Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Illusive competition in school reform: Comment on Merrifield's "Imagined evidence and false imperatives"

Berg, Nathan (2009): Illusive competition in school reform: Comment on Merrifield's "Imagined evidence and false imperatives". Published in: Journal of School Choice , Vol. 3, No. 3 (2009): pp. 290-306.


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Merrifield (2009) provides a useful polemic about the sad state of data analysis too frequently encountered in the school choice literature. The available data come mostly from limited policy experiments with only modest amounts of choice and competition. These data are then misapplied in debates about more dramatic shifts to new systems to supply educational services that aim for large expansions of choice and competition. It is difficult to cleanly separate theoretical priors from empirical evidence. I contend that it is possible to make a stronger empirical case for dramatic school reform. But doing so would require dealing with six potential pitfalls based on economic theory that might arise when attempting to move to school systems more reliant on private providers of educational services. Given the difficulty of policy experiments, this is a high evidential bar, and may leave us stuck in an unfortunate status quo, as Merrifield suggests. More detailed definitions of competition together with bold, new empirical evidence are clear priorities for advancing debates over school reform, and should be core elements of prescriptive policy analysis.

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