Policymakers should use skepticism and humility when designing social programs and should avoid one-size-fits all solutions, Heritage Foundation experts Stuart Butler and David Muhlhausen write in National Affairs.

That’s because the evidence shows it’s very hard to reproduce successful pilot programs on a national scale:

[T]he task of mimicking and scaling up programs that work is not so straightforward. Success is never a simple matter of easily traceable cause and effect, and even the people who have achieved a breakthrough often cannot pinpoint exactly what worked and why. Social outcomes have an impossibly complex array of causes, and the circumstances that characterize one place are rarely identical — and are often not even very similar — to those found elsewhere. A seemingly successful preschool program in Chicago may fail in Atlanta, even if it is reproduced virtually identically, because of differences, both large and small, between the two cities.

Head Start is a case in point. The early-education program showed promise during 1960s trials and it was quickly rolled out nationally, but the first rigorous study of its effectiveness—run decades later—was disappointing.

Butler and Muhlhausen urge lawmakers to avoid one-size-fits-all programs and instead to base solutions on local, decentralized knowledge. Do you agree with this approach?

Comments (13)

William - March 27, 2014

Congress needs better methods to evaluate their own limits!!!
They should not be trying to do things that the States can do on their own. The Constitution does not allow the Federal government to legislate over things BETTER handled at the State level. For example, school problems in Chicago, will be very different from school problems in Phoenix.

Irwin Tyler - March 27, 2014

This idea also should apply to our health care insurance “system”, with both regional pricing and competition being maintained. Here is one viable plan implementing these concepts:



.. Several population-equal geographic health districts of the country will be defined, based on the official U.S. census, and redefined after every new census, as required.
.. Each health district will be a minimum of one state and no health district may contain non-contiguous states
.. While population is primary, consideration will be taken of the varying costs of health care in different regions of the country as much as is practical


.. Everyone will be a member of a health district based on their official home residence, so that group underwriting and group rates will apply.
.. All premiums will be privately paid, whether paid for by employers, organizations or by individuals, with but one exception.
.. Premiums for those family units (or individuals) certified as earning below the poverty line will be paid for by the government.
.. For purposes of premium payments, individuals may be grouped as family units
Several coverage packages, government defined, will be offered as consumer-chosen options:

.. High deductable – no well-care, no prescription drugs
.. Low deductible – no well-care, no prescription drugs
.. Well care Plus high Deductible, no prescription drugs
.. Well care Plus medium deductible, no prescription drugs
.. Catastrophic Only (separate or add-on coverage)
.. An HMO may be selected as one’s service provider, with premiums matching the winning bid in its health district for “Well care plus medium deductible with no prescription drugs”
.. Prescription Drugs (add-on coverage)
.. Separate packages in the above categories will be defined for children and adults
Individuals are free to add their own private supplemental coverage to any of these packages.


.. Each insurance company which chooses to bid in a given health district must bid on all coverages.
.. Winning (lowest premium) bidders in each category will have a three year contract.
.. Should there be no bidder in a given health district, the government will be the bidder of last resort, with its bids (the premiums) for each package defined as the average of the winning bids in all adjoining health districts.


.. Prospective bidders will make application to the government to be on a bid list
.. Government will approve members of a bid list and publicly disclose their reasons for rejecting any application
.. The final bid position (not the bid itself) of each bidder in each category will be made public.
.. Basic cost and performance statistics will be made public in the middle of the third year of each contract period for each category in each district

With this proposal the flaws, inconsistencies, and complexities of the current health insurance “system” are eliminated. The goal of fair, efficient, simple universal health insurance coverage without intrusive government interference and control is achieved.


Certainly there are details and considerations not discussed in this summary but I believe it demonstrates a reasonable approach to the problem.

Margaret Trinklein - March 27, 2014

Voters’ ID laws are absolutely essential. Anyone who opposes them is opening the door to mass deception and the self-destruction of democracy.

Larry Slemons - March 27, 2014

Why would an ID prevent a voter who is already a legal resident etc. from voting? Would not a legal resident already have some manner of legal ID with which to get a voter ID?

I am ONE HUNDRED percent in favor of a voter ID card!

Zoli Althea Browne - March 27, 2014

The only true equality exists in math equations. Equal opportunity does not translate into “we are all the same. “Compassionate legislation should take in the variables in human diversity yet set reasonable limits on how we express those diverse differences in policy. Meaning? Allow the states to legislate local laws but based on Constitutional principles. None of this is either simple or one fits all. This will, and should, take time.

Bob Mason - March 27, 2014

Absolutely yes!

John Huston - March 28, 2014

I agree we need to scale back, that one size does not fit all; but this all misses the point. The most important thing we can do to helf people is to scale back business & personal taxes plus roll back regulations. We might start by eliminating the EPA. It’s a joke that I can not burn leaves in my own back yard, yet China produces so much smog it reduces visibility under 1/4 mile.
Our priorities are all wrong.

Rod Roberts - March 29, 2014

I taught school for 31 years and still substitute. I saw first hand that “one size fits all” doesn’t work. The state of Georgia had a large number of Vocational-Technical schools; and many of them had programs/courses that worked exceptionally well. The state thought the success of a specific program at one school could be transported and installed into another school with little effort. I was part of that effort: we duplicated print materials, purchased the same textbooks, made slide-tape and video programs so that all the materials would be the same in one school as in the next. It worked to a limited extent. Lots of money and hard work went into the process but the success or failure of a program had many variables. Some staff members didn’t like the intrusion of the state in their programs, some administrators didn’t either, the differences of how/what the instructors taught, the sequencing of the subject matter, keeping up with new ideas/equipment was another factor.
I’ve been involved with other “one size fits all” programs in secondary schools: I was also a high school math teacher for many years and with math scores lower than what national child left behind standards, many pilot programs were started and passed down. Some ideas worked most didn’t. Our school tried to phase out Geometry and work in the necessary geometric ideas into a unified program. Over a period of three years they developed a unified algebra program that incorporated many ideas from other successful pilot programs. Geometry would only be taught in strategic places in this new integrated algebra. After 5 years the school district abandoned the idea. IT DIDN’T WORK! Lots of time, money, and effort went into this project. Teachers who were developing the program made it work pretty well for the first couple of years, but as staff changes were made ( retirement, moving ) the program fell on its face. In 5 years there was only one original member left on the team. College requirements were also a problem: colleges looked at transcripts and saw “integrated math” instead of algebra 1 & 2 and geometry. Students needing to go into higher math at the college level found they had to learn facts and ideas that were skipped by the integrated system. So even though these students had passed the state & national standardized tests they still were having difficulty in college mathematics.

Harry - March 29, 2014

I agree. Our education system began to fail the students when the state took money from the federal government allowing the fed to control the nations education system. Prior to that we had 50 laboratories and each could look to the other to see what was working.

Marlene Rone - March 29, 2014

This should be a State run program not Federal. Most programs are better run by local governments than by the Federal Government.

Adolfo Rodriguez - March 29, 2014

Social programs have run amock in this country. The bigger the Government gets, the more corruption is built into the system. All Social programs should be required to submit their yearly report on their progress and if they have not made any significant contribution to the overall betterment of the country, they should be closed.

Barbara Cooper - March 29, 2014

You are making far too much sense. Have you ever tried on a “fits all sizes” dress?

Holly Chapo - March 30, 2014

Yes. Take a look at Common Core to get a good idea of how “one size fits all” not only does not work but causes more damage and unintended consequences. The federal government needs to get out of what are normally local and state activities. Federal power has gone way too far. Let’s promote the Convention of States and the “Liberty Amendments” to get back to what our Founders envisioned – a balance of power and clear separation.

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