Though I maintain a library of university economic-impact studies, I’m on the record as being quite skeptical of them, especially those that are purely quantitative. I was unsurprised when The New York Times noted the obvious weaknesses in the economic-impact study recently commissioned by Apple, which tried to counter the reality that nearly all Apple’s manufacturing takes place overseas with soothing statistics on jobs “supported” in app development, retail, and even shipping. The Times quotes MIT economist David Autor as saying:

“[the] entire business of claiming ‘direct and indirect’ job creation is disreputable” because most of the workers Apple is taking credit for would have been employed elsewhere in the company’s absence

Indeed. Pretty much the same weakness infects the “counterfactual” assumptions built into most university studies, according a nice economics working paper linked in my earlier blog post on the latter topic. In the end, although impact studies seem to satisfy some institutional need for quantification, they are rarely persuasive either to the general public or politicians, who value the economic contribution of any enterprise based its observable efforts to make a difference.

(With this post I inaugurate a series of occasional items tagged “quick takes,” in which I’ll link to and offer short reaction to events or documents that touch on my areas of interest, though possibly not directly enough to permit full commentary at an acceptable level of quality.)

There’s more common sense about K12 math instruction in this fascinating dialogue posted at Education Next than in the math sections of the recent report on STEM education by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). The PCAST report correctly identifies poor math preparation as a key barrier to retaining college students in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) disciplines, but then utterly fails to reference or take a position on any of the ongoing debate over math standards. It simply blandly recommends a “national experiment” in effective math instruction. On the other hand, Education Next — apparently some kind of collaboration between Stanford and the Harvard Kennedy School — appears to be a website worth watching, and I will.