Because this is an Oster book, there’s data scattered everywhere ... It’s all presented in the breezy, skeptical style that’s made Oster’s work a must-read for parents ... But because the vast majority of this must have been written pre-pandemic, it reads kind of like an out-of-date time capsule ... For the most part, Oster’s data-driven findings indicate that there is no universal right way to do things. So it’s up to parents to figure out the best path for them and their kids. That message is one we can all embrace, even if Oster’s workbook sheets might not be the right fit for the company you keep.
While it’s good to look to the data, the book also demonstrates the limitations of research ... On topics such as school choice, Ms. Oster points to hard metrics like class size and test scores, but these come with their own cans of worms. For instance, a mediocre school can have good test scores if it is in a wealthy district where many children get private tutoring, while a terrific school that takes in struggling students may have low average test scores despite having a positive effect on its students. Moreover, what little data-driven guidance exists for school choice comes with some major caveats. Studies have little to say about which school will make your child happy or well adjusted ... Part of the challenge is the social-science research upon which the book draws is often conducted with a heavy emphasis on policy evaluations, which can lead to blind spots when it comes to helping people make better decisions ... Ms. Oster’s book serves as a reminder of both the value of research and the need for much more of it.
If Oster were to analyze her own work here, she’d pick it apart, weighing the evidence in a quest for smooth, causational proof ... Most of the existing research, frustratingly, focuses on test scores and obesity as measures of kids’ well-being. Indeed, Oster is forced by her own methodology to admit, time and again, that there is no clear answer beyond the obvious ... Read The Family Firm in the same way Oster advises you to read the research: Take what applies to your life, consider the source and skip the rest.