Daily Drivel

March 22, 2010 | Blog

It’s hard to believe that the Wall Street Journal fancies itself a national newspaper while publishing this largely baseless, political clap-trap on its editorial page:

But national standards are no substitute for school choice and accountability, which are proving to be the most effective drivers of academic improvement.

First of all, to frame education reform as pitting national standards against choice/accountability is ridiculous on its face. It is a false choice. Plus, the Obama Administration’s reform blueprint is so much more broad than that. About the only thing that the WSJ editorial gets right is in saying that national standards “won’t magically boost learning” by themselves.

Secondly, the WSJ appears to be falling into the “silver bullet” mentality all too prevalent among simplistic education reformers. “Just run schools like a business!” Or, “[INSERT pet approach] is the answer.” Yes, we’ve been down that road before …. small schools, merit pay, open classrooms. The WSJ apparently wants to contribute choice and accountability to the junkyard of spent shell casings.

Third, where is the research evidence to suggest that school choice and accountability should be in the driver’s seat? The editorial offers no evidence. The presence of publicly funded vouchers is no panacea. Just look at Milwaukee’s experience (here and here). At the recent meeting of the American Education Finance Association, the U.S. Department of Education’s senior adviser Marshall ‘Mike’ Smith offered evidence that rates of gain in student test scores were lower after No Child Left Behind became law than before. We chided Margaret Spellings last year for touting the successes of NCLB on similar grounds. So much for bare-bones accountability.

Does the Wall Street Journal have any editorial standards? Or any shame?

UPDATE: Read Claus von Zastrow’s take on this editorial on Public School Insights: “It doesn’t pass the laugh test.”


  1. Reply

    Claus von Zastrow

    March 22, 2010

    Very well put. The Cato Institute's Neal McClusky has been making the same grand pronouncements about all the evidence behind choice--even has he takes a swipe at national standards for lack of evidence. There seems to be an odd double standard at work there.

  2. Reply

    Liam Goldrick

    March 22, 2010

    Thanks, Claus. All government -- especially the federal -- is evil, incompetent, overbearing, dis-empowering and/or wasteful. Haven't you gotten the memo?

    Aren't these the same forces that opposed a public option in health care reform, as well as HCR itself, due to fears of a government takeover of health care, death panels, etc? That all despite the fact that government is already in the health care business. Medicare, anyone?

    Ideological purity can lead to some strange contortions.

  3. Reply


    March 22, 2010

    "Yes, we've been down that road before .... small schools, merit pay, open classrooms."

    When was this?


  4. Reply

    Liam Goldrick

    March 23, 2010

    Let's see ... Gates did the major investment in small schools in the last decade, now it has moved onto teacher quality. Merit pay perennially pops up as "the answer," but research and surveys of teachers suggest that leadership, working conditions, colleagues and opportunities for professional learning all trump compensation as reasons why teachers decide to work in and remain in individual schools. Open classrooms emerged as an 'answer' back in the 1970s - I attended a middle school in the 1980s originally built with an open design which subsequently had been partitioned off into individual classrooms.

  5. Reply

    Stuart Buck

    March 23, 2010

    I'd suggest that Mike Smith's eyeballing of that chart at lunch was much less convincing than Jonah Rockoff's presentation the next day ("The Effects of No Child Left Behind on School Services and Student Outcomes.").

  6. Reply

    Liam Goldrick

    March 24, 2010


    I did not attend that session. However, from a 2009 CALDER paper by Reback, Rockoff & Schwartz on this topic, a key finding was "that NCLB pressure influences student and staff attitudes and teachers’ time use and instructional strategies but has little net effect on mean student test score growth on low-stakes exams."

    Anything new or different shared in the AEFA session you mentioned?


  7. Reply

    Stuart Buck

    March 24, 2010

    Their 2010 paper (http://www.columbia.edu/~rr2165/pdfs/reback_rockoff_schwartz_nclb_jan28_2010.pdf) found: "The first three rows of Panel A in Table 6 reveal that AYP pressure has a positive and statistically significant effect on mean student achievement growth on low-stakes exams in reading and science but a smaller and less significant effect on achievement growth in math."

    Dee and Jacob also have an interesting paper finding positive effects from NCLB: http://www.nber.org/papers/w15531

  8. Reply

    David B. Cohen

    March 28, 2010

    Thanks for trying to keep 'em honest. Everyone on the outside wants some fancy solution. On the inside, the solutions look both easier and harder. Easier because if the politicians would just pay enough to improve conditions (if not pay), we could make some serious progress. Provide the time, professional development, and other resources needed by teacher, and students, and that would go a long way. Harder, because from dealing with students daily, we know that even when you're doing everything right, there are circumstances beyond your control that inhibit student progress. It's not supposed to be acceptable to say that, but the folks who criticize that point of view don't generally have any particular solutions to offer. They tell us the teacher is the most important factor, but leave out the crucial prepositional phrase "in school." There are no factors in school that have as great an impact as poverty, post-traumatic stress disorder, severe health problems, etc.

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