December 10, 2013

James Piereson and Naomi Schaefer Riley criticized public policy schools for their failure to prepare students to govern and to address state and local problems [“Want to govern? Skip policy school,” Outlook, Dec. 8]. But they did not mention that many students enrolled in such schools are already “governing” in that they work in civil-service professions, performing regular analyses of fiscal and policy problems, devising alternatives and making recommendations to their superiors. Since comprehensive policy schools include state-local policy, budgeting and financing courses, students do learn how to fix problems. Note that all of former D.C. schools chancellor Michele Rhee’s close advisers on D.C. educational policy reform had Master of Public Policy degrees.

What policy school graduates cannot effectively counter are the entrenched partisan, union and corporate influences over elected officials and the officials who regularly ignore their advice. Many council, legislature and congressional members have graduate policy degrees but have long since denied or forgotten what they learned at school.

George Guess, Potomac

The writer is a scholar in residence in public administration and policy at American University.

James Piereson and Naomi Schaefer Riley offered a critique flatly at odds with my experience as a student and professor at three different policy schools over the past 16 years. At my institution, 45 percent of students went into state and local work last year, with the majority of the rest entering a nonprofit sector that increasingly delivers public goods. These students learn valuable analytical skills about how to design, manage and evaluate public services and work directly with public officials.

Mr. Piereson and Ms. Riley suggested that the growing influence of interest groups makes these skills irrelevant. This is precisely backward: Well-trained policy graduates are needed now more than ever to withstand such influence.

Donald Moynihan, Madison, Wis.

The writer is a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs.

James Piereson and Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote that only 6 percent of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government class of 2012 graduates went on to work for state, local or regional government. I wish the authors had dug more into the data (something they chide policy schools for teaching their students) and looked at the percentage of graduates who have worked in this sector over the span of their careers.

I, for one, started out in the federal government after graduating from the Kennedy School, then switched to local government within a few years. I have found that local government offers hands-on opportunities to work on not only nuts-and-bolts issues such as fiscal management but also cutting-edge issues such as climate change.

Adriana Yamamoto Hochberg, Silver Spring

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