Former head of the U.S. Dept of Ed’s research unit and current Brookings fellow, Russ Whitehurst, has posted a piece entitled, “Secretary Duncan is Not Lying.” In it, he makes the case that Duncan was unlikely to have known of the final results of the D.C. evaluation while Congress was debating killing the program. That may be, although it is hard for anyone outside of the U.S. Department of Ed to know what the Secretary knew when. And it is certainly the case that others in the U.S. Dept. of Ed did know the results while Congress was denied that information in time for its deliberations.
But the main issue raised by the WSJ and the Denver Post is not whether Duncan is credible in saying that he was unaware of the study but whether he is credible more generally. Obama and Duncan have declared that they will be guided by evidence, not ideology or predispositions. But by burying the positive results in a Friday afternoon release with a negative spin and immediately announcing the desire to end the program, the credibility of their commitment to evidence is seriously called into question.
What’s more, Duncan claimed to the Denver Post that the WSJ had never tried to contact him about this. So the Post columnist checked with the WSJ and “discovered a different — that is, meticulously sourced and exceedingly convincing — story, including documented e-mail conversations between the author and higher-ups in Duncan’s office.” Again, Duncan may not be lying about what he knew about the D.C. voucher study, but his credibility about never being contacted is highly dubious.
Why did Duncan suppress the positive results in a Friday afternoon release with no publicity and a negative spin? Why falsely claim that the WSJ never attempted to contact him? The Secretary may well not be lying about his knowledge of the study but his credibility in general is very shaky right now.