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Giving Compass' Take:
• A new study examined test scores for students admitted by lottery to Boston charters and also tracked those students all the way through college completion.
• What are the key aspects of charter school networks that supporters should understand to better evaluate these schools?
Josh Angrist, the MIT economist and a leading voice on research methods and education policy, has a recent piece in Forbes in which he praises the dawning of a new era in which policymakers are guided by economists conducting experimental analyses of promising education reforms. He writes:
Alas, school reform has rarely been grounded in the sort of empirical analysis required of a new drug or medical treatment. Many educational innovations are propelled primarily by a politician or philanthropist’s good feelings. It shouldn’t surprise us that weakly researched innovations often lead to disappointing results. But this unscientific approach is now changing. America’s large urban districts are piloting new models for education delivery, such as small schools, charter schools, various sorts of magnet programs, and vouchers. Importantly, these innovations are often deployed through experiments… Economists nowadays use these experiments to provide credible, non-partisan evidence on the consequences of school reform.
To be sure, experimental methods are the best way to identify causal effects, and most of my own research uses this approach. Unfortunately, this improvement in methods does not always yield credible and non-partisan evidence because it is all too common for researchers to misinterpret the policy implications of these experiments, even when they are properly conducted. Several examples of this type of misinterpretation can be found in Angrist’s brief Forbes article. I’ll pick one to illustrate the point.
Read the full article about Boston charter schools by Jay P. Greene at Education Next.