johnny’s. And Joseph’s. And Jack’s. Etc. If some of the parents shake off the warm glow long enough to wonder why the test scores are so low, just counsel patience, call the tests biased against “boys like Jimmy”, and assure them that the tests will eventually pick up the educational growth that the grades are already reflecting.
    The voucher program won’t interfere with you. They’ll keep you on the list of schools in good standing and keep sending you more money every time you convince a parent how wise they were to shop for a school that was right for Johnny.

  32. Rick Stryker

    The educational unions in Louisiana and their allies have thrown everything they can think of at the voucher program in order to discredit it. It’s a tall order. Somehow, they need to convince people that the private schools are actually worse than the D- and F-rated public schools. You are repeating their arguments.
    This is all nonsense. You and other opponents of this program keep harping on creationism. But the fact is that students in the private schools have to pass tests on science and other subjects just like public school students. You and the other opponents are trying to exploit the fact that these schools are too small to install separate accounting systems for voucher students. You want to leap to the conclusion that not only is nothing known about the funds but there may well be widespread misuse of funds if not fraud. But the fact is that all the schools were extensively audited by a private accounting firm at the behest of the dept of education. You and others point to the growing pains associated with starting a program like this to discredit it. Of course some schools won’t be ready, some might be unsuitable, there will be snafus. But you want people to think that this is a general description of the program. You and the other critics are careful to avoid a side-by-side comparison of the public and private schools when you make these charges.
    You seem to think the parents are so simple-minded that they can be fooled by education hucksters offering free ipads and phony report cards. That’s a typical left wing condescending assumption. The parents can’t be trusted to know what’s best for their own children. You need to decide for them.
    So you’ve read the propaganda and decided to believe it. Ok then, keep your child in the D- or F-rated public school. But other parents (10,000 strong) have come to a different conclusion. Why should you decide what’s best for them?

  33. ottnott

    “But the fact is that students in the private schools have to pass tests on science and other subjects just like public school students.”
    No, they don’t. But, they do need to learn real science if they want to qualify for admission to UC schools. I suspect there are many other universities with highly competitive admissions where a high school curriculum of fake science would leave an applicant with no chance of admission.
    If a school has less than 40 voucher students or less than 10 voucher students per class, their voucher students can score zero on their science tests year after year without losing their eligibility for vouchers. Parent choice won’t fix that. The parents who choose a school because it teaches bible stories in place of science aren’t going to pull their kids out because they are giving the wrong answers to questions about evolution, the age of the Earth, etc.
    So, your “fact” is wrong about those schools (currently about 75% of the schools in the program).
    And, as I pointed out above, even schools with more than 40 voucher students can continue to teach bible stories in place of science as long as any impact on the science test scores is not enough to drag the school below the 50 points out of 150 required to maintain full eligibility in the voucher program.
    So, your “fact” is wrong about the larger schools, too.
    And I can’t believe you are trying to excuse the small schools for lack of accountability for how the taxpayer funds are spent. “Too small to install separate accounting systems”? You mean too small for Quickbooks, Excel, and a second checking account (and Quickbooks is optional)?
    You state: “But the fact is that all the schools were extensively audited by a private accounting firm at the behest of the dept of education.”
    Not true. The accounting firm attempted to audit 51 schools – less than half of the total – and was unable to complete the audit for 49 of the 51 due to the mingling of funds and inadequate records. Of the two schools that were audited, one was found to be overcharging the state. So, yes, I do suspect that misuse of funds is common.
    With that taken care of, I will now point out that you falsely assume that I favor the public school system as it is. No. I’ve made no statements in favor of letting the public schools continue without change.

  34. Rick Stryker

    I have not mistated the facts. I previously pointed out that the rules do not apply to schools with fewer than 40 students total or fewer than 10 in a grade and I explained the reasons. The 75% number you cite is misleading. It’s 75% of schools but not 75% of students. The vast majority of the students are covered by the accountability program. Approximately 21% of students fall into sub-40 schools. Also, you are wrong that less than half the schools were audited. You apparently jumped to that conclusion because you read about an audit of 51 schools. However, you and the journalists you rely on do not seem to realize that there is a second audit report that covers the remaining schools.
    I’m sure you’d love to continue debating this minutiae because it detracts from the central issue. So, let’s just grant your points for the sake of argument. You’ve made it clear that you think the private school program has deep flaws. Now let’s hear from some parents and students.
    This article documents the the parents’ satisfaction with the program.
    Here is a quote:
    “‘Oh gosh, it’s wonderful, said Cyndi Maurice of the program. Her daughter Alyssa, 8, attends Our Lady of Divine Providence School in Metairie. It’s one of 117 private schools participating in the program’s first year.
    Alyssa’s new teachers adapt their instruction to how her daughter learns, Maurice said. The teachers ‘are just outstanding.’”
    Our Lady of Divine Providence School has 19 students so it’s not covered by the accountability standard. According to Ottnott, everybody at that school is probably failing, especially science, despite what this mother thinks. I guess we need to tell Cyndi that Alyssa can no longer go to that school.
    This article
    has an embedded news video that quotes Vickel Washington, mother of 3, expressing disappointment that she might not be able to get vouchers for her children as a result of the state Supreme Court ruling.
    This facebook page
    has great photos of the “You Promised” rally, in which about 1000 parents, students, and business leaders rallied to remind the legislature of the promise to fund the voucher program.
    This page
    has some good video of a news report that covered the “You Promised” rally.
    This poignant video
    shows Baton Rouge voucher parent LeAnn Mason talking about the importance of the voucher program for her daughter at a meeting of parents who are concerned that the program might be taken away. She tells the crowd that when her daughter was in the public school, she had substitute teacher after substitute teacher. Her daughter’s grades began to suffer. Her daughter finally got permanent teachers but then another student brought a gun to school and the teachers quit. In desperation, she sent her daughter to live with a relative to get her out of the failing public school. She had to live without her daughter and doesn’t feel like her parent. She admits she regrets that she can’t afford to pay for a private school. It’s all on the video.
    Here is a paraphrase of her closing comments:
    “ …My baby’s reading, she’s writing cursive and blossoming. This means a lot to me. This is going to help my children come out of poverty. … And when the issue was brought up that they might be taking this away, it hurts, it hurts, really, really bad. I love my children and I want the best for my children like everyone else here and I want to see my other child get into this program. And I think it’s good and I would like to see more of it. And I thank everyone who has a positive input with this and I thank God.”
    Watch that video and then imagine LeAnn Mason coming to see Governor Ottnott about his plans to end the voucher program.
    Mason: This program means a lot to me. Why are you ending it? I’ll have to send my daughter away again. She’s not going back to that public school.
    Governor Ottnott: Those private schools have not implemented separate accounting policies for the the voucher funds. Most likely there is widespread fraud. Plus, are you aware that some of those schools are teaching bible stories as science? Why, your daughter will not be able to apply to college in the California public system. And I suspect that other highly selective colleges will have the same policy. Harvard and Yale won’t even look at her. I’m sorry but you aren’t thinking clearly about this and I will have to make the decision for you. That private school isn’t best for your daughter.
    Liberals love to congratulate themselves on how compassionate they are. What a joke.

  35. Stykerperplexed

    You are so idealistic and propaganda based it makes me laught till I cry. you argue free market capitalism as an ideology on a level equivalent to many religous zealots we see on the news daily. such an ideology is dangerous.
    obviously you have little to no involvement in education programs-so i would guess you are childless and not working in the field. education is NOT a free marketplace. the failure needed for a free market place to work is not acceptable. you spoke of the “magical” way competition creates improvement. sounds like the magical confidence fairy of economics. education needs to be a regulated market. you have done nothing to eliminate the possibility of a failing school-only moved the blame elsewhere. again, it is just like medicine. failure cannot be a possible choice.

  36. Rick Stryker

    Failure cannot be a possible choice? Somehow, you you didn’t get the memo. The reason we are talking about vouchers in the first place is that many public schools have already failed massively.
    There is no progress without experimentation, which can always lead to failure. If you want to improve education, then you need to try new techniques, new ideas, and new technologies. Some of them won’t work. You compare education to medicine but you should take a closer look at the history of medicine. One reason we have so much progress in medicine is that people tried new treatments, medicines, and techniques, many of which failed, with very bad consequences for patients.
    A competitive market benefits education–at all levels. Probably the most competitive school market is the US university system, and that competition is a major reason why US universities are so much better. Look at the competition in the market for standardized test preparation. Look at all the online courses and schools that are springing up. Look at the entrepreneurs who are funding new educational startups. Look at the competition in language learning–Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone, Living Language. Competition benefits education. Regulation stifles it.
    You are completely wrong to think that I have no experience in education. One reason I sympathize with the parents in Louisiana is that I did what they did. I was very dissatisfied with the rigor of the curriculum of the public school my own child was in. The school administration would not improve it so I took my child and walked out. Since there was no acceptable private school option at the time, we home schooled. My children have also been in private school. We’ve probably used just about everything out there–Center For Talented Youth (CTY) online courses as well as CTY summer courses, the Khan Academy, tutoring, specific projects, etc. I taught science and math for years to middle school kids in an extra-school setting. I have also taught plenty of courses at the university level.
    Because of the vibrant educational market, there are now lots of options. You don’t have to be trapped in your local public school if you don’t like it. Besides private schools, another option people should really consider is home schooling. In my experience, it can be incredibly effective if done well. I’d like to see vouchers given to homeschoolers too.

  37. Strykerperplexed

    Stryker, the vast majority of schools in the USA do a very good job with education. You identify very poor schools and then extrapolate the whole system is a failure, and want to throw them all out as a result. All you will do is take needed funds away from schools that operate as best as possible given their funding level. And lets be honest, most schools across the country are not funded very well. All in the name of the free market capitalist ideology.
    I think you need to reassess the modern medical research field. the FDA is extremely strict about medical trials and breakthroughs. medical trials are conducted under very careful conditions. it is not a trial and error approach-that approach was last seen a half century ago. current medical regulation is protecting patients, not hindering.
    i assume you are also one of the blind who think deregulating the financial markets had no consequences on the financial crisis-it was all fannie and freddie!
    free marktet capitalism without regulation is a radical ideology. rules are needed to function properly.

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