Eduwonkette or Jennifer Jennings, Makes No Difference

August 26, 2008

I’m glad that Eduwonkette decided to end her anonymity and identify herself as Jennifer Jennings, a sociology graduate student at Columbia University.  I’m not glad because I think it was inherently wrong for her to blog anonymously.  As I’ve previously written: “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.” 

The problem was that Eduwonkette did not share my belief in the principle that we should focus on the veracity rather than the source of claims.  She repeatedly emphasized the credibility of the source of information.  Emphasizing the credibility of sources while blogging anonymously, preventing analysis of her own credibility, was logically untenable and had to end.  I wished that she would end this inconsistency by embracing the view that ideas are true or false independent of their sources.  Instead she has resolved her inconsistency by ending her anonymity.

Now that we know that Eduwonkette is Jennifer Jennings we can see another prominent example of the logical inconsistency of blogging anonymously while focusing on the credibility of sources.  In 2005 Jennings published an article in the American Educational Research Journal that argued that accountability systems encouraged schools to focus on the achievement of “bubble” students — those close to an achievement cutoff — at the expense of high and low achieving students.  She arrived at this conclusion after visiting a school in Texas and observing it for a period of time.  She was aided in drawing this conclusion by using jargon like “neoinstituionalism” and “normative isomorphism,” but I kind of zoned out during that part of the article.  I’m guessing that neoinstitutionalism is bad following my theory that anything starting with “neo” is supposed to be bad while anything starting with “post” is supposed to be good.

A few years later Matthew Springer published articles in Education Next and in the Economics of Education Review that empirically examine Jennings’ claim of “educational triage.”  The Education Next piece actually began with a lengthy quote from Jennings’ article as a foil for its findings that NCLB accountability improved the achievement of “bubble” students, but not at the expense of lower and higher achieving students.

Jennings then took-on her critic, Springer, but she did so as the anonymous blogger Eduwonkette, never revealing that she was attacking the person who criticized her own research.  And her first argument against Springer was that his work was published in Education Next and “Education Next is not a scholarly journal.”  Jennings targets the source of the critique of her own work while concealing her identity to prevent analysis of her as a source.  The irony is too rich.

Why Jennings did not just focus on the version of the paper published in Economics of Education Review or the unabridged version linked to on Education Next, , which would have been free of the unscholarly taint she perceives in Education Next,  is unclear.  It was obviously important for her to discredit Springer’s argument against her own study by attacking the credibility of Education Next as the source of Springer’s argument — all the while preventing assessment of her credibility by doing all of this anonymously.

Let me be clear that I have no problem with Jennings defending her own work anonymously.  Her arguments against Springer are true or false regardless of who she says or doesn’t say she is.  My point is that by arguing her own case anonymously, Jennings betrays the principles that she appears to endorse.  Namely, if the source of information is important in assessing claims, it would clearly be inappropriate to attack your critic without revealing who you are. 

Even now that Jennings has revealed her identity, I hope that she abandons her reliance on assessing the source of claims.  Doing so would justify her past actions and help us move forward in analyzing ideas rather than analyzing people and motives.

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