Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Powerful Idea on Youth Violence

New York Times editorial "A Powerful Idea on Youth Violence" (November 4th, 2009) fails to provide adequate analysis of a counterfactual to make its point. Indeed, speaking of Ron Huberman's observations about Chicago Public Schools, it claims

But the chaotic schools attended by high-risk students tend to differ from better-run schools in measurable ways. They have fewer counselors and social workers. They have higher rates of suspension and expulsion. They more often involve the police in minor skirmishes, like shoving matches, that then go unresolved.

By no stretch of the imagination does it necessarily follow that these schools are not minimizing violence with respect to the resources that they have. It may be that were they to have equivalent levels of resources as schools where high-risk students do not attend, they would have equivalent levels of resources. Additionally, it may be that "well-run" schools have more counselors precisely because they didn't have to pay for security guards, as they were in better neighborhoods.

To conclude that schools with less violence have more counselors implies more counselors will cause less violence is folly. Unfortunately, that appears the thrust of Mr. Huberman's hopes.

Mr. Huberman wants to remake the high-risk schools by beefing up the social work and counseling staff, by better training security guards and overhauling a disciplinary process that seems designed to throw out as many children as possible as quickly as possible.

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