Hedge-fundie Ken Griffin sponsored a school-wide statistical experiment led by economist John List. Kudos for empiricism.
This blog post describes a previous experiment in education, where vouchers were provided to students to send them to private schools . The post author (not the study author) suggests maybe pre-school stuff is more effective, so the results here should be interesting, as most of the achievement gap is observable by age 5.
It is nice to see this as an experiment rather than the Gates-foundation-style "here is what we want." But on the other hand, it's stuff that we've seen before without great success, and most teachers don't expect it to work well for causal reasons. You know the candle problem, where creativity to solve a problem actually decreases with the addition of financial incentives?
My hope is that if the study turns out negative, as my priors would predict, rich people actually stop throwing money at this sort of plan, and focus on things like reducing class sizes, changing the school year, increased parent involvement, etcetera.
Wait, are those things known to do good? I was not under the impression that they were.
Well, as far as I know increased parent involvement is always mixed with other things, but those things generally seem to work well (e.g. the childrens' zone stuff). Class size does indeed have an effect (thanks google). Changing the school year can both increase the number of days (obvious why this would help) but you could also change how breaks are distributed to cut summer slide, since poor kids especially lose ground over long breaks.
From the 2nd paragraph: "A great deal of empirical data have been collected. However, they have so far been less than convincing and not consistent enough to justify the expense of the additional classrooms and teachers that would be required."
Hm, that might be changed with the addition of the evidence from Wisconsin or California. That would be because, I now realize, the page is 13 years old (curse you, google). The "tension" in the evidence is really the old, small studies vs. the newer statewide studies. Though there is still some uncertainty, the newer state studies seem to have won.
We don't know until we try - they seem reasonable to try, just like plainly increasing the teacher caliber by increasing their salaries seems reasonable. I am excited about the experimentation.