Another movie about school lotteries!

First we had the movie by Madeleine Sackler The Lottery. Now along comes another one

 Waiting for “Superman,” in theaters this fall, offers the best evidence to date that charter schools are no longer a reform sought by conservatives alone: the film was directed by Davis Guggenheim of An Inconvenient Truth fame.

 You can read more about this movie (including a trailer which includes an actual lottery draw!) at

 I found out about this from reading an article about New York charter schools by Marcus A. Winters (a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute ) called ‘The Life-Changing Lottery’ in City Journal

(Winters accepts uncritically the pro-charter research by economist Caroline Hoxby of Stanford U. Others doubt the efficacy of charters, notably Steven Levitt of Chicago and ‘Freakonomics’ fame. Both rely on the ‘natural scientific experiment thrown up by lottery choosing. Details in my new book ‘Lotteries for Education’)

5 Responses

  1. I think that it is safe to say that Levitt lending support to any idea should be enough to raise strong doubts about the validity of the idea. He is unreliable even on the most basic points of intellectual honesty. (This, BTW, Keith Sutherland, is the kind of “experts” that you would like to see having a monopoly over writing policy proposals and “informational” material.)

    Conall – could you give us a short summary of the matter as you discuss it in your book? I am interested but I am not sure yet that I am up for a book-scale commitment.

    Also, EXTRA!, a left-wing media analysis magazine, has a recent issue devoted to the way US media systematically distorts the discussion regarding education.


  2. Of course I don’t rely solely on Levitt! On p84 I say:

    “Based on the evidence, the conclusion that parental choice does not raise educational attainment now seems to be widely accepted. I have heard John Elliot, Chief Economist at the DfES acknowledged as much at a Conference on (Jun 8, 2006) at Bristol University. At the same venue (on Jun 9, 2009) Helen Ladd, who has studied and written about school-choice in a wide range of countries said: “I believe from the evidence that choice does not lead to higher educational attainment, but does give parental satisfaction.” Further confirmation of the ineffectiveness of parental choice comes from Burgess et al. (2009) “Our reading of the literature is that competition, as it currently exists in England, has not significantly improved the academic performance of schools.”

    Whether Levitt is reliable or not I leave to his peer-reviewers. So far he has been heaped with praise. Curiously, he does not include his and his co-authors devastating refutation of the case that ‘school-choice works’ in Freakonomics.

    Compare this from (on p81 of my book): Harvard economics professor Mankiw tells us: “If the economic history of the 20th century teaches us anything, it is that an economy based on free and competitive markets serves consumers better than one based on central planning by the government. Schoolchildren, too, should enjoy the benefits of that lesson.” I added: ‘Given that kind of confident assertion it is remarkable that there is still any debate to be had (about choice and vouchers).’

    At the very least Levitt tries to use evidence, and not rely on the pompous claims on “common-sense” put forward by Mankiw.


  3. Conall, I am very sympathetic to your point of view. Mankiw is obviously a mindless ideologue. The notion that competition is a cure-all is simplistic nonsense. One might as well argue that competition for government power through elections would cure all of the government’s ills – I doubt that Mankiw would endorse such a view. (I am just surprised to find Levitt making sense for a change. I guess, like Blair being honest, even that happens sometimes.)


  4. Has anyone seen this film yet?


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