David Brooks Loves Data–When It Gives the Right Results

In a typically half-empty David Brooks piece (3/13/09), the columnist praises Barack Obama for embracing “rigor” in education policy, for endorsing “testing and accountability,” for “mak[ing] sure results have consequences.” He complains about the “education establishment’s ability to evade the consequences of data” and that watered-down proficiency standards mean that “parents think their own schools are much better than they are.” He commends Obama’s commitment to “use data to make decisions,” and Education Secretary opposition to “ignoring failure.”

But Brooks says many doubt whether Obama “has the courage to follow through” on these principles, and point to “the way the president has already caved in on the D.C. vouchers case”:

Democrats in Congress just killed an experiment that gives 1,700 poor Washington kids school vouchers. They even refused to grandfather in the kids already in the program, so those children will be ripped away from their mentors and friends. The idea was to cause maximum suffering, and 58 Senators voted for it.

Obama has, in fact, been shamefully quiet about this. But in the next weeks he’ll at least try to protect the kids now in the program.

The odd thing is that the D.C. voucher program is a very poor poster child for the importance of rigorous, data-driven education policy that rewards success and punishes failure. The students participating in the voucher program have been watched closely, and according to two Department of Education studies they aren’t doing significantly better in reading or math than the peers they left behind in public school. The one bright spot that the studies found is that parents of kids in voucher schools report being more satisfied–in other words, “parents think their own schools are much better than they are.”

“Rigorous” is not a word one would apply to Brooks’ argument here.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.