Empirical Humility: Charter Schools Edition

Interesting contrary finding today on charter schools. It’s generally well-known amongst liberals that charter schools who perform well do so by “cherry-picking”.  Rather than providing superior education, they screen out high-risk students.  In jurisdictions where that’s not allowed (many), they push out students who bring down their numbers.  Turns out that doesn’t seem to be true.  I don’t pretend to have any particular insight on charter schools, but have generally been very favorably inclined to adverse-selection argument Zimmer and Guarino are refuting.  After all, it is said a lot and it makes sense.  That it turns out to not be true is incidental.

In general, schooling is a pretty funny political topic.  It’s one of the topics, like marginal tax rates, where there are legions of totally uninformed regular people willing to express their views fervently, loudly, and with only casual connection to evidence.  Much like in climate science, the idea that maybe this is a topic better left to the experts is basically never heard.  Instead, basically everyone with children fancies themselves an expert on the nuances of childhood development and education.  And those without children usually at least have n=1 from their own childhood, which is basically data.

Liberals are generally all up on technocracy, but it’s good to remember that we are generally not ourselves technocrats and should be relatively humble in our own policy judgments.  Even liberals extremely well-versed in an area of policy are not experts in all things.


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