Education Opinion

Topsy-Turvy Logic in House Proposal

By Robert E. Slavin — December 06, 2011 2 min read
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In last Saturday’s New York Times, Annie Lowrey wrote about a proposal in the House Appropriations Committee to cut funding for five of six Education and Health and Human Services programs that provide support to proven programs. One of these is Investing in Innovation (i3), which funds the development, validation, and scale up of proven and promising education programs. Education is not alone in the possibility of dramatic cuts to effective programs. Nurse-Family Partnerships have not only been found in rigorous evaluations to be effective in improving the development impoverished mothers and their children, it has also shown to reduce the mother’s need for other government services including welfare, food stamps, and Medicaid. Despite saving the government more than the program’s cost, Nurse Family Partnerships are on the chopping block too. The House cuts are in contrast to the proposals put forward in the Senate in recent weeks to maintain i3 and other evidence-based programs.

In a time of shrinking resources, one might argue that everything has to be on the block. Yet the evidence-based programs are a tiny proportion of federal funding for education and health, totaling just $1.2 billion in the $670 billion in non-military discretionary spending, according to Lowrey. Popular but unproven programs (including those found repeatedly to be ineffective) are being maintained.

A recent Brookings Institution paper by Ron Haskins, a former Republican senate aide, and Jon Baron, President of the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, contrasts the evidence base for programs maintained in the House proposal and those proposed for cuts. They say, “Only in the topsy-turvy world of Washington would programs that do not work get major funding increases, while programs that do work get cut.”

Beyond the immediate damage to students and families that would follow on cutting of proven programs, such an action would seriously set back the entire evidence-based reform movement, one of the greatest hopes we have for across-the-board improvements in education, health, and human services. All of the programs proposed for cuts in the House plan not only fund existing programs with strong evidence, but also encourage the identification of additional programs over time.

This is not a partisan issue. It is a question of good government and wise use of resources--which is more important than ever in today’s economy. What could be more conservative, in the best sense of that word, than an insistence that federal programs prove their worth in rigorous evaluations?

The Senate proposal is a bold statement that evidence matters, and must matter more over time. The House is supporting business as usual.

If you believe that evidence of effectiveness should be a basis for government funding, this is the time to make your views known.

Illustration: The Mad Hatter, John Tenniel, 1865

Editor’s note: Mr. Slavin’s organization, Success for All, is a recipient of a federal Investing in Innovation fund grant.

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