Run to the Hills!

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

From Education Week:

After five years of providing critical reviews of education-related reports by nonacademic think tanks, education professors Alex Molnar and Kevin G. Welner hope to expand their own reach with a new, broader research center.

The new National Education Policy Center, based at Mr. Welner’s academic home, the University of Colorado at Boulder, will consolidate his Education and the Public Interest Center and Mr. Molnar’s Education Policy Research Unit, previously at Arizona State University. It will review existing research, conduct new research, and, for the first time for both groups, make policy recommendations.

The story goes on to print claims from these guys that they are independent from the unions, quotes Little Ramona taking pot shots at think-tanks, etc.

It’s would be easy to cry foul that the NEA is simply renting the credibility of academic institutions to produce propaganda. They gave Molnar’s outfit a quarter of million dollars a year at Arizona State. Overall, however, I don’t really have a problem with them doing so. Think-tanks always face scrutiny when releasing reports, and more scrutiny is better than less. As Rick Hess notes in the story:

“It’s a free country; it’s fine for them to look at research produced by think tanks that hold other views and try to critique them,” said Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies for the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, in Washington, and the author of a blog for Education Week’s website. “It’s only problematic when they try to pass themselves off as objective, even-handed arbiters of good research.”

The story goes on to say:

Washington think tankers, from Mr. Hess of the AEI to Jack Jennings, the founder of the CEP, and Kevin Carey, the policy director for the center-left think tank Education Sector, said the Think Tank Review Project’s analysis has been a mix of “valid observations” and “conclusions flawed to the point of being nonsensical.”

There is a reason why think-tanks, political scientists and economists do a great deal of the relevant education research these days: we walked into a vacuum left by the Colleges of Education. Don’t take my word for it: Arthur Levine, former President of the Columbia University Teachers College,  issued a no-holds barred critique of doctoral-level research in the nations colleges of education. Levine surveyed deans, faculty, education school alumni, K-12 school principals, and reviewed 1,300 doctoral dissertations and finds the research seriously lacking. Just how bad is the quality of doctoral-level research in colleges of education? Levine doesn’t pull any punches:

In general, the research questions were unworthy of a doctoral dissertation, literature reviews were dated and cursory, study designs were seriously flawed, samples were small and particularistic, confounding variables were not taken into account, perceptions were commonly used as proxies for reality, statistical analyses were performed frequently on meaningless data, and conclusions and recommendations were often superficial and without merit.

Cleaning this up would be a task for Hercules, so Welner and company may be making a rational decision to try to diminish those who replaced them in serious policy discussions.  Think tank research is always subject to criticism and Welner and company are free to join in the fun.

One Response to Run to the Hills!

  1. Greg Forster says:

    Wow. Even Jack Jennings – Jack Jennings, the dean of union-friendly pseudo-academics – threw them under the bus. Kevin Carey would be bad enough, but Jack Jennings? That’s gotta hurt. That would be like Pamela Anderson telling People that Anna Nicole Smith is a golddigger.

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