This book will appeal to economists who specialize in human capital policy, but by focusing on methodology is too technical. It was written by economists, which means that the book's main purpose is twofold: 1. vain attempts at the quantification of human and social psychology and 2. cheerleading for conservatism. The solutions are practical, but you get the sense the authors, all instructors at ivy league or very selective institutions, are divorced from reality and actually believe the reduction of complex social problems can be simply solved from an ivory tower.
Not surprisingly, Heckman and Carneiro (HC) advocate vouchers and choice as the solution, again as if just by adding market mechanisms into any social endeavor will magically lead to socially optimal outcomes, in this case equality. HC's first point is that there is a perception that something is wrong with education. They are correct on that point, although it may not be true. Other countries perform better than the U.S. on many assessments because they track students early into vocational and postsecondary settings. In the U.S., we have had to accept lower performance in exchange for access and increased levels choice.
The cause of lower performance, HC suggest, is that teachers have little incentives to produce knowledge. The same, of course, can be said about professors like HC. For instance, if you do a search on google, the Univ. of Chi. website, an academic search engine, or the Univ. of Chi. economics department, you will see no evidence that students in his class have ever learned anything (not that they haven't; there just isn't any evidence). Since Heckman is dealing with a group of highly motivated and academically prepared students, all he is doing is just not messing them up instead of actually contributing to their knowledge. Heckman's students would be much better off in an economics course at what HC call a "lower quality" institution, where instructors have to actually show evidence of learning and where the least academically prepared with the least advantages in life show actual growth in learning.
Indeed, Heckman himself has incentives to not care. He's got tenure, earns six figures, never gets evaluated on what students learn or needs to provide evidence of it. HC's argument is compelling, and all colleges and schools should be held accountable and demonstrate learning outcomes. But I doubt as professors HC would ever be willing to implement the same policies in their programs they advocate in their article (i.e. annual program reviews, annual publicly articulated assessment of learning, etc.). I think I smell a couple of chickenhawks...