Policy wonks: Get thee to the couch!

New York Times columnist David Brooks thinks policymakers are missing the boat. Rather than propose structural remedies such as opening charter schools or implementing vouchers, he says education policymakers should "enter the murky world of psychology and human nature" and talk "about core psychological traits like delayed gratification skills" when trying to spur social change. If not, he writes, our nation will never solve its most intractable problems. The column does point out that "creating stable, predictable environments for children, in which good behavior pays off," is the way to help children overcome difficult environments. True enough. But aren't KIPP schools and other great charters-products of the same structural reforms Brooks dismisses-providing exactly those environments? Policymakers can't go door-to-door and lecture families about virtue; if they want to promote positive outcomes, they must design laws that provide people incentives to act positively. Giving parents more educational choice, and holding schools accountable for their students' academic progress, does just that.

"Marshmallows and Public Policy," by David Brooks, New York Times, May 7, 2006 (subscription required)