Lesson #1: don't believe everything you read online as valid research on education policy.
There has been a great deal of heated rhetoric around charter schools and high stakes tests. I have learned that the media will, on most occasions, get in the way of education reform efforts. Let me give you a few examples of what I'm talking about.
The National Education Policy Center says its mission is "to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence." But looking underneath the surface raises a host of questions:
- It gets a large amount of its funding from the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association - the two most influential teachers unions in the United States.
- Its blog section is basically a series of reposts from NEA members who are tasked with riling up their member base by writing consistently about opposition to education reform policies. Folks such as Diane Ravitch are referenced almost daily.
- No editorial review is performed on these blog posts. For example, one of the authors, Paul Thomas, whom I have criticized regularly on Education Week for his attack dog style and personal, slanderous attacks on people without sufficient evidence for such attacks, recently authored a blog post titled "Burning Bridges." In this post, which I will not provide links to but you can easily find it, he explicitly states that he believes that KIPP is a racist organization. And the NEPC is totally fine with publishing such content, thereby destroying their organization as a credible "research" organization.
- One of the influencers that regularly gets reposted from the NEPC, Bruce Baker, is the quintessential "pay-to-play union hack extraordinaire." This story details how Mr. Baker does "extensive work" for the NEPC, yet has been caught acknowledging that "he is willing to massage data until it serves up the results that his client wants."
I'm not saying that some ed reformers don't have conflicts of interest that they fail to acknowledge, but the folks who repeatedly criticize the ed reformers have their own credibility and integrity issues.
Even the mainstream media is creating paranoia and fear in the minds of the electorate and use misinformation to sway public opinion issues. The Atlanta Journal Constitution's education blog, Get Schooled, is clearly trying to sway public opinion on high stakes testing. I have been on record saying that our testing needs to be overhauled and used more appropriately in assessing school effectiveness and teacher effectiveness. We teach to the test and tests should be used as an indicator only, not 50% or more of a teacher's evaluation plan. This blog consistently republishes letters it receives from folks it claims to be experienced experts in this space, but yesterday, they published a letter from the Director of Undergraduate Studies at Georgia State University who is literally telling students to only answer half the questions on standardized tests! When I I read this blog post, I almost hurled an object through a window in my house. I have consistently stated the need to revamp how we test and how it is used in the evaluation of both teachers and schools, but the answer is NOT to teach kids to not do your best 100% of the time! This is analogous to an athlete throwing a game or a musician flubbing a recital on purpose. As an ethicist, I thought you would have a POV and want to know about such drivel, which should never have been published in a credible publication. Telling kids to tank an exam is NOT the answer.
So at the end of the day, the moral of the story is this: when reading authoritative stories on education policy, know something about the organization or person who is behind the story. Knowledge is power, and so is neutrality. It's getting harder to find the latter in the public discourse.