new project on the socio-emotional impact of civic engagement

(New York City) People can gain satisfaction, empathy, purpose, insight, and a host of other socio-emotional or psycho-social benefits from taking part in civic life. Also, if they demonstrate psychological maturity or even excellence, it can help them to be responsible civic actors. On the other hand, they can pay a psychosocial price from acting politically. I am haunted by Doug McAdam’s findings, in his great book Freedom Summer, about the longterm human costs of participating in the voter registration drives in Mississippi. Whether psychosocial development and civic engagement benefit each other depends on how we design those experiences, and in doing so, we must be attentive to the varying experiences of people who stand in different places with respect to the social issues (such as racism) that are at stake.

Therefore, I am pleased to share this news:

Tisch College is launching a new initiative in Social-Emotional Learning and Civic Engagement thanks to a generous gift from David T. Zussman, A53, J80P, and his family through the Zussman Fund for Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). The gift will support Tufts faculty’s integration of social-emotional learning into their teaching, and will promote related research and education across the University through frequent collaboration with the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT). A key aim is to encourage all Tufts students—undergraduate, graduate, and professional—to develop their social-emotional skills through civic experiences in and out of the classroom. The initiative will also generate new knowledge for the benefit of other institutions.

More at the link.

Posted in academia, civic theory, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

how to respond, revisited

Right after the election, I posted a flowchart about “how to respond” that was (by my standards) quite widely shared. I hear anecdotally that it is being used by community groups for discussions.

Incidentally, the question is open-ended; it doesn’t say “How to respond to Trump.” People could use it if they believe the current situation is dire but not because of Donald J. Trump, or not merely because of him.

Last night, I had a chance to use the flowchart with a group of about 16 people in my own community (Cambridge, MA). That discussion encouraged me to make some minor clarifications to the text; see below. (And thanks to my colleague Alberto for the improved graphics.) I’m always open to suggestions for bigger changes.

The people who met last night would like suggestions for concrete next steps, resources, and organizations for each cell. We could even think through what each cell at the bottom means for various institutions: schools and colleges, philanthropies, news media, religious congregations and denominations, municipalities, and so on. If, for example, you work in philanthropy and you want to support ideologically diverse deliberations, what should you invest in? If you’re a k-12 educator who wants to teach deliberation, what should you do, and who will support you? Canvassing these options is a good exercise for a group.

Right now, I think many people are focused on how to sustain momentum. There was a burst of energy around the Inauguration, and some people perceive a dip since then. This challenge also arose at the recent “Civic State of the Union” forum with Mara Liasson, Bob Putnam, Shirley Sagawa, and me.

I offer two thoughts. First, relationships create the motivations and accountability that power movements. People don’t stay involved because of an issue, but because of the other people. Therefore, it is worth cultivating relationships by adding regular social interactions to political efforts. Get together for pizza even if you aren’t sure what to do politically.

Second, we have to be willing to take satisfaction, even joy, from politics. Yes, people are suffering and even possibly dying, and I am not one of those harmed. (My taxes could well go down under Trump.) Therefore, it can seem self-indulgent for people like me to take pleasure from resistance. Yet political engagement is an aspect of a good life, the nascent resistance is a beautiful thing to be part of, and if we engage out of sheer duty, we’ll falter sooner or later. I’d say: less guilt, more joy, and let’s stick together.

(See also taking satisfaction from politics in the face of injustice.)

Posted in Trump, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Talloires Conference: “Social Responsibility and Human Dignity in Higher Education Engagement”

The Talloires Network Leaders Conference (TNLC) 2017 convenes 21-24 June 2017 at the Universidad Veracruzana in Xalapa, Mexico.

The conference will explore the theme, “Social Responsibility and Human Dignity in Higher Education Engagement.” Within this overarching theme, the conference will explore three sub-themes:

  • The right to education and the responsibility to be socially inclusive and to promote quality education to all
  • The right to leadership opportunities and economic mobility and the responsibility to create prosperous communities and societies
  • The right to a livelihood and the responsibility to prepare people for employment and entrepreneurship, and to contribute to economic development

The Conference Program is available here.

Featured speakers include rectors and chancellors from several countries, a former US ambassador to Mexico, and cultural figures. Register here. Veracruz travel logistics here. Conference materials en Espanol.

Posted in academia | 1 Comment

Trump v the judges: norms breaking down

I deeply oppose the Trump travel bans on two main grounds: 1) We should strive to admit refugees from the terrible war zones of the world, and 2) a policy that’s rhetorically linked to anti-Muslim motivations threatens the standing of Muslim citizens and residents of the US, as well as the religious equality and tolerance that should be important to all of us.

Nevertheless, I thought the revised travel ban was probably both legal and constitutional. One interpretation of the injunctions against the ban is that certain federal judges have overstepped their bounds because of objections to the policy (and the president) that I share, but that shouldn’t influence them in their judicial roles. I’d advance a different interpretation, however. These judges are relaxing some traditional norms and constraints because the Trump Administration has shed its commitment to norms that have constrained previous presidents. The resulting conflict is dangerous for the constitutional order but preferable to an alternative in which only the executive branch ignores key norms.

I’d have thought that the revised ban would be upheld for several reasons. First, Congress may regulate immigration by statute, but the law it has chosen to enact (8 U.S.C. § 1101) says:

Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.

Second, people who are neither citizens nor residents of the US are typically seen as having no rights under the US Constitution. Third, in a wide range of situations, courts don’t inquire into the motivations of policymakers when they assess legality and constitutionality. Finally, the argument that the revised order is a Muslim ban, and hence detrimental to US Muslims and every citizen’s religious liberties, could founder on the fact that of the ten countries with the largest Muslim populations in the world, only one (Iran) is on the banned list. The banned countries seem rather to be sources of refugees, and the president is not legally obliged to admit refugees, even if human rights and morality demands that.

Yet two federal judges have blocked the order, one with a nationwide injunction, and a Ninth Circuit panel has refused to reconsider its block of the earlier order.

Critics of the injunctions note that they seem to exceed precedents and they seem to rely on critiques of Trump as a person. Josh Blackman writes:

Judge [Leonie] Brinkema has applied a “forever taint” not to the executive order, but to Donald Trump himself. For example, the government defended the selection of the seven nations in the initial executive order because President Obama approved a law that singled out the same seven nations for “special scrutiny” under the visa waiver program. Judge Brinkema rejected this reasoning: “Absent the direct evidence of animus presented by the Commonwealth, singling out these countries for additional scrutiny might not raise Establishment Clause concerns; however, with that direct evidence, a different picture emerges.” That is, if Barack Obama selected these seven countries for extreme vetting, it would be lawful, because he lacks the animus. But because Donald Trump had that animus, it would be unlawful. … It will always a “Muslim ban” because of comments he made on the O’Reilly Factor in 2011, a policy he adopted in 2015, and abandoned after his lawyers told him it was illegal. She admits as much. “A person,” she writes, “is not made brand new simply by taking the oath of office.” Not the policy. The person. Trump.

Blackman thinks the courts are overstepping their bounds. See also David Frum on the “dangerous precedent” these injunctions could set. In his 9th Circuit Dissent, Judge Jay Bybee warns, “We cannot let our personal inclinations get ahead of important, overarching principles about who gets to make decisions in our democracy. For better or worse, every four years we hold a contested presidential election. We have all found ourselves disappointed with the election results in one election cycle or another. But it is the best of American traditions that we also understand and respect the consequences of our elections.”

Indeed, it’s worth worrying about what will happen if our courts start assessing individual presidents when they rule on legality and constitutionality. But this is my take (reminiscent of a piece by Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic):

The Constitution vests the various branches with powers and doesn’t say a lot about how they should be exercised. Like people playing a board game that has simple rules printed on the inside of the box, our officials have developed a long set of norms, some written as precedents and some unstated, to complement the basic rules. The board-game players know that no one will take an hour to decide on her move or start yelling insults during the game. Judges know that presidents will not single them out for abuse, deny the legitimacy of judicial review, blatantly lie and maintain their lies in the face of evidence, or say things–even informally–that undermine the basic principles of our republic, such as religious neutrality. Presidents, for their part, can count on judges to believe their assertions about national security and to read their executive orders charitably.

At least some judges believe that Trump is like a board-game player who is technically following the rules on the back of the box but violating the norms that make the game playable. So they are going to use their express powers under the basic rules to counter him and either force him to play by the norms or reduce his power. Even Judge Bybee (previously known to me only as an author of the “torture memos”), who dissented in the Ninth Circuit judgment, ended his dissent with a rather extraordinary coda:

Even as I dissent from our decision not to vacate the panel’s flawed opinion, I have the greatest respect for my colleagues. The personal attacks on the distinguished district judge and our colleagues were out of all bounds of civic and persuasive discourse—particularly when they came from the parties. It does no credit to the arguments of the parties to impugn the motives or the competence of the members of this court; ad hominem attacks are not a substitute for effective advocacy. Such personal attacks treat the court as though it were merely a political forum in which bargaining, compromise, and even intimidation are acceptable principles. The courts of law must be more than that, or we are not governed by law at all.

The prime danger is that Judge Bybee’s colleagues have judged Trump wrong and been biased by the abuse directed at them. But on balance, I think their response is for the best under these dire circumstances.

Posted in Trump, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The “civic state of the union”

This is the video from the “Civic State of the Union” on March 7 at Tisch College. The participants are Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent for NPR and contributor to Fox News; Robert D. Putnam, political scientist, Professor of Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, and author of numerous works, including Bowling Alone; Shirley Sagawa, President and CEO of the Service Year Alliance and a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress; and me. We talked about the civic condition of the United States and what to do about it.

Posted in audio and video, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

on the Deep State, the administrative state, and the civil service

The last few days have seen several prominent articles about “the Deep State”: by David Remnick in the New Yorker, Marc Ambinder in The Washington Post, Julie Hirschfeld Davis in the New York Times, and Kevin Williamson in The National Review, among others. I’d been thinking of writing myself, and I think we need some definitions:

  • The Civil Service: a body of government employees who are protected against political patronage and dismissal without cause in return for embracing norms of nonpartisanship, public service, and professionalism.
  • The Administrative State: government agencies that make and enforce rules and regulations (in contrast to statutes enacted by legislatures) and/or directly manage public resources, such as land.
  • The National Security Apparatus: military and spy agencies as well as police agencies concerned with terrorism, foreign espionage, and subversion.
  • Bureaucracy: any large organization divided into specialized offices, each requiring appropriate training and having defined roles and responsibilities, the whole being organized hierarchically and aimed at achieving some predefined or externally defined end or purpose.
  • The Deep State: a group of people within any or all of the above who collude secretly to pursue their own shared agenda, which may reflect their self-interest or an ideological interest contrary to the goals of elected leaders.

Some observations based on those definitions:

Most of the above definitely exist. Whether the (or a) Deep State exists is a matter of conjecture. One reason that the answer is not obvious is that the National Security Apparatus is cloaked in considerable secrecy. But secrecy is necessary for the existence of such an apparatus at all, and is not indefensible. There are many things we would like our government to know yet not publicly disclose. State secrecy is a problem for a democracy but not necessarily an avoidable one.

If there is a Deep State, it would form within one or more bureaucracies yet would subvert them. That is because bureaucracies constrain their employees to carry out defined tasks, but people who collude for their own agendas are evading such constraints.

The Deep State could exist within the National Security Apparatus, the domestic civic service, or both. Americans in a large swath of the center-left and left tend to be critical of US foreign policy but supportive of regulation and the welfare state. Some of them have feared secret agendas in the National Security Apparatus while viewing officials in the domestic welfare and regulatory agencies as dedicated civil servants. Americans in a large swath of the right have been more supportive of foreign policy than of domestic policy, so they have been prone to see soldiers, police officers, and spies as public servants, and other federal employees as uncontrollable bureaucrats. However, the hard right has also been critical of foreign policy, so there have been Deep State narratives on the right at least since the McCarthy Era. Some on the hard left see the domestic policy apparatus as basically a Deep State devoted to disciplining the poor, but I hear less of that than I used to 20 years ago.

To the extent that we have a genuine civil service, it is designed to push back against elected officials and political appointees. That is not sign of a conspiracy but evidence that popular sovereignty conflicts with such values as scientific rigor and legal consistency. The civil service has a checks-and-balances relationship with elected politicians.

Finally, we do have a problem with the Administrative State, but it is not a conspiracy or anything wrong with the people who work in it. Theodore Lowi was a very fine political scientist whose death on Feb. 17 didn’t get enough attention. Lowi argued that liberals built the regulatory and administrative agencies to enact demanding values for which they had received popular support. But the agencies that liberals created do not have legitimacy to make value-judgments themselves. In lieu of making explicit value-judgments, they claim to make their decisions based on science, efficiency, precedent, or stakeholder negotiation. But they actually make value judgments every day. This creates a crisis of legitimacy that threatens the liberal project.

Another way to make Lowi’s argument is to note that the Administrative State is not envisioned in our Constitution (nor is a permanent National Security Apparatus). Agencies are widely understood as parts of the executive branch or as arms of Congress. (They even employ their own judges, which makes them resemble the judicial branch.) I think a better interpretation is that they represent a fourth branch altogether, which has developed since 1900. It should embody certain norms, such as impartiality, rigor, and predictability, and it should be designed to push and pull with the branches that reflect popular will (Congress and the presidency), deliberation (Congress), discretion and flexibility (the presidency), and law (the judiciary). We should expect tension between the president and the administrative agencies and improve our means of resolving those tensions.

As long as we do not regard the Administrative State as a branch with its own norms and standing, we should expect constant crises of legitimacy, because the existence of this branch has never been recognized by the American people. This is not to defend or rationalize Stephen K. Bannon’s attack on the administrative state. But there is a deeper and longer-term problem that will require attention sooner or later.

See also:  the Citizens United decision and the inadequate sociology of the US Constitutionthe public interest and why it matters;  problems with “stakeholders”; and on government versus governance, or the rule of law versus pragmatism.

Posted in civic theory, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Millennials’ political opinions: insights from the new CIRCLE poll

In November’s election, youth turnout seems to have been roughly on par with recent elections. Young voters preferred Clinton to Trump by 55% to 37%, but a majority of young whites chose Trump. See the full CIRCLE post-election report based on exit poll data.

Since then, there has been much political ferment among Americans in general, and specifically among Millennials. My colleagues at CIRCLE surveyed 1,608 young adults last October and recontacted 1,002 of them for a post-election survey released on March 7. The new CIRCLE report contains many insights about the election and the Trump era.  I’ll just mention two to give a flavor.

First, young people who voted for Clinton and Trump differed on many contested social issues, which is not surprising in itself. Young Trump voters were more likely to think poor people are too dependent on government, much less likely to be concerned about racial discrimination, and more critical of political correctness (although 43% of Clinton voters shared that view). Almost three quarters of Trump voters wanted to protect traditional American values from outside influences, a rare concern for Clinton voters. But a majority of Trump voters agreed with a larger majority of Clinton voters that the top 1% have too much political power.

Second, even as early as January, CIRCLE found that most Millennials (whether voters or not) said they intended to protest or resist the Trump administration, and half were ready to support his impeachment. Of course, most Trump voters didn’t intend to protest or call for impeachment, but small minorities of his voters did seem to support the resistance, broadly defined.

Read the whole report here.

 

Posted in 2016 election, Trump, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

microgenetic, ontogenetic, and sociogenetic civic learning

At a Center for Ethics & Education conference last week in Kansas City, I learned from Larry Nucci about an important taxonomy. In my summary:

  • Microgenetic learning means obtaining particular knowledge, skills, concepts, values, etc. through particular experiences. A student doesn’t know about Abe Lincoln, reads a book about him, and knows and remembers the president’s story. That is an example of microgenetic learning. We often measure it with assessments before and after lessons or courses. However, it happens at more precise moments, so it’s possible to zero in on the learning events and understand the learning mechanisms.
  • Ontogenetic learning means becoming something different. A small child doesn’t know how to read but becomes literate, a reader. An undergrad doesn’t know much about medicine but ultimately turns into a skilled, practicing physician. Typically, the timescale of ontogenesis is longer than that of microgenesis, but that’s not the essential difference. In theory, ontogenetic change could happen suddenly, as perhaps for Paul on the road to Damascus. The definition is a change in who the person is, not just what he or she knows.
  • Sociogenetic learning is change at the level of a community or society. A community is oral and becomes literate, or pagan and becomes Christian, or analog and becomes digital. Such changes imply that different ontogenetic learning outcomes will become possible, valued, and typical. For instance, a Roman pagan ca. 100 BC couldn’t learn to be a Christian, but his descendants three centuries later could and even had to become Christians. That implied some new microgenetic experiences, like reading scripture and listening to sermons.

These levels of learning can relate in many complex ways. For instance, people can learn specific skills for civic engagement that help them to become activists, and as activists they can change what their society values. Then microgenesis -> ontogenesis -> sociogenesis. Probably more common is the reverse pattern: a society starts to value something, it establishes a new standard of success, and that leads schools to assign new lessons.

This diagram from Saxe 2012 illustrates the various possible pathways.

In fields like literacy and STEM education, which have received heavy investment, scholars have given attention to all three domains. However, I perceive a trend toward the microgenetic level in those fields. It’s increasingly common to apply Learning Sciences and Cognitive Sciences to understand how child A learns skill B at time C. If that trend comes to dominate, there will be need for a critique. We’ll be at risk of missing the forest for the trees and–especially–overlooking what people should learn ontogenically to produce a good society.

In civics, which is underfunded and understudied, most of the research is ontogenetic. It’s most common to use surveys to determine whether children or young adults have become good citizens of one kind or another, and then ask whether civics courses, democratic school climates, or other large influences are related to those outcomes. Practitioners and scholars are certainly interested in microgenetic questions, but that research is scattered and limited, mostly for lack of resources.

Meanwhile, there is a robust debate about sociogenetic changes in civic life. Scholars and pundits debate how the American polity and political culture have changed, what that means for citizens, and how our polity compares to others. Just as an example, Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone offers a sociogenetic thesis: it’s about how Americans have come to engage more individualistically and less collaboratively since the 1960s. The underlying reasons include changes in technology and the economy (not shifts in civic education).

The sociogenetic debate about citizenship still tends to be somewhat disconnected from microgenetic and ontogenetic research. I didn’t know this vocabulary when Jim Youniss and I edited the volume Engaging Young People in Civic Life, but our explicit goal was to connect debates about civic education to debates about changes in civic life. We thought that developmental psychologists tended to assume that civic life was historically constant, and political scientists and sociologists tended to view civic education as historically constant. However, regimes and modes of education change, and these changes affect each other. It’s even possible for kids to gain skills through microgenetic civic learning that enable them to change what the society values.

Ultimately, we need civic education research that combines the microgenetic, ontogenetic, and sociogenetic levels and yields practical advice for practitioners, policymakers, and advocates.

Figure from Saxe, G. (2012). Cultural development of mathematical ideas: Papua New Guinea studies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. My main source is Larry Nucci (2016) Recovering the role of reasoning in moral education to address inequity and social justice, Journal of Moral Education, 45:3, 291-307, DOI: 10.1080/03057240.2016.1167027

Posted in advocating civic education, civic theory, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

public speaking this spring

Please join me if you’re able and interested:

March 10, Medford, MA: Fletcher Political Risk conference, morning concurrent session on varieties of populism.

March 24, Boston, MA: Northeastern University’s NULab for Texts, Maps and Networks, keynote at a conference on “Keeping the Public Sphere Open” (Boston, MA)

March 27, Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida: keynote at the Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd Program for Strategic Research & Studies, the Lou Frey Institute, and the Partnership for Civic Learning conference on “Teaching Tolerance & Peace in Education: American Experiences & International Lessons.”

March 29, Waterville, ME: The 2017 William R. and Linda K. Cotter Debate at Colby College: “American Democracy?”, with Benjamin Page, Gordon Scott Fulcher Professor of Decision Making, Northwestern University; author of Democracy in America? What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do About It (Forthcoming); Roslyn Fuller, scholar; author of Beasts and Gods: How Democracy Changed Its Meaning and Lost Its Purpose (2015); and me. Moderator: Joseph R. Reisert, Harriet S. Wiswell and George C. Wiswell Jr. Associate Professor of American Constitutional Law, Colby College.

April 12, Oxford, OH. At Miami University of Ohio’s Humanities Center, “Civic Studies: An Emerging Field

April 19, Los Angeles, at the University of Southern California, Center for Economic and Social Research, “The Hollowing Out of US Democracy.

April 27, San Antonio, TX: panel at the John Dewey Society annual meeting.

May 18, Medford, MA: Tisch College/Good Society symposium on Facts, Values, and Strategies. (Seminar on works-in-progress; you must request papers in advance.)

June 9, Boston, MA: plenary panel at the 2017 Social Science Education Consortium (SSEC) meeting on the theme, “Whither Democracy? Current State and Future Prospects.”

June 22-4, Boston, MA: Frontiers of Democracy conference.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

school choice is a question of values not data

I disagree with my friend Robert Pondiscio about many policies, but I agree with an essential aspect of his argument in a US News article entitled “Asking the Wrong Questions on School Choice.”

Some impressive-looking recent studies assert that school choice doesn’t “work” because test scores go down when families use vouchers to transfer their kids to private schools. The New York Times describes these results as “dismal” and cites “harms” to the children from voucher experiments. Pondiscio believes that the preponderance of the evidence still “tends to favor school choice.” I don’t know if that is right, but I’m with Pondiscio that “this entire debate puts the cart before the horse.”

After all, who said that test scores are the purpose of schooling? “Choice exists to allow parents to educate their children in accordance with their own needs, desires and values.” Some parents will prefer schools that achieve lower scores on state standardized tests because they value other ends. To measure choice in terms of test scores “says, in effect, that one’s values, aspirations and priorities for one’s child amount to nothing.” He concludes:

If we limit the frame of this debate to academic outputs alone, every new study provides ammunition, but never a conclusion. The real debate we should be having is, “What kind of system do we want?” Answer that question first, then use evidence to improve the school designs, policies and programs we have agreed deserve public support.

I’ve made similar points in debates about, for example, the economic impact of civic engagement, the educational value of service learning, and the evaluation of policy more generally. We live in an age when science has enormous prestige and values are widely viewed as merely subjective. In that context, it’s common to treat programs and policies much as scientists would view natural phenomena, as things that arise on their own and have measurable effects. To decide whether they “work” means measuring their causal impact with apparently objective measures, of which state-written tests are good examples. Negative results lead to strongly value-laden conclusions–such as the Times’ headline about “dismal failures”–that are not themselves scientific.

In fact, programs and policies arise because people have value commitments. They strive to make their ideas work, albeit for various and contested purposes. Usually nothing works at first. If its impact improves, it’s because people have made it work by refining and improving the practice. The reason that data provides “ammunition, but never a conclusion” is that any empirical result can be changed by revising and improving the program under study. Therefore, the fundamental question is not what works but what we should value and try to make work.

An everyday example is public schooling. Nineteenth century reformers like Horace Mann drew from previous thinkers—and from successful experiences in countries like Prussia—to propose a new idea: every child should be educated at the government’s expense in a state-funded common school under local political control. Since then, not only have educators and policymakers refined and revised most aspects of public schooling, but scholars have critically evaluated actual schools from a wide variety of perspectives. A few observers have concluded that Horace Mann’s core idea was misplaced, but most see their role as helping to make his vision become successful. Public schools did not arise like a new species in Darwinian evolution to survive or fail on its own. Nor did Horace Mann propose a hypothesis that could be tested with a single experiment (e.g., “Common schools will work.”). Rather, universal public schooling originated with an argument that combined values and empirical predictions, and it launched a process of improvement that has combined research with practice.

The question is whether individual family choice is a transcendent value. Robert Pondiscio argues that using test scores to assess vouchers makes family preferences “amount to nothing.” I think we all value parental choice to a degree, but everyone also weighs other concerns: children’s rights, interests, and preferences, community values, prosperity at the state and national scales, democratic ideals of collective self-governance, our responsibilities to children other than one’s own, and criteria of excellence that may be unpopular.

I agree that the American ideal of the common school has always been a bit problematic, and versions of family choice common in Western Europe may get the balance better than we do with our odd mix of local monopoly schools plus radical economic inequality. But if we seriously considered the question “What kind of system do we want?”, I’m not sure the answer would be a system driven by parental preferences.

I should add that another kind of reasoning (besides scientism) motivates experiments with school choice. Some people think that market competition always or generally increases efficiency, so that introducing choice into a former monopoly will improve outcomes, almost regardless of how they’re measured. Then the effects of vouchers on test scores becomes an experiment in the efficiency hypothesis. Even if the results are mixed, the existence of major, high-quality, and recent studies in which the effects are strongly negative sounds like counter-evidence. I think that should embarrass proponents of market efficiency, of whom one was Elizabeth Warren in The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents are Going Broke (2003):

However, as Pondiscio argues, you can support choice as an inherent value, not because of an empirical hypothesis about economic efficiency.

Posted in education policy | Leave a comment