Attacking the metric

School choice advocate Charles Murray attacks standardized testing:

The evaluation by the School Choice Demonstration Project, a national research group that matched more than 3,000 students from the choice program and from regular public schools, found that pupils in the choice program generally had “achievement growth rates that are comparable” to similar Milwaukee public-school students. This is just one of several evaluations of school choice programs that have failed to show major improvements in test scores, but the size and age of the Milwaukee program, combined with the rigor of the study, make these results hard to explain away.

So let’s not try to explain them away. Why not instead finally acknowledge that standardized test scores are a terrible way to decide whether one school is better than another?

This is tremendously amusing to me, as a longtime opponent of school vouchers and the various permutations of the conservative goal to fix the public schools. But you cannot fix that which is working precisely as designed! Murray simply doesn’t understand that group schooling doesn’t work any better than group reading or group training does.

Imagine if the only way you could read was to get together in a group of 30 and have a professional reader read out loud to you. How often would you read? How fast would you read? How much would you read? The excellence of the reader, the mellifluousness of his voice, would be largely irrelevant. The primary problem with education is the group fetish that has pervaded it ever since the Prussians pioneered the one-size-fits-all approach.

The failure of school choice to provide results was bound to end up in an attack on the standard, just as the many failures of various teacher-based programs always have. As Rothbard explained, empiricists always abandon their empiricism in favor of ex post facto rationalizations whenever they don’t get the results they expected.