Beyond Moneyball: A Bridge International Academies Postscript

A time-capsule style Nobel-linked note is finally ready for publication
Michael Kremer
Michael Kremer, a winner of the 2019 Nobel prize in economics, was one of the scholars who evaluated Bridge International Academies.

Tom Sawyer figured out he could get other kids to do your chores.  I happily realized the same thing.  You can get brilliant economists to do your education evaluation for you!  You just have to be willing to be randomized and accept that they might find (and publish) that all your hard work has failed.

In 2003, I reached out to MIT’s Josh Angrist to study our charter school, Match, which eventually became a study of all Boston charters. Later on Brown University’s Matt Kraft studied our parent communication moves, and our teacher coaching in New Orleans. Roland Fryer and Jens Ludwig studied our high-dosage tutoring in Houston and Chicago.

And in 2015 I joined Bridge’s founders in asking Michael Kremer to evaluate Bridge International Academies. The idea was to play by his rules, he’d control everything, and Bridge would risk a negative finding. Kremer knew the turf: he’d analyze attrition, separating early year “phonics gains” (easier to bolster) and later grade high-stakes tests gains (harder to bolster).

I’d heard that his work was done, and shows provable, meaningful gains for Bridge students. But as it was not yet published, I couldn’t detail it in the essay in the Spring 2022 issue of Education Next. So I handed this little coda to Education Next’s editors and asked them to publish it whenever Kremer’s paper came out.

What I expect:

a. The paper will get some attention since he just won the Nobel Prize for Economics.

b. Some Bridgeopponents will feel cognitive dissonance.   Objections will rain down on Kremer’s scholarship. He’ll be accused of various sins, intellectual and otherwise.

(I’m not talking down to Bridge opponents.  “Our side” is just as prone to this dissonance.  It’s human. The “Ed Reform tribe” hasn’t come to terms, for example, with the fact that new studies show charter schools have much smaller impact on college graduation rates than we’ve claimed. Prominent Ed Tech companies have randomized controlled trials showing zero impact on learning, carefully tucked away. Etc.)

c. Kremer will painstakingly respond. But I’m skeptical any mathematical or study design answers will satisfy critics in the short term.

d. What happens down the road? In my backyard, with Boston charters, after randomized controlled trials and Stanford studies and long parent waiting lists all aligned to show charter quality, opponents finally conceded the point, or at least stopped discussing it.  They (successfully) shifted the political discussion to whether charters drain money from traditional schools, particularly suburban ones.

I suspect that’s what awaits Bridge and other efforts to improve African education outcomes via either low-cost private schools or public “turnaround” schools.

e. My message?  For any of our erstwhile allies, those we at Bridge needlessly antagonized, perhaps by saying the wrong thing the wrong way, I offer any sort of olive branch I possibly can. I have no official standing. It’s just me.

But if you are intrigued by Kremer’s empirical findings, that Bridge is, in fact, good for kids, and you want to hold your nose, let go of your priors, and dig deeper in how millions more kids can make these gains, or how we might work together to increase the gains, please reach out, let’s start the discussion. Let me apologize for any provocations. Let’s join together and seek to do this.

Mike Goldstein is an adviser to Bridge International and the founder of Match Education in Boston.

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