A new paper by Lisa Barrow and Cecilia Rouse is a good introduction to how economists view education policy, and the paucity of hard evidence on most possible policies. While I don’t agree with all their conclusions (FWIW, here’s my take on the US class size debate), the paper is well worth a read for policymakers working on education. Who knows, it might even prompt us to learn something about what works in Australia, rather than just making schools policies based on gut instincts and interest groups.
Causality, Causality, Causality: The View of Education Inputs and Outputs from Economics
Educators and policy makers are increasingly intent on using scientifically-based evidence when making decisions about education policy. Thus, education research today must necessarily be focused on identifying the causal relationships between education inputs and student outcomes. In this paper we discuss methodologies for estimating the causal effect of resources on education outcomes; we also review what we believe to be the best evidence from economics on a few important inputs: spending, class size, teacher quality, the length of the school year, and technology. We conclude that while the number of papers using credible identification strategies is thin, the body of credible research on causal relationships is growing, and we have started to gather evidence that some school inputs matter while others do not.