Ep. 184: Big Ideas – “Failure Up Close” with Jay Greene

May 28, 2020

Jay Greene, professor and chair of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, discusses the book he co-edited, Failure Up Close: What Happens, Why It Happens, and What We Can Learn from It. He breaks down what “failure” means and more.

Jason Bedrick: Welcome back to EdChoice Chats. I’m your host, Jason Bedrick, director of policy at EdChoice. And this is another edition of our Big Ideas series. Today I’m delighted to be joined by my friend and mentor Dr. Jay Greene, who is the distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. Jay, welcome to the podcast.

Jay Greene: Thanks for having me on.

Jason Bedrick: Our pleasure. So, the topic of our conversation today will be the book that you co-edited with EdChoice’s own Michael Q. McShane titled, Failure Up Close: What Happens, Why It Happens, and What We Can Learn from It. So, if we were to put your book, Failure Up Close, on a shelf in Barnes & Noble next to a book titled, “Success Up Close,” I bet that the success book would have more sales. Because there’s millions of ways to fail, but success is much harder to replicate. So, why focus on failure instead of success?

Jay Greene: Well, if I were trying to sell more books, I’m clearly in the wrong line of business. So, my goal really here is not to reach a larger audience, but to have the right message and reach the right people with that message. And I think this volume does that pretty well, and I’m pretty proud of it actually. And the reason why we focused on failure instead of success, is that I think the way we get to success is by understanding what went wrong with the things that failed.

And one of the real challenges we have in education reform as a movement is a lack of acknowledgement of and reflection on failure, and what that leads us to is repetition of those failures in different forms. And that’s been part of why we’ve had great difficulty making progress in recent years.

Jason Bedrick: So, before we go forward, what do you mean by “failure?” This is something that actually was a bit contentious among the authors in your book.

Jay Greene: Right. Yes, and I should say that in this book, we really defer to our authors about a lot here. All that we did was gather a bunch of smart people from a variety of different perspectives and backgrounds and ask them to come up with their own idea of what was a failure and their own definition of what failure meant. And of course they weren’t all going to agree and we didn’t impose anything on them. We let them make their own case. And so, as you correctly note, there is some disagreement in the book about what failure means.

And in fact, Larry Cuban’s chapter, to a large degree, is really about the impossibility of clearly defining failure. And I think it’s a great chapter actually and quite, quite useful. So, I will confess that I don’t have a strongly-held definition of what failure means. I think in general terms, the most common understanding of failure in this volume and probably more broadly is the inability to accomplish stated or desired goals.

So, failures don’t have to be catastrophes. They just have to not accomplish what they’re supposed to accomplish. And a lot of the chapters in this volume look at policies that weren’t disasters, didn’t harm people, but just didn’t achieve what was intended.

Jason Bedrick: Over the years, you’ve actually been incredibly prescient at predicting when proposed educational policies would ultimately fail. So, for example, you predicted the failure of Common Core, which later, almost entirely fell apart or failed to be implemented properly at least according to the standards of its advocates.

The Gates Foundation’s measuring effective teacher initiative, which costs billions of dollars and yet failed to produce essentially any positive results. The so-called 160-Character Solution, which was an attempt to “nudge students via text messages to apply for financial aid and for college,” which recent studies have shown had no effect. So, these people are very smart.

Jay Greene: And you’re leaving out portfolio management, too.

Jason Bedrick: Oh yes. Don’t forget. Don’t forget that.

Jay Greene: Don’t forget portfolio management. I’m very proud of that call.

Jason Bedrick: Right.

Jay Greene: But go ahead. Yes, I’m sorry.

Jason Bedrick: No, no, it’s fine. So, the people behind these, I mean, these are very smart people. These are no dummies. I mean, these are often Ivy League educated folks who have prestigious positions at top foundations that have millions or billions of dollars at their disposal. How are they not seeing these failures coming when you seem to be calling them a mile away?

Jay Greene: Right. So, one thing is my success might be overstated by a general cynicism, right? No, maybe I say a lot of things fail, including things that work. We just remember the ones that were right. So, it’s possible that my prediction record is overstated. It’s also possible that, look, it’s really hard to accomplish anything. Most things are going to fail. So, if you predict they’re going to fail in advance, you’re going to be right most of the time no matter what the proposal is.

Jason Bedrick: So, you’re a brilliant and also humble.

Jay Greene: Oh, go on. Anyway, so I think that it’s possible that I’m not quite as prescient as it seems. But if I had to explain why I saw these examples as likely to fail, these policy proposals as likely to fail when very smart, very well-educated, very well-intentioned people were promoting these same ideas. I think there are three big explanations for why they could not see the very likely failure of their proposals.

So, one problem is that we suffer from an incredible group think within the education reform movement. So, there’s relatively little critical examination of each other’s ideas and critical self-examination on that. Not to say that ed reform is not criticized, it’s criticized plenty, but it’s almost entirely criticized from outside the education reform movement. And so those criticisms are dismissed more easily as insincere, unhelpful and so that people don’t bother to consider and examine the criticisms that come against proposals from outside of our movement.

So, I think that’s one difficulty that we have and I think I just don’t really feel completely at home within any movement and not within the education reform movement either. And so it’s a little bit easier for me to step outside and look at whether things are likely to work and engage in criticism, including self-criticism.

I think the second problem that we’ve had with predicting success is that most of the people who populate the education reform world come from an economist type background. So, they either are economists or they’re highly influenced by economists, or they have a training that resembles economics. Most public policy degrees resemble that. And the problem with that perspective, that approach to education reform, is that the difficulty in education reform is not largely a technical one. It’s not largely about knowing the correct thing to do. It’s largely a political one, which is understanding that our public school system, any publicly funded school system, which would include privately operated schools receiving subsidies.

That system is a political system and the success or failure of any policy initiative in that space is a political one. And I think too few people within our movement, within our field, think about the politics of these issues. And so they get the politics horribly wrong very often. So, I think that’s a second difficulty.

And then I think a third difficulty is that we’re populated with very young, enthusiastic people. I think Teach for America has largely populated the education reform space with these people. And they unfortunately lack in experience and wisdom and history. And in particular, they lack any examination of past failures.

And so there aren’t aware that many of the things that they propose have been tried before and how those things have gone wrong before they just repeat those mistakes because they’re young and foolish. And that’s the shame that we now are so dominated by kind of Teach for America, Young Turks, but that’s what has happened to the education reform movement.

Jason Bedrick: And your book tries to offer in some sense an antidote for that by reflecting on different policy failures. And it provides a very clear-eyed approach to policymaking, which means a very heavy emphasis on trade-offs. There’s no utopia. There’s no silver bullet. So, what are some of the main trade-offs that policymakers need to consider when they’re crafting education policies or any policy?

Jay Greene: So, I think there are many trade-offs there, but one certainly is that there is a desire to reach the most disadvantaged and very last possible to reach student. That impulse is so strong within our movement because our movement seems to be fueled so much by a righteous pursuit of justice that we end up with policies that pursue the best at the expense of the good. That is we try to achieve certain perfection and we end up with things that are unlikely to help much of anyone.

And so I think the trade-off between perfect justice correctly treating every last student and achieving policies that are likely to be good on average is a painful trade-off because we all do care about justice. And we do care about reaching the most disadvantaged, but political reality forces us to compromise there and see what we can accomplish that’s realistic.

Jason Bedrick: And that relates, actually. You wrote something in the book I want to read to you that relates both to this and your previous point about politics. You said, “There’s a bad habit among reformers to think that the way to prevail in policy debates is to identify what works for what justice demands and then tell others expecting that they will differ. Politics is not primarily about truth or justice. Politics is primarily about self-interest in the organized representation of those interests.” So, how do we translate that into policymaking wisdom?

Jay Greene: Right. So some of that is that’s basic political science, right? So, if we had more people in the education reform movement who have a political science background, it might be healthy. Again, I think the kind of economist orientation leads us towards this technocratic orientation where we’re looking for the optimal policy that works rather than considering what is actually possible in realistic policy situations.

So, I think that the quote that you’re reading is a reiteration of this concern that I just expressed about the lack of political experience and knowledge within the education reform movement.

Jason Bedrick: You also discuss trade-offs between urgency and prudence and also trade-offs between top-down and bottom-up reform. What do you mean by those?

Jay Greene: Well, so the urgency thing is a real problem too, where we’re in a hurry and when we’re in a hurry, we do reckless things. So for example, I see a number of notable conservative thinkers jumped on board Common Core because they were just in a hurry to get national standards done, right? They liked to national standards. They had been advocating for them for decades. This seemed liked the closest thing to getting something done, whether they were good standards or bad standards, who can tell?

But they just wanted the idea of there being national standards so badly and they’d worked for it for so long that once there was a window for doing something, they rushed into it and were in a hurry to accomplish it without thinking through what it would really mean and how this was really going to go. So, sometimes this is old man disease where we work for our entire careers in an area and the thing we’ve been advocating has not happened. And then someone says something nice about that thing and then we fall in love, and rush towards it recklessly because we’re in a hurry to get it done before we die.

But in all likelihood, these are challenges that will exist long after we’re all dead. And so really rather than getting something done today, what we want to do is make gradual steps so that when we die, things are better than when we started. And so that we just keep moving in the right direction. Not that we think we’re going to solve these problems once and for all.

Jason Bedrick: Of course, the reason that people want to hurry in some cases is also those who are younger and have kids that are in the system. It’s like, “Well, if you have a proposal that’s not going to take effect or start to produce results for five to 10 years.” OK, but my kid is in third grade now. So, if we don’t have something that’s immediate, then this current generation is not going to be able to benefit.”

I mean, there is that trade-off there, you’ve got both sides. But if you rush it and you don’t have it implemented well, and you don’t have the political buy-in, then you may end up with nothing.

Jay Greene: Right. Well, I mean, so I think people are often not motivated by their own children because often they’re able to figure out ways of taking care of their own children. I think they’re motivated by the thought that there are children today who desperately need improvement and we need to deliver that improvement to them today.

And again, it’s this thirst for justice, which I understand. But it can also lead us to recklessness and the harsh reality is that we can’t fix everything for everyone today and we probably can’t do it tomorrow or the next day, but we can gradually fix things for more people every day. And if we take that attitude, I think we’re likely to be much better off.

Jason Bedrick: And what do you mean between the difference between top down and bottom up? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each approach?

Jay Greene: Sure. So, bottom up performs actually have a huge political advantage over top down, which I think is an important point that education reform has often missed. So, bottom up reforms are ones where programs offer benefits to individuals who then organize themselves to advocate for the expansion of and protection of those benefits. And top down are policies where smart people dream up how things should be arranged and then want to impose that solution on people. So, this would include things like accountability testing and grading schools A through F.

In that situation, smart people at the center of the system dream up what good performance is. They dream up how to measure that good performance and they dream up whatever rewards or punishments might be handed out for the performance on the thing that they measure. And those types of top down reforms, whatever their logical merit may be, have real political weakness in that they have no constituents.

No one is organized the advocate for testing our kids more and imposing rewards and punishments on schools and teachers, no one. There’s never been a rally in a state capitol for test our kids more, that’s never happened and never will happen because it doesn’t provide a benefit to any organized constituency. One of the attractions of bottom up policies like school of choice is that it allows people who are receiving that benefit to figure out who they are, allows them to organize with other people who are similarly receiving that benefit and then allows them then to advocate more effectively.

And the currency of politics is organized interests and educational reform really needs to think about how policy proposals might cultivate organized interest in support of them or not. And that should influence how attractive those different policies are to us. Now, there’s one other quick dimension here that top down, bottom up that I should also mention, which is the extent to which solutions can actually even be identified from the top.

And I think one of the big mistakes educational reform has made it is a very strong conviction, a belief, even a faith, you might say in the ability of very smart people to figure out the correct things for everyone to do from the top and then to impose it down. And there are some policy arenas in which that actually works in this true, but those policy arenas are ones where the interventions tend to have homogeneous affects, that is they affect everyone the same way.

And therefore, if we can figure out something that’s good, it will be good for everyone, everywhere pretty uniformly. So, vaccines are probably an example of a top down solution. We figure out vaccines are good for people and we require that they have them before they send their kids to school. This kind of top-down solution works because there really is a solution that can be identified at the center and it has a relatively uniform effect at the bottom.

The difficulty with education policy is that it doesn’t resemble medicine in that way. It more closely resembles parenting and effective parenting strategies will vary from family to family, community to community, even from kid to kid within the same family, we parent our children differently. So, what works depends on the context, depends on who’s doing the working and for whom it’s supposed to work, and in what situation it’s supposed to work.

And when the effectiveness of policies gets very contextual like that, then the top cannot identify uniform effective solutions. And so another real problem with top down solutions in education reform is I think the very nature of education is that it doesn’t lend itself to uniform solutions.

Jason Bedrick: Your book is full of very rich and detailed case studies by a variety of scholars about reforms gone wrong. And if any policymakers are listening to this podcast and want to avoid being featured in the sequel, I highly recommend reading it. Now, the authors generally address policies with which they were broadly sympathetic, which I think is great because this wasn’t bashing ideological opponents over the head or trying to score points. This was actually a form of self-criticism.

Jay Greene: Right. We encourage people to identify failures among things that they had found promising. We encourage people to focus on themselves precisely because when you think those people might be more knowledgeable about why those things went wrong, while throwing bombs over the fence at someone else’s favored reform is a little too easy and might not be as insightful.

Jason Bedrick: So, we don’t have time unfortunately to dive into all of the chapters. But I think our listeners in particular would be likely to be interested in the chapters by Dr. Anna Egalite and Dr. Matthew Ladner, which consider respectively the failures as they call it of voucher programs and of certain models of charter schools. Now, if you could just give us a brief overview of the ways that these two scholars believe that certain types of school choice programs have failed.

Jay Greene: So, Anna looked at private school choice programs and she thought that one of the main failings of prior efforts at promoting private school choice was that they focused on voucher arrangements as opposed to more flexible market-based solutions like education savings accounts. So, the appeal of something like an education savings account is that it allows the price of different services and goods within education to vary and allows for competition within the ESA world because people can choose how they allocate a pool of money across the different services they would buy.

So, the way it works is people get money in an account for the purpose of education and then they can split that money up to purchase different things like they could buy tutoring, they could pay for tuition, they can pay for after school activities. They can pay for a variety of educational-related things and they get to choose how they allocate it and how much they pay for each thing.

She thinks that’s a better approach. I mean, frankly, I think she could have gone further. I think if I had to add additional failures in the school choice movement to date, I think a main one would be our obsession, frankly, with test scores. That we sold this reform as one that would improve test scores dramatically. And there are improvements in test scores, but the improvements are not really as dramatic as advertised.

Jason Bedrick: Right. On that point, she actually starts with she doesn’t make the same point you’re making here, but she does point out that it failed to live up to the expectations set by some advocates of school choice. So for example, the 1990 essay by John Chubb and Terry Moe famously included the line, “Reformers would do well to entertain the notion that choice is a panacea.” Right? So, this is a claim that school choice was going to solve all the problems, even those who didn’t make as bold a claim as Chubb and Moe did make claims sort of based on Milton Friedman’s idea that you’re going to see dramatic improvements in quality, and that should materialize in test scores that are dramatically higher.

Now she points out, yes, the direction of the test scores have been positive. There’ve been a few examples like Louisiana where they were actually negative, but the vast majority of randomized control trials found positive results, but they were very modest, positive results. And you could say, “Well, you had modest small programs that led to small results.” Maybe larger scale programs would lead to larger results, but you question this heavy emphasis on testing entirely.

Jay Greene: I do, and actually this shows up in the Matt Ladner chapter where he is primarily talking about the charter school movement, which is even more obsessed with test score gains. And look, I fully confess to have been part of this failure for years within the school choice movement. Where I really thought that if you expanded choice and competition, you’d see dramatic increases in test scores and we have not seen that. So, even in the charter world where the favorite types of schools are the ones that seem move test scores the most, and that’s where the foundation’s subsidies and encouragement have gone.

So, that’s more of the charter schools we got are along those lines. When we look at long-term outcomes for those charter schools, we don’t see a good relationship between test score gains in the near term and later life success. So, schools that move test scores the most aren’t necessarily the ones that change the way at which students complete high school, enter college, complete college, enter the workforce and get jobs.

And so that leads us to believe that there’s some sort of disconnect between the good things that happened from moving test scores and the good things later in life that we really want for students.

Jason Bedrick: Right. And to be clear, you’re saying both that in some cases they’re raising the test scores, but you’re not seeing those improvements in those later life outcomes. And in other cases, the test scores don’t seem to move, but we do see improvements in those later life outcomes. So, that calls into question the whole premise that these test scores are actually a good proxy for the later life outcomes we truly care about.

Jay Greene: Right. They’re not a good proxy from management purposes. So, it’s not as if there’s no relationship between the level or even the change in test scores and later life success. But that relationship is very uneven and often wrong. And so the problem is the combination of choice with the technocratic inclinations of ed reform to manage choice scientifically so that we only offer good choices to people. And we know which ones are the good choices, because they’re the ones that improve test scores. Our management of choices towards the good ones have actually ended up steering children aware from what may in fact be the best choices for them.

What we think is good, the ones that improve the test scores the most may not be the really good ones for children. And again, bottom up seems to be better. The parents are in a better situation to figure out what kinds of schools are going to help their kids than we are armed with test scores or test score gains. And we’ve even seen this in a really useful experiment in Barbados where even low-income parents making choices are a lot better at predicting what schools will contribute to long-term success for the children than test scores are.

Jason Bedrick: In that Barbados study, we’re talking about things like likelihood of being arrested, likelihood of having a teen pregnancy. All sorts of outcomes, not just the usual test score or high school graduation.

Jay Greene: Right. This is why education is more akin to parenting, right? We’re just trying to raise our children to be successful adults, the kind of adults we want them to be. And the kind of very specific knowledge that they’re supposed to display on a test may or may not capture these things we really do care about. And it’s not that the knowledge doesn’t matter. It’s just that it’s a very narrow slice of knowledge that we’re focusing on when we administered these tests. And that leads to a lot of errors in identifying which schools are good and which are bad.

Jason Bedrick: Were there any other examples in your book of failure that you found particularly surprising or illuminating?

Jay Greene: Well, I thought two other chapters that really got at things that I used to really favor that I now don’t, one by Marty West on No Child Left Behind and the federal role in education and the other by Matt DeCarlo on using test scores for teacher evaluation and compensation. Those two chapters, I think both got at and clearly documented disappointment of these reforms that I used to think were very promising. And again, I think the defects of both have to do with political shortcomings and with the problems of top down reform.

And I fully confess in my younger days in educational reform, I was not aware of those limitations and I think that’s part of why when educational reform is too heavily populated by young, enthusiastic people, then you will be inclined towards those kinds of solutions. Because they’re so attractive to young people. Because they promise rapid advancement by imposing correct solutions by smart people like us.

And if educational reform were to have a few more gray-haired people around with some experience and knowledge of the past, and or if we can read books about the past, like Failure Up Close, then I think that we were in a better position to avoid those kinds of unproductive reform strategies.

Jason Bedrick: Study history to avoid repeating it. Always good advice.

Jay Greene: Right. Although the joke is that if you do study history, you’re condemned to watch other people repeat it.

Jason Bedrick: Yes. Yeah. Exactly. So, based on these experiences of failure that are documented in your book and the careful consideration of trade-offs, what lessons do you have for policymakers?

Jay Greene: So, I mean, I think that we make a pretty good case for gradualism. So, we don’t know what works. We have to be humble about this activity. We shouldn’t be in a hurry. We should take things slowly, try things out, see how they go, expand them and so on and make gradual progress. I think that’s one lesson. The second is that we cannot avoid the normal democratic processes when we’re trying to improve schools. We have to engage them and think about how to be effective within our political system. And that I think means focusing on producing policies that appeal to what are or could be organized interests. And that means not having a dominant focus on the most disadvantaged families, because unfortunately those families are also less well-positioned for successful political advocacy.

So, I think we need to include more advantaged and less advantaged people within our reform strategies, actually to help more disadvantaged families in the same way that social security is quite effective at helping poor seniors because it also includes rich seniors. And I think education reform should be a lot more like social security and a lot less like food stamps if it wants to be successful.

Jason Bedrick: One of the points you make in the book is like Common Core tried to do this end run around democracy. They tried to just, “Well, we’re just going to hurry up and we’re going to implement this and we’re going to do it administratively. And we can do it through the Departments of Ed and through federal carrots and sticks. And we don’t actually have to build a mass constituency that’s in favor of these standards.”

And then as soon as they’re implemented, there’s an immediate backlash, policymakers start to retreat. Legislators start to abandon these programs and before long, these testing consortia start to fall apart. A lot of states have Common Core in name only and a lot of the teeth end up being taken away.

Jay Greene: I think consortia falling apart, we don’t really have very many states administering Common Core aligned tests anymore, right? Yeah. So, the whole thing is falling apart, that’s true and it’s falling apart precisely for the reasons you say, which is they wanted to short circuit normal politics in the midst of a crisis as Rahm Emanuel said, “You can’t let a good crisis go to waste.” So, they thought this was good crisis. This is our chance to get national standards in. And they didn’t build a constituency around it.

It’s unclear if they ever could actually build a constituency around it. But even if they could, they didn’t really try and upper middle class families revolted and killed it. It wasn’t hard too and the unions betrayed them too, which was hilarious and totally predictable too. Gates gave many millions to AFT because AFT would say some nice things about Common Core.

And then all the AFT had to do is take the money and then wait a little bit and then stab them in the back, which they did. And that struck me as kind of a shocking naivete on the part of foundations thinking that they could buy a support.

As it turns out, foundations are at a real political disadvantage because they have money, but no constituents. And money is not that powerful in politics relative to constituents, right? Organized voters are powerful. Money helps, but you can’t buy organized supporters. You just can’t buy them. They’ll betray you and the Gates Foundation discovered that the hard way with the unions.

Jason Bedrick: Another lesson that you offer at the end of your book was to be humble. So I’ll read you this one paragraph from your book. “Whether it is the 100 percent proficiency goal of No Child Left Behind or the school improvement grant programs promise to turn around the bottom 5 percent of schools, education reformers have wildly exaggerated the potential effects of their policy proposals. Worse, get supporters of these programs knew full well from the beginning that these promises were ridiculous. But in hopes of scoring quick political wins, they were all too willing to save things they knew to be false.”

So, why if they knew that ultimately everybody did know in the policy world that they were never going to get to a 100 percent proficiency with No Child Left Behind, why would policymakers make fools of themselves saying these things that they knew were false?

Jay Greene: Right. Well, there are trade-offs here that are worth acknowledging. So the bold promises may also help generate support at the front end to make adoption of the policy more likely. So, people are inclined to overstate the likely effects of a policy intervention because they want to win support by promising more. And now you can’t make policy progress unless you can adopt a policy. And so a little bit of over-promising may not be horrible, but too much over-promising will be catastrophic.

And I think No Child Left Behind did too much over-promising. But then again, I don’t think they’re alone guilty. Again, the school choice movement, we’ve done our own fair share of over-promising and it has been hurtful. But I understand the inclinations to do it because you’re excited. You believe strongly. You want other people to get on board and promising big things is a way to help do that.

Jason Bedrick: I remember seeing a sign that said, “What do we want? Incremental change. When do we want it? As soon as practically possible.” Right? So, it is hard to get a crowd riled up about that. So it does make sense politically that you might end up over-promising, but I think policymakers need to be careful not to take that too far because if you do set expectations too high, you are bound to be disappointed.

But you said that the need for humility extends beyond just the goal setting. It also extends to policymaking itself and you had a very Hayekian insight. So why else should policymakers be humble?

Jay Greene: Yeah, because we don’t know the solutions and we may never be able to know the solutions to certain kinds of problems. And so the best we may be able to do is to empower people to figure out their own solutions. And so that type of Hayekian humility would be helpful as well.

Jason Bedrick: Yeah. I like the quote you used from Hayek’s famous Nobel Prize speech, where he says that, “Our goal should be to behave not like craftsmen, but like gardeners. Not to shape the results as the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate a growth by providing the appropriate environment.”

And that’s unlike No Child Left Behind and others that are trying to very top down manufacturer results. Things like what Anna Egalite points to ESAs, it creates a platform that then can lead to bottom up reform.

Jay Greene: That’s right. And look, I mean I think it’s worth acknowledging that No Child Left Behind actually was less directive than Race to the Top was. So we’ve been ratcheting up how much lack of humility we have. No Child Left Behind says to States, “You have to have tests, you have to have goals, but you get to set your own goals and you get to pick your own tests.” Right? At least that’s some amount of decentralization. Race to the Top said in order to win the pot of gold, which you desperately need here in the midst of this economic downturn, you need to adopt the right tasks based on the right standards and implement the correct pedagogies to implement those standards, to achieve those standards.

And so it was far more directive than No Child Left Behind was. So we’ve been ratcheting up how centrally bossy we are and central bossiness is fundamentally a lack of humility. It’s a belief that we know the solutions and so there’s nothing wrong with us making you do what we know to be best.

Jason Bedrick: So, before we close, do you have any final words of advice for policymakers or just advocates of school choice that don’t want to end up in the sequel of your book?

Jay Greene: Oh, well, I can jokingly a reference, say anything now in the opening commencements, the valedictorian says, “I have seen the future and all I can say is go back.” So, it’s possible that we may find it very difficult to do better going forward. But this book is informed by a faith as much as technocrats are and it’s a faith that we can learn from our mistakes. That it’s okay to make mistakes. There’s no shame in it. There’s nothing wrong with the fact that we have failed, but it’s important that we try to learn and we’ll make new mistakes. Let’s just hope there’ll be better mistakes in the future.

Jason Bedrick: Our guest today has been Dr. Jay Greene, distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. He is co-editor with EdChoice’s Michael Q. McShane of Failure Up Close: What Happens, Why It Happens, and What We Can Learn from It. Jay, thanks for coming on the podcast.

Jay Greene: Thank you.

Jason Bedrick: This has been another edition of EdChoice Chats. If you have any ideas for authors you’d like us to interview for the Big Ideas series, please send them to media@edchoice.org and be sure to subscribe to our podcast. Follow us on social media @edchoice And don’t forget to sign up for our emails on our website edchoice.org. Thank you. We’ll catch you next time.