In a perfect world, policy makers more interested in fashioning effective programs than in scoring partisan points could turn to academics to help cut through the rhetorical brawling. The original vision for the policy sciences of democracy, after all, was for social scientists to use their expertise to match treasured civic values with practicable policies. This process would not be value-free, but it would harness scholarly work for other than blatantly partisan purposes. Data would matter.
Unfortunately, it has not turned out that way. Peter DeLeon argues that academic policy research has devolved into just “another vested tool for interest groups.” 7 Indeed, all the quotations in the previous three paragraphs come from scholars speaking on behalf of their own research agendas. Collectively, the academic research on [school] choice has been described as “manifestos” more than balanced analysis 8 (285).
Academics cannot tell policy makers that choice does or does not work, but we can be helpful in three ways. First, policy makers can cherry-pick our work to support their own ideological positions. Second, academics can provide creative ideas on what might work. Third, we can offer probabilistic assessments of what is or is not working in practice (285-6).
More to come….
Smith, Kevin. “Data Don’t Matter? Academic Research and School Choice.” Perspectives on Politics 3:2 (June 2005): 285-299.
Kevin Smith is an associate professor of political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His most recent book is The ideology of Education: The Market, the Commonwealth, and America’s Schools.