If Evidence Mattered….

It’s a depressing time to be teaching public policy.

As I tell my students, there is an analytical process that should be followed by lawmakers who are considering legislation to address a problem, questions that need to be answered before a bill is introduced, let alone voted on.

To wit:

Is this a problem that government can or should address, or is it more properly left to the private and/or nonprofit sector? If it is appropriate for government action, is it the sort of issue that should be handled by government’s own employees, or is it appropriate for contracting out? (There are a number of additional questions we ask to determine that–and judging from the problems that have arisen with “privatization,” it would appear that those questions are seldom asked). Are there potential negative outcomes of the proposed solution(s), and if so, what are they? Do the anticipated benefits of the proposal outweigh the likely costs?

And finally, what do we know about this issue? What does the evidence say?

It may seem obvious that this sort of analysis should always precede policymaking, but too often, laws are based upon ideology rather than a consideration of the available evidence. The recent tax bill is an example. Those who voted for it evidently never heard of Kansas.

School voucher programs are another example.

At the beginning of the voucher experiments, it may have been reasonable to hope that taking poor children out of poorly performing public schools and giving them vouchers to attend private ones would somehow overcome the barriers that make it difficult for poor children in public school classrooms. But as evidence to the contrary has accumulated, policymakers with ideological fixations have ignored or discounted it.

Scholars at the University of Virginia conducted one of the more recent investigations.

For this new study, researchers analyzed data collected from a group of 1,097 kids in nine states who were followed from birth through age 15. The scholars looked at how many had attended private school between kindergarten and their freshman year of high school. They also looked at how the kids performed as ninth graders on a range of benchmarks, including test scores.

When the scholars did a simple comparison, they learned that students who had attended private school at any time in their academic career performed better on most benchmarks than students who only attended public school. But when the scholars controlled for factors related to family resources — the household income-to-needs ratio, for example — they got a very different picture.

They discovered that kids who went to private school and those who only attended public school performed equally as well in the ninth grade in terms of math achievement, literacy, grade-point averages and working memory. They were just as likely to take more rigorous math and science courses, expect to go to college, have behavioral problems and engage in risky behavior such as fighting and smoking.

In other words, the apparent ‘advantages’ of private school education–the academic results that led early voucher proponents to theorize that the private schools were somehow doing something different, something that produced better results –were really due to the socioeconomic advantages of the children whose parents placed them in these schools, not to what went on in the classroom.

In states with voucher programs, desperately-needed resources are being siphoned from the public schools and sent to private, mostly religious schools. This is problematic both fiscally and constitutionally. These programs have been justified by claims that they will improve the academic achievement of children who would otherwise be “trapped” in “failing” public schools. The evidence simply does not support those claims.

it would be comforting to think that the growing body of research–virtually all of which has reached the same conclusion as the Virginia study–would result in policy change.

It would be comforting, but inaccurate. As a friend of mine used to say, you can’t reason people out of positions they didn’t reason themselves into.


  1. “If Evidence Mattered…”

    Amendment 1 “Congress shall make no law respecting on establishment of religion, or prohibiting free exercise thereof;…”

    “Is this a problem that government can or should address, or is it more properly left to the private and/or nonprofit sector?”

    In the case of school vouchers; government has intruded into education by providing pubic education funds to place, basically at this point, any student whose parents apply for placement, into private schools. The qualifications for voucher approval have gradually, like government regulations, been whittled away; “the household income-to-needs ratio” as well as the scholastic ability of individual students are not part of the equation. The fact that the vast majority of “private” schools receiving voucher students are religious based and voucher students are required to study the same religious classes as those who are of that religion is a form of brainwashing. They are excused from participating in the required prayers but…the brainwashing of the religious classes is the government “establishment of religion” on one level and “prohibiting the free exercise thereof” on another level if students are of a different religion or lacking any formal religion. Studies appear to be showing results that the voucher students on the national level are not receiving a better education…this probably refers to students who apply themselves and would/could be educated in the public education system.

    “If Evidence Mattered…”

    “Is this a problem that government can or should address, or is it more properly left to the private and/or nonprofit sector?”

    This brings me to another matter of government intervention which is protected in the Preamble to the Constitution and our rights as Americans; “…that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Is consideration given to the individual citizens as is “properly left to the private and/or nonprivate sector.”?

    How do we get the evangelical Republicans out of our beds?

  2. Perhaps George Washington was right after all when he axed the cherry tree. The Virginia study, Sheila rightfully noted conclusions, aside for a moment, the discussion seems to be one of those cherry picking conundrums. I must confess I advocated for charter schools if the outcome relieved a burden of administration in public schools so that teachers can teach and students can learn in the public school classroom. I was wrong. States that approved charter schools, most of whom cherry picked the students to ensure success. Public schools do not get to cherry pick their students. But given the choice, parents with social capital, will cheery pick the choices. Despite the unfair odds, there are remarkable public schools who succeed anyway, without a bowl full of cherries.

  3. That last consideration should be the first consideration. “What does the evidence say,” is far more important in the long run than the debate over who should do it.

    RIP John McCain.


  4. Quote from Baron Hill regarding possible firing of Roncalli teacher for marrying another woman:
    “Now I know that, in June 2002, the US Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that school voucher programs do not constitute the establishment of religion. Those majority jurors were wrong. The minority jurors were right in saying “Public tax money will pay a systemic level for teaching the covenant with Israel, and Mosaic law in Jewish schools, the primacy of the Apostle Peter and the Papacy in Catholic schools..”

    Government establishing religion in private schools with public education tax dollars.

  5. i believe,the best education is one where you sit with,diversity,shoulder to shoulder,and find ways to coexist. i came from a heavely mixed race area of newark,n,j. spent some time in a local catholic school, and some public,then all public after 6 grade. this probably gave me some push to never ignore others needs,hense,this was the summer of riots i was in 4/5 grades. and yes, in the same nieghborhoods,we all had to coexist,and we did not fight eachother. when i read where florida has mandated a civics class,for its students,made manditory,i sat back,and was in awe,when did we start not taking a civics class? maybe we lost it in the male..(no pun)
    we however must have forgot about it. when kids of all races and tallents,comingle,we gain a future of no races,and become one. i listen to my white bread coworkers,and yes,nodak is like a cesspool of flour and water. i have seen though,thanks to the oil field and needed workers,i like the divesity,i can again enjoy. but,since nodak rank in the top 5 in public education,i am hopeful,all of thier kids,will enjoy our public education,and,spreading diversity in a white washed state.
    its great to enjoy all sides of people,and especially enjoy i didnt have to go 400 miles on a trip to feel enlightened again. we had private schools back then,in newark,in the 60s,military academies,and mainly the kids who were problem kids,real troublemakers,were sent there,but they gave the people of color,jail….

  6. ML, I shared that story on my FB page yesterday. It was well done and the writer even listed books we could read about how our media operates to keep us from the truth. Trump is correct about the media being #FakeNews but for all the wrong reasons.

    Robin wrote, “I guess that makes us socialist.” The formation of a new retirement home for lesbian women is very innovative. Einstein’s dictum said we are both individuals and social creatures which is why we need an economy which supports both aspects of self–not just the rugged individual competing with others which drive market-based capitalism.

    Sheila writes, “In states with voucher programs, desperately-needed resources are being siphoned from the public schools and sent to private, mostly religious schools. ”

    And that is exactly why the GOP did it and many democratic politicians endorsed it. This theory comes straight from Naomi Klein’s, “Schock Doctrine”.

    This has been the underlying theory behind Neoliberalism…first, we create a problem for which we already have a solution. So, we create the problem, then introduce our most excellent solution. This has been done intentionally. It’s also why Congress won’t allow studies of gun violence in the USA. They don’t want that evidence. Same reason IDEM doesn’t have air monitoring equipment in every county or water monitoring processes open to the public. The last thing the guilty don’t want is evidence.

    I believe North Carolina studied “school choice” programs and concluded it was legally segregating the population once again. White students were flocking to mainly white schools leaving the less mobile brown students behind.

    Heck, even in Muncie, all the mobile white families in the Muncie Community School District take their kids to predominately white county schools. It’s nothing more than white flight all over again and that was exactly the point – not the advertised propaganda spewed by think tanks and announced on media. Pure racism. Period.

    There wasn’t a problem with public education except when politicians withheld funding, so they withheld funding public schools. Then they offered their “solution” of allowing vouchers and school choice. Who did that help?

    The more affluent voters who vote R got to subsidize their kid’s private education with dollars meant for our public school system.

    Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Wash. Rinse. Repeat

  7. Todd Smekens today:
    “Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Wash. Rinse. Repeat”

    Yes, Todd, or support the Blue Wave, put bluing in the rinse water.
    Vote BLUE in November. Return to sanity.

  8. My question has always been: what was the word establishment’s original meaning?
    ‘establishment’ to me has in this particular case pertained to religious foundings and matters. that is to say something establishing a rule or government of religion or the estabishment of a religious entity. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe it means that government has NOTHING to do with matters religious as RELIGION has nothing to do with civilian matters because ‘religion’ is an establishment of a belief according to what ever ideal: G0D is an open term – the Creator – of who? what religion? there is nothing allowing religion into our government or any of its representatives! Nor should government have things like ‘the department of religious liberty’ or whatever the hell they named it! This is truly an abomination in an ideal democracy such as we have claimed to be striving for. imho

  9. Two thoughts this morning.

    1. How ANYONE (yes, I’m “shouting.”) can think even for a MOMENT that sending tax dollars to religious schools (or religious ANYTHING) is not a violation of the constitution is absurd. They know what they are doing and their intent is EVIL. (Full disclosure: I was a lay pastor for 17 years–in the end I simply couldn’t take any more from “good Christians.”)

    2. Todd Smekens references Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine. Read it. It is simply one of the most important and best documented books I have ever read.

  10. Carmel parents optimistic after meeting about cluster grouping of high-ability classes. “It will help gifted students’ socialization and improve the education of all students.” The Indiana Association for the Gifted reccomends placing gifted students in a separate class when possible. See today’s Star pg 23A. Mrs Lu said “she’d rather see…more social opportunities art, gym or lunch.” Vouchers make possible the implementation and continuation of segregation by race and religion and now ability. Wow, Carmel, home of white superiority. Mrs Lu doesn’t want her child to live in a bubble. Really? LMAO.

  11. Please somebody tell me this is a spoof story, or “fake news” planted by some nefarious Russian Hackers.

    Hillary Clinton will headline 3 DNC fundraisers:

    Hillary Clinton will headline three fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee in the coming months, in San Francisco, Chicago and New York, three Democratic sources tell CNN.

    The events, billed as “intimate dinners with discussion” with the former Democratic presidential nominee, were first reported by NBC News.
    Clinton’s events are expected to boost a DNC that has struggled with fundraising ahead of the midterm elections.

    RNCspokesman Michael Ahrens mocked the DNC for letting Clinton headline fundraisers.
    “Leave it to the Democrats to trot out one of the most unpopular candidates in history right before the election,” Ahrens said in a statement. “There’s no one better to remind voters of why they rejected Democrats the last time they voted.”

    My Stars has the DNC totally lost any ounce of Common Sense in trotting out Hillary Clinton. What is this the start of the Hillary 2020 Campaign?? Logic would seem to dictate a change is necessary. What a gift for the Republicans. The Corporate Democratic Party always finds a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

    Republicans will probably agree with this statement:
    Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake. Napoleon Bonaparte

  12. Wayne; it looks as if you, like me, are wondering how holding back gifted children and placing those of average or lower abilities in a situation making them more aware of their lack of abilities can possibly be educational for them or improve gifted children’s socialization skills. The Montissori teaching method is the ideal method; teaching each child according to their level of ability and with others learning at the same rate. Of course it is too expensive; especially now with the voucher system draining public education tax base and those religious (private) schools benefiting from actual tax dollars in addition to their tax-exempt status which is also paid by those of us who continue paying for public education which is now a support base for private education. Math has always been my weakest subject but I saw these facts without adding 2 plus 2 which equals 1 regarding public education dollars.

    I was also the mother of five children; my oldest son was gifted but at a time when only private schools could teach him at the level of his ability to learn. In 5th grade his teacher brought him books from the Franklin College library to keep him busy when he completed lessons ahead of the rest of the class. He was one of those who inadvertently was part of Carmel’s “cluster grouping”, the year every grade on his card was an A+ he told us he would never do that again, and he didn’t; his friends made fun of his high grades. My second oldest son was dyslexic; at a time when most doctors and teachers refused to accept the condition existed – not unlike the Republicans who believe Global Warming and/or Climate Change do not exist. So; there was no help for him either and the conflict between them was painful to watch as it was internal for both.

    Think of only the millions of dollars here in the state of Indiana going into our voucher system; the highest in the nation and what those millions could do to educate the vast majority of children of school age who are public education recipients. One issue I have not seen addressed regarding the voucher system is the transportation system; poor at best for the past several years here and one Township spent a school year charging parents for bus service to their children’s assigned schools.

    We must be the poorest educated county in the world which isn’t a third-world country; which is where we are headed with the lack of decent, if not quality, education for the majority of our children.

  13. Though Sheila’s evidence discussion centers on cost-benefit and other pre-policy discussions of the evidence relating to education, I think a better example of evidence vs. ideology relates to her statement that “The recent tax bill is an example.” That monstrosity was passed last December and is one of the biggest revenue bills in history, rivaling even those passed by Reagan and Bush, Jr., and get this > There was not a single committee hearing (where we have debates and evidence-sharing for and against proposals) and not a single Democrat who voted for it! Think Ideology 101.

    We transferred 1.5 trillion dollars (not counting interest on its addition to our national debt) by way of deficit financing for this giveaway to the rich while simultaneously slashing their tax rate – and what was the unshared evidence to support such a huge giveaway of taxpayer money?
    Members of the rich and corporate class were already awash in cash and opportunities for low-interest leverage and with labor costs at a minimum due to right to work laws and fear of jobs going to Mexico their balance sheets could hardly be better – so corporate performance and profits were not discussed – only the taxes paid were on the table.

    Ideology (and wage inequality) won; the rest of us and our children’s children lost (speaking of taxation without representation). Apparently Ryan did not think such a huge transfer of wealth to the already outrageously wealthy was even deserving of an evidentiary hearing, and apparently House Rules did not require such an airiing. So vote blue this November? I will. Perhaps if we prevail we will in time repeal or at least neuter some of the terms of this tax monstrosity for the ages. Perhaps, and I’m sure our unrepresented posterity who will be paying for this Republican gift to the already rich would agree.

  14. Given how ALEC basically writes much of what passes for legislation that Republican legislators at the state level promulgate into laws perhaps if a concerted effort was made to drive them out of business, finally, then perhaps local government would become, once again, local . State Senators and Representatives would have to actually do their jobs or get lost. Those that fund ALEC, and it’s an ever dwindling crowd, should be exposed for who they are and exactly what they support. To have a system that utilizes a think tank of sorts to feed draft legislation to state legislators that cannot draft legislation on their own since they cannot think their way out of a paper bag is obscene and yet it goes on unabated, so far.

    When we have a system where those that are elected state by state via heavily gerrymandered districts are so incompetent that they have to have other people, located in another state –Virginia, write the bills they introduce our own General Assembly, as an example, and every one like it across the nation is a farce. Maybe then we should turn our Capitol building into an upscale swanky hotel for wayward lobbyists instead of using it in a very hokey attempt to do the people’s business which is a freaking sham in the first place and a wholesale betrayal of our whole governmental system.

    ALEC and anything like it should be driven out of business with their funding dried up and their influence among grossly incompetent state legislators to prop them up as the stooges that they are needs to be eliminated. Anything that comes anywhere close to resembling it on the other side of the fence needs to be eradicated as well. We either have government for and by the people or we do not and while these people, just like the Federalist Society that has the gall to essentially nominate Supreme Court justices, their collective days in the sun need to be brought to a screeching halt.

  15. Vouchers and charter schools drain funds from the public schools which accept all students in order to cherry pick only the students (and parents) they want. We are draining public schools of funds for special and vocational education (both of which are expensive) and sending those dollars to schools which feel no obligation to provide either. The so-called school choice movement is snuffing out curricular choices and opportunities for whole segments of students.

  16. In terms of vouchers, I always ask the question – What about the students in “failing schools” that, for what ever reason, don’t use the voucher?

    This is anecdote, but, it happened to me, so I will relate it here.

    I just had my 50th high school reunion. When I went to public school in Detroit, they had a “magnet” high school for arts, music, science, and generally students who scored high on standardized test. I was invited in the 9th and again in the 10th grade, but I didn’t want to take the long bus ride and I wanted to be in the school’s jazz band, like my older brother had been (no jazz at the magnet school, or any 20th Century music). So I went to my local high school (which had been a highly rated school). I should note that the high school was highly integrated like my elementary school.

    In my senior year, I took “Senior Math”, a mix of analytic geometry, trigonometry, set theory, and calculus. For comparison, the affluent suburbs had a semester or even a full year of calculus. This was the slowest math class I had ever taken. Finally, after a great deal of stalling, and with a month left in the semester, the teacher (who was the department chairman) told our class that most of us couldn’t handle calculus and those of us who could would learn it in college. It turned into a virtual study hall for that last month. We weren’t at the magnet school (and too many of us were African-American), so we didn’t need to learn – and this was at a fully funded (sort of) public school.

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