Thursday, January 20, 2011

Contractually obligated to mention Canada again

I'm as tired of it as you are, but as long reform movement advocates* keep bringing up Singapore, I feel someone has to point out that Canada is neck-and-neck with countries like Singapore (except in post-secondary education where it pretty much blows them away) and that Canada, which is a far better match for the U.S. culturally, historically and demographically, has achieved this by taking most of the steps the movement suggests and doing the exact opposite.

If we had a properly functioning debate on education reform in this country, movement advocates would expect to be presented with counter-arguments; they would even anticipate them. New examples would be sought out, positions would be refined and the intellectual framework of the reform movement would be stronger for it.

But we don't have a properly functioning debate. Hell, we don't really have a debate at all. Instead, we have a situation where advocates can talk about Singapore without anyone bringing up Canada, or about PISA without anyone bringing up TIMSS, or about lottery-based analyses without anyone bringing up peer effects (or placebo effects or volunteer effects or treatment/selection interaction or...). Instead of being challenged and having to prove themselves, these claims go directly into the conventional wisdom pile where they are accepted by smart, otherwise well-informed people like Seyward Darby, Ray Fisman and Jonathan Chait.

This is not likely to end well.

* For the distinction between advocating for reform and advocating for the reform movement, see here.

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