I participated in a debate last night at Cornell sponsored by Students for Education Reform to encourage an exchange of ideas on education policy. I was on the libertarian panel, which was wedged between the College Democrats and Republicans. It was a fairly heated debate:

Libertarians believe the federal government should play no role, we believe the federal government should play a moderate role, and the Democrats believe that, as usual, any solution can be found by throwing money at the problem,” Digennaro [Republicans] said.

Democratic speaker Tony Montgomery ’13 criticized what he saw as “nitpicking over cost-benefit analysis [and] treating schools like a business.”

“They’re not a business. Businesses can fail, and one thing we can’t afford to have fail is our schools,” Montgomery said.

Digennaro responded to Montgomery’s argument, saying, “you could make a rhetorical point that schools can’t fail in this country, but schools have failed in this country, and teacher’s unions have played a large part in that.”

The Democrats were heavily reliant upon appeals to emotion and were rather sparse with their use of numbers or figures. The Republicans were sort of bound to support the concept of NCLB because of the national party’s stance but they somehow tried to claim that Milton Friedman would like NCLB. (Milton Friedman proceeded to roll in his grave.) It was a creative move – as in, created from no evidence – but I felt bad that they had to defend such a silly policy because of their party affiliation. The libertarians definitely had the edge in that respect. 

I noticed that the Democrats present their policy for teachers unions the way Nozick characterizes his utility monster. That is, they’re not subject to diminishing returns. Every dollar you throw at them only increases their (theoretical) productivity. Empirical evidence suggests otherwise, but College Democrats seem immune to any logic that vilifies the hand that feeds their national party. (As I pointed out and was largely ignored.)

Anyway, it was a fun debate that fell on the heels of a great visit to Cornell from Michelle Rhee. I should have the video soon.