The pendulum and the ratchet

My thoughts on this start with education policy but is more general: Whether elected Republican officials can reverse a slew of Obama administration policies may depend on whether each policy area is more like a pendulum or more like a ratchet. Elite Republicans hope that by the end of 2018, federal health care, environmental, tax, and financial-regulation policies will look like a pendulum that rapidly swung towards extreme conservative policies after this election.

In contrast, former President Obama and liberals hope that in their priority areas, current federal policy acts more like a ratchet, with teeth and a pawl that block reverses and slippage.

The pendulum and the ratchet in education policy

Neither metaphor is going to be true in all areas; the critical question is where policy is more like a pendulum or more like a ratchet. Twenty years ago in their book Tinkering toward Utopia, David Tyack and Larry Cuban argued that education reform witnessed cycles of reform rhetoric in counterpoint with long-term institutional trends. Tyack and Cuban explained that at a superficial level, the rhetoric of education reform appeared much like a pendulum: “Watchwords shifted in different times from excellence to equality, efficiency to empathy, unity to pluralism–and then back again” (p. 44).

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Learning from the “failure” of polling

The tie between [Progressive-era] administrative authority and the discourse of special education lay in three connected features: the objects of study in the field, the evangelism of experts embedded in personal and professional networks, and the technical tools that experts and their public partners used in practice. We can call this set a triangle of expertise: objects, experts, and tools. – Artiles, Dorn, & Bal (forthcoming, Review of Research in Education)

After the failure of most polling aggregators this week, I am not all that surprised that some observers of education have taken it as a warning about the flaws in big data in education, whether Harry Boyte, Audrey Watters, or others. As someone who has written a bit about the history of expertise in education — yes, the block quotation above is a bit of a tease about a future article — I am sympathetic towards that skepticism. Yet that is not the only conclusion one can draw, and it is important to consider alternative arguments.

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Veterans Day: remember the Double-V campaign

Pittsburgh Courier's

Pittsburgh Courier’s “Double Victory” logo

This Veterans Day, many of my fellow Americans are worried about their vulnerability after a hate-filled national campaign. Or, rather, not worried but justifiably anticipating attacks, if not having witnessed/experienced them directly.

So today, I’m remembering the Double-V campaign in World War II, pushed by the Pittsburgh Courier, as Black soldiers, veterans, and their families committed to make sure that they fought for citizenship at home at the same time that they committed to fight against dictatorship abroad.

A few post-election notes

A few short notes:

  • I have no sense for how much the racist, sexist discourse of the campaign and the Trump presidency will shape our culture over the next few years. I cannot pretend to know the extent to which reports of campaign-period bullying are valid, but with a few exceptions, this concerns me more than concrete policy issues. Despite President Obama’s hopeful statement this morning, I think Dara Lind is more on target for millions of my fellow Americans.
  • One huge consequence for children’s lives: Paul Ryan will have much more influence on the federal budget, including the block-granting of Medicaid and other programs that support poor children and the overall level of federal budget support for education.
  • ESSA’s passage moved much of K-12 policymaking back to the state level, and the Trump administration has no incentive to change that, except perhaps for cultural politics.
  • Silver beat Wang: A poker player with a bachelor’s degree beat out a bunch of PhDs in understanding the uncertainty in the data about the election. I think we have much to learn from that in education research, but that’s for a different post.
  • Cold comfort for my skills as an observer: the sleeper education issue in the election (California’s proposition 58) won handily, and I was correct in predicting both that it would remain a sleeper issue and the contrast between its politics and the politics of Massachusetts Question 2.

International Reason like a Pirate Day

My friend Tom Smith wrote the official Talk like a Pirate Day anthem:

The closest attitudes I’ve seen in education research ARRRRRRRRRR from econometric specialists, such as those trained by MIT’s Joshua Angrist. If you have Angrist and Jörn-Steffen Pischke’s Mostly Harmless Econometrics, like me, matey, you may have read a certain swashbuckling tone between the lines: Let’s grab that data, make bold assumptions that are pretty reasonable, and look at our booty the conclusions we can draw!

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