Peer Review, DC Style


Elwood Dowd admires a painting of himself with the DOE peer reviewer

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Eduwonk reports that Arne Duncan and his Race to the Top team are discovering just one of the many fun flaws of “peer review”:

A lot of behind the scenes chatter and concern and I’d say even worry that it’s going to be hard to get “Race to the Top” proposal peer reviewers who know a lot about school reform – and proposals like this are complicated.  There are a lot of conflicts among the usual suspects.  After all, teachers’ unions have to sign on off the applications and can benefit from them so they’re self-interested, most wonks outside of government are helping various states get together ideas and applications, and states themselves are pretty self-interested, obviously.  Add on to that the generally meager rewards of peer reviewing in the first place and this issue has a lot of folks chattering about exactly who can do this work in a high-quality way…

So it sounds like the standard they’ve set for themselves is to find reviewers who know a lot about school reform but have no vested interest in school reform. How many people did they think were going to fall into that category?

Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller (wide)

Anyone? . . . Anyone?

Maybe “peer review” wasn’t really an appropriate rubric for evaluating government grant proposals. Has anyone ever suggested, say, peer review for Pentagon contracts?

But then, if they don’t put some kind of academic-sounding veneer on it, the thoroughly politicized nature of the process will be too embarrassingly transparent.

Of course, when they do “peer review” in academia they have the best of both worlds. The process is just as corrupted by the self-interest of the participants – mostly not in terms of politics but in terms of their desire to promote research that agrees with their own findings and suppress research that might call their own findings into doubt – and yet because the reviewers are professional academics everything is assumed to be done in the interests of scholarship.

One Response to Peer Review, DC Style

  1. KDeRosa says:

    These are the peer review chickens coming home to roost after the Reading First debacle. Lots of political points were scored by congressional Democrats berating the DOE for selecting reviewers of reading programs with “professional ties” (but not “financial ties”) to theories of how reading is taught scientifically. Who’d’ve thunk that you’d have to go to the few experts in reading instruction to find qualified reviewers.

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