The New York Sun had a nice profile yesterday of Eduwonkette. Well, it’s not exactly a profile because Eduwonkette writes anonymously. In the article some folks complain that her anonymity is a problem: “A co-director of the Education Sector think tank, Andrew Rotherham, suggested on his blog Eduwonk that Eduwonkette might be unfairly pretending to be unbiased because she has ‘skin in the game… It’s this issue of you got all this information to readers, without a vital piece of information for them to put it in context.’”
I think Andy’s mistaken on this. (Did they have some kind of edu-break-up?) The issue is not who Eduonkette is, but whether she is right or not. Knowing who she is does not make her evidence or arguments any more or less compelling. I wish we all spent a whole lot less time analyzing people’s motives and a whole lot more time on their evidence and arguments.
The only major problem with anonymity is lack of responsibility for being wrong. There is a reputational price for making bad arguments or getting the evidence wrong that Eduwonkette avoids paying professionally — although she does pay a reputational price to the name brand of Eduwonkette.
Speaking of being wrong, Eduwonkette knocks the study Marcus Winters, Julie Trivitt, and I released today through the Manhattan Institute. She complains: “It may be an elegantly executed study, or it may be a terrible study. The trouble is that based on the embargoed version released to the press, on which many a news article will appear today, it’s impossible to tell. There is a technical appendix, but that wasn’t provided up front to the press with the glossy embargoed study. Though the embargo has been lifted now and the report is publicly available, the technical appendix is not.”
This isn’t correct. Embargoed copies of the study were provided to reporters upon their request. If they requested the technical report, they could get that. Both were available well in advance to reporters so that they could take time to read it and circulate it to other experts before writing a story. Both the study and the technical report were made publicly available today (although there seems to be a glitch with the link to the technical report that should be fixed within hours). The technical report can be found here.
And while we are on the subject of Eduwonkette being wrong, her attacks on test-based promotion policies are overdone. The Jacob and Lefgren paper does raise concerns, but there is more positive evidence from the experience in Florida. As I wrote in a previous post: “In a study I did with Marcus Winters that was published in Education Finance and Policy, we found that retained students significantly outperformed their comparable peers over the next two years. In another study we published in the Economics of Education Review, we found that schools were not effective at identifying which students should be exempted from this test-based promotion policy and appeared to discriminate in applying these exemptions. That is, white students were more likely to be exempted by school officials in Florida from being retained, but those students suffered academically by being exempted.”
Our results may actually be consistent with what Jacob and Lefgren find. We find academic benefits for students retained in third grade. They find: “that grade retention leads to a modest increase in the probability of dropping out for older students, but has no significant effect on younger students.” It could be that test-based promotion is more beneficial when done with younger students. It could also be that the policy has positive effects on achievement with some cost to graduation.
And particularly severe problems with the integrity of test results used for promotion decisions in Chicago may limit the ability to generalize from Chicago’s experience. In Chicago it may have been easier to move retained students forward by cheating on the next test than actually teaching them the basic skills they need to succeed in the next grade.
Besides, I’m sure that Edwuonkette wouldn’t put too much stock in Jacob and Lefgren’s non-peer-reviewed paper released straight to the public. I’m sure she would be consistent in her view that: “By the time the study’s main findings already have been widely disseminated, some sucker with expertise in regression discontinuity may find a mistake while combing through that appendix, one that could alter the results of the study. But the news cycle will have moved on by then. Good luck interesting a reporter in that story… So as much as I like to kvetch about peer review and the pain and suffering it inflicts, it makes educational research better. It catches many problems and errors before studies go prime time, even if it doesn’t always work perfectly.”
Or do these standards only apply to studies whose findings she doesn’t like? If Eduwonkette isn’t careful she might get a reputation.