The logical fallacy of Broader, Bolder

There is a growing division – as seen in this New York Times Magazine article – between the “Broader, Bolder Approach” and the “Education Equality Project.” Greatly simplified, BBA stresses that education strategies focused solely on schools will fail, and encourages investments in pre-school, activities outside of school hours, and health services. EEP stresses that the current education system is not designed for success and particularly fails minority students, and advocates substantial change of the education system in favor of a sharp focus on student learning.

What I find odd is the belief – in comments in the NYT article and other places – that these are somehow mutually exclusive or in conflict. Like any two programs, they will compete somewhat for some attention and resources, but it would appear that they can – and perhaps should – exist in parallel.

BBA seems to acknowledge the central mission of EEP — one of their “four priorities” is to “continue to pursue school improvement efforts.” But BBA also argues that these two programs offer a critical choice:

“America has a decision to make. We can continue to pursue education strategies that focus on schools alone and on narrow, test-based accountability […] Or we can ratchet up our ambitions and adopt a new and expanded strategy with the capacity to improve student achievement and adult outcomes more effectively and efficiently.”

Hogwash. This is a clear example of the false dilemma fallacy. Is there truly no other option? Why not both pursue education strategies focused on schools and at the same time look at ways to address some of the larger social issues? How is the pursuit of the former any serious drain on the latter? Does not BBA include as a subset most of the same goals of EEP? And does a policy program that insists other initiatives with any degree of overlap should be abandoned have even the slightest chance of success?

The hesitation among EEP supporters (of which I am one) is that BBA remains a broad, largely unquantified and abstract focus on an ambitious social agenda which will slow or stop the school-based reforms that are showing signs of real progress. Likewise, there are some real questions about the claims of a research-based foundation.

I suspect like many EEP advocates, I applaud the general goals of BBA, but I don’t give the broader effort much of a chance of either significant implementation or impact in today’s fiscal and political climate – particularly in its current amorphous form. I would even argue that these two efforts are more complementary than substitute: one would think that if EEP is successful, it advances the overall BBA mission.

But the position of Broader, Bolder that this discussion is limited to a binary choice between two discrete options, with supporters of EEP somehow therefore opponents of BBA, is both fallacy and farce.

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