The charter school debate has been conducted in public (in the US) almost entirely in terms of whether charter schools do better than regular public schools in terms of the performance of their students on standardized tests (reading and math). Its looking very much that, taken as a whole, they don’t have much effect one way or the other on test scores. This doesn’t mean, of course, that some charter schools mightn’t have considerable effects. It is entirely plausible that, even if charters as a whole do not improve student outcomes, some particular kinds of charters do, and we could, presumably, find out which ones and promote them (and promote their magical qualities, perhaps, even among non-charter schools). For example, Roland Fryer’s much discussed study (to which I’ll return later) indicates that the Promise Academy schools in the Harlem Children’s Zone has had significant effects on math scores in particular, and attributes that gain (plausibly) to the school itself. The Obama administration is so taken with the “high commitment” schools of the kind found in the Harlem Children’s Zone that it required applicants for Race to The Top money to remove barriers to the formation of charters, and has included expansion of charters in its plans for the re-authorization of ESEA.

Let’s go back to Perry Pre-School for a moment. The main lesson people have drawn from Perry Pre-School is that it is worth investing in high quality early childhood programs, not just for what they do for the children, but because they are a relatively high yield economic investment. In fact, new work by David Deming (pdf) concludes that it is even worth investing in lower quality early childhood programs, for the same reason.

But there’s another lesson, which bears in a rather unnerving way on the charter school debate.

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Habermas and Europe

by Henry Farrell on June 14, 2010

According to “Kenneth Anderson”:

bq. It is impossible within Habermas’ account — faithfully reflecting German and European history — to disentangle patriotism from nationalism, a fundamental difference of political experience that is one of the chief reasons why American intellectual elite attempts to ape their presumed European betters are so far-fetched, ill-suited, and ultimately ugly.

A very considerable part of Habermas’ intellectual project over the last few years has been _exactly_ to come up with a form of patriotism which is distinct from nationalism. Habermas dubs this “constitutional patriotism” – and while it is not intended to overcome existing forms of nationalism, it is intended to temper them, and to make them non-exclusive. As it happens, one of the sources that Habermas draws on for this is US constitutional politics (he is also interested in the Swiss model). I suspect Anderson hasn’t actually read much Habermas, or he wouldn’t be mischaracterizing Habermas’ work so badly in a failed effort to score a cheap debating point against ‘American intellectual elites.’ It is entirely possible that Habermas’ ideas won’t work – but it is emphatically clear that Habermas _does_ disentangle patriotism and nationalism from each other as intellectual concepts, and that this distinction is at the heart of the broader project on which this essay draws. You might expect someone making grand claims about European intellectuals and their slavish American sycophants to actually know this. You’d be wrong.

This said, I don’t actually agree with Habermas here. Partly this is because I am a pragmatist rather than an idealist. But also, in large part, because I’m pretty skeptical about the potential for deliberative exchange to produce wide-reaching political agreement. Habermas “seems to be hankering”:,0 for a political party (and associated deliberative process) that would lead people to reach a consensus that we are all Europeans now.

bq. Our lame political elites, who prefer to read the headlines in the tabloids, must not use as an excuse that the populations are the obstacle to a deeper European unification. For they know best that popular opinion established by opinion polls is not the same thing as the outcome of a public deliberative process leading to the formation of a democratic will. To date there has not been a single European election or referendum in any country that wasn’t ultimately about national issues and tickets. We are still waiting for a single political party to undertake a constructive campaign to inform public opinion, to say nothing of the blinkered nationalistic vision of the left (by which I do not just mean the German party The Left).

I just don’t think that this is how democratic politics works – or should work. Democracy is about contention rather than reaching a happy-clappy consensus. My best guess (which is to say that I _think_ this is right, but to make a plausible case I would have to make serious arguments rather than just wave my hands around) is that the moment when (if) an actual European polity will be created, will not be the moment when European publics, led by their elites, realize that they are actually Europeans. It will be the moment at which self-interested political parties, rather than arguing and picking petty squabbles about whether ‘we’ should all be Europeans or not, start arguing and picking petty squabbles about what _kind_ of Europeans ‘we’ should be. In other words, Europe is never going to work as a broad consensus underpinned by processes of debate leading to the construction of a ‘democratic will.’ But it might possibly work as a space for faction, conflict and infighting – just the way that national processes work. How you get to this point, I don’t know. But I don’t think deliberation will have much to do with it.

Update: Kenneth Anderson updates his post to respond. I’m happy to withdraw the suggestion that he hasn’t read much Habermas and to apologize for it. I read his text as saying that Habermas couldn’t make any distinction between patriotism rather than that Anderson found his distinction unsatisfactory – but I should have refrained from the snark. That said, I still don’t think that the comment does justice to Habermas here (and I write this as someone who doesn’t buy into the Habermasian project). There is a quite clear and intellectually sustainable difference between constitutional patriotism as Habermas conceives of it and nationalism. It may very likely be that constitutional patriotism is too weak a reed to build a thick political identity around. But that seems to me to be a different question to whether one can sustain a difference between nationalism and patriotism in Habermas’ thought at all.