Jens 'n' Frens
Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

"A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures."
  -- Daniel Webster

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 :::

This in some ways is old news, but Vox has a write-up on a new working paper about charter schools in Texas, which finds that
exits from the sector, improvement of existing charter schools, and positive selection of charter management organizations that open additional schools raised average charter school effectiveness over time relative to traditional public schools.
There are states in which charter schools are, on average, better than traditional public schools, and other states in which they are not; to a large extent the schools that succeed do so for different reasons, and those that fail do so for different reasons, and details of what makes a good school depend on local contexts. What works well as far as state-wide institutional rules, then, are allowing a lot of charter schools to open, especially where public schools have not been doing well, and closing them down if they don't do well.  The reason they help public education in those states is because they make it easier to try something genuinely new when what is being done isn't working than do most traditional public school institutions.  If they become a new way of trying something and not responding to the results, their benefits are at best severely circumscribed.

Shortly before the recent election, an organization asked school board candidates in my area a set of binary questions, among which was a question like "Do you support charter schools?"  I have the impression that knee-jerk supporters of charter schools in states in which they are allowed to continue to fail are in fact the problem there; when a charter school is to be shut down, they rally to its defense, because they are pro-charter school.  Other states miss out on potential benefits because the powers that be are knee-jerk anti-charter school; they insist that failing schools continue to fail in the same ways, or occasionally to fail in ways imagined by people with the same prejudices that led to the original failure.

When I see people arguing that we should raise or cut taxes for which the individual doesn't know the current tax levels, or who always support or always oppose management in every labor dispute, I become skeptical that this is a well thought-out position, and assign higher probability, in most contexts, to this person's having made a midbrain-level association between one thing as "good" and another as "bad".  What I tend to dislike about asking politicians yes/no questions, or even putting too much stock in a Congressman's voting record (where, especially in the case of junior members of the House, yes/no decisions are a lot of what they get to do legislatively), is not merely that they ask the candidates to oversimplify, but that they have at their epistemological root the assumption that one should adopt a fixed answer to them, and that the actual content of actual questions is inessential.

::: posted by dWj at 12:34 PM

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Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

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