Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Moynihan Challenge: 5 Years Later

The Moynihan Challenge five years later: opponents of private choice programs can provide NO studies showing academic harm:

The Moynihan Challenge: 5 Years Later

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Five-years ago yesterday, I posed a "Moynihan Challenge" to school choice opponents: provide a couple of random assignment studies showing academic harm resulting for private choice programs and I will buy you a steak dinner.

The response from choice opponents after 5 years: nothing.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan inspired the challenge with a story from his book Miles to Go. During testimony to Senator Moynihan asked Laura D'Andrea Tyson of the Clinton Administration for two supportive studies justifying the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on a favored program.

Moynihan received two studies the following day, but Moynihan did something strange and actually read the studies. Moynihan noted that both studies actually concluded similar programs had failed to produce any positive results.

In response, Moynihan wrote the following in a letter to Tyson:

In the last six months I have been repeatedly impressed by the number of members of the Clinton administration who have assured me with great vigor that something or other is known in an area of social policy which, to the best of my understanding, is not known at all. This seems to me perilous. It is quite possible to live with uncertainty, with the possibility, even the likelihood that one is wrong. But beware of certainty where none exists. Ideological certainty easily degenerates into an insistence upon ignorance.

Faced with a choice critic at the Arizona Republic displaying what I regarded as an insistence on ignorance, I invited him to put up or shut up. I could produce multiple random assignment studies showing academic gains associated with private choice programs, if the critic could produce merely two I would pay him out a delicious steak dinner. I wrote:

If opponents of school choice can offer no proof to back their assertions, they deserve neither my steak nor anyone's confidence, leaving everyone to wonder: where's the beef?

I repeated the challenge to the nation on NRO without receiving anything resembling a serious reply.

Ah well, 5 years have passed, and the number of random assignment studies finding positive results from choice programs have continued to increase.

The opponents?

The technical term to describe what they have in terms of high-quality evidence: still zilcho

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