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Ideological thinking over thinking-based policy in 'independent, non-partisan' think-tanks

Image: Maureen Flynn-Burhoe/flickr

Why is it that all those stats-stuffed, footnote-filled, soberly sincere public policy backgrounder research reports published by inevitably "independent, non-partisan" yet somehow transparently ideological think-tanks and authored by multi-award-winning senior fellows and/or professors emereti are so… well, pedantically, ploddingly predictable?

Take, for example, "The Cost Disease Infects Public Education Across Canada," the latest tome  --  complete with cover illustration of a diseased apple -- from Halifax's Atlantic Institute for Market Studies ("independent, non partisan social and economic policy think tank") and the Manitoba-based Frontier Centre for Public Policy ("independent, non-profit organization that undertakes research in support of economic growth and social outcomes…" and blah blah blah).

The study, written by Frontier senior fellow and professor emeritus Rodney Clifton, draws on the work of yet anther professor emeritus -- naturally -- to make the simplistic argument that "the cost of consumer products has increased at the rate of the Consumer Price Index while the cost of education and health care have increased at an exponential rate."

Uh… is the report arguing students should be mass-produced by cheap labour in Chinese factories? Like computers perhaps?

There follows a dizzy-making array of tables and charts designed to demonstrate (yawn) that education costs, including the salaries of more educators, have increased while student numbers ("full-time students who are enrolled for two months of a school year are counted as 0.2 FTEs," etc., etc.) have decreased.

Without pausing to pass go or ask why this might be -- we're living in an increasingly complicated world, perhaps, where educators are required to deal with everything from mental health issues, to cyber-bullying, to students with disabilities -- or even justify its logical leap, the report reaches its inevitable (to it) free-market-man-eat-dog-competition-is-the-answer-no-matter-the-question conclusion:

"Parent-controlled funding (vouchers) would increase competition among schools and improve the education of students."


As Jamie Stevens, the president of the Nova Scotia School Boards Association, understated in an email to Metro reporter Ruth Davenport, the report is a "very simplistic analysis" of a complex reality.

The problem with think-tanks like AIMS and the Frontier Institute is that they are less interested in thinking-based policy and more interested in ideology-driven thinking.

Sort of like our Stephen Harper government.

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

Image: Maureen Flynn-Burhoe/flickr

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