Ladner Celebrates Lifetime Achievement Award!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

May 31, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I feared that my career had peaked upon receiving a Bunkum Award from the NEA’s rent-a-reactionary academic shop, but today I learned that I can now die happy as the first recipient of a Lifetime Bunkum Award. The prestigious award reads as follows:

 NEPC has never bestowed an individual with a Bunkum Award. But we’ve never before had someone campaign for one, and we’ve never before found someone with an individual record of Bunkum-worthy accomplishments that cries out for recognition. This year, however, we are honoring Matthew Ladner, an advisor to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s advocacy organization, the “Foundation for Excellence in Education.”Dr. Ladner’s body of Bunk-work is focused on his shameless hawking of what he and the Governor call the “Florida Formula” for educational success.  As our reviews have explained, they’d be less deceptive if they were selling prime Florida swampland. One cannot, however, deny Dr. Ladner’s salesmanship: gullible lawmakers throughout the nation have been pulling out their wallets and buying into his evidence-less pitch for flunking of low-scoring third graders and other policies likely to harm many more students than they help.  See here and here for more analysis of Dr. Ladner’s body of bunk and its unfortunate reach.Our judges were particularly impressed recently, when Ladner attributed Florida’s “hitting the wall” drop in NAEP scores to a collapse in the housing bubble and other “impossible to say” factors. Bunkums have been awarded for far less impressive an accomplishment than this sort of “heads I win, tails you lose” use of evidence. So Matt Ladner – this Bunkum’s for you.You can watch NEPC’s award ceremony youtube here:

My reaction:

Honestly I can’t take credit for this great honor. It was Governor Bush and his team of fearless reformers who ignored the wailing howls of K-12 reactionaries and forced through a set of reforms that improved Florida education steadily over time. It is they who deserve credit for moving Florida from one of the worst performing states by ignoring the “expertise” of NEPC’s ideological tribe and drove their low-income literacy scores above statewide averages for all students.

My role in all of this has simply been to help document the progress, all of which happened over the howling objections of NEPC’s soul mates. NEPC has mounted a series of feeble attempts to muddy the water. Their first effort completely ignored a peer-reviewed article in the nation’s most influential education policy journal that fell directly on point to concerns raised in the article. Oh and it also contained an appendix that refuted its own central thesis. Undeterred, the next effort a “review” of a Powerpoint presentation that the critic didn’t see. All of this climaxed with sending out one of their scholars to claim that Harry Potter books may have caused the improvement in Florida reading scores. This is, you see, because Harry Potter books are seldom read outside of Florida, and no, I am not making this up. An audience of hundreds witnessed it with their own eyes.

I am thrilled to receive this Lifetime Achievement award. Reformers around the country have begun the process of making K-12 policy based upon things other than the political preferences of the special interests organized around the K-12 status-quo. If this grand undertaking were a play, I would have but a small role in it-this is far, far, far bigger than me and bigger than Florida. Notice for instance that both the Progressive Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress earned NEPC Bunkum Awards this year (congratulations!) which is a probable sign that those groups are doing good work and a certain sign of the political and intellectual isolation of the teacher union left.

I want to thank my family, my teachers and professors, my mentors and all the other people who helped me to win this unique and prestigious award. You know who you are and you hold my deepest appreciation. I want to thank those who fought so hard to produce the gains which NEPC is so desperate to obscure. Most of all I want to thank NEPC for revealing what they fear most, which we can infer from this year’s Bunkum ritual seems to be the success of reformers and their own isolation from their former allies in the morally and intellectually serious left, apparently in that order.

I will now redouble my efforts in the hope of becoming the first winner of a second lifetime Bunkum Award. Otherwise, I will have no worlds yet to conquer.

Scenes from the Transformation: Reactionaries Crying in their Beer

May 10, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Carpe Diem is moving into Indianapolis with their blended learning model that produced the biggest learning gains in Arizona. Result: teacher unions babble about the school not having enough teachers and a Tucson reactionary attempts to peddle already discredited criticisms.

Over at NEPC, Kevin Welner rather assuredly asserts that retention is bad for students based upon methodologically unsophisticated studies caried out on bad policies. The claim that retention increases dropout rates is approximately as well established as the belief that cancer drugs kill people with cancer and that rooster crowing causes the sun to rise. Or that Harry Potter books caused NAEP gains in Florida for that matter. Par for the course, Welner ignores the statistically sophisticated studies nearing a random assignment study from Florida and NYC that show significant benefits from those policies.

Over at Ed Week, Little Ramona is drinking the Vegetarian Conspiracy Theory kool-aid on ALEC.

Bless their little reactionary hearts, but at least all of this makes for good comic relief.

NEPC’s attempt at strategic nihilism

August 4, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

In the American film classic Animal House there is a scene where students smoke marijuana with their English professor, played by Donald Sutherland, and speculate that it could be the case that the molecules in your fingernails each contain a microscopic universe.

You can’t prove that there aren’t microscopic universes in your fingernails, after all, so they might be in there!

A nice post from Mike Petrilli on the Florida NAEP score gains prompted a response from Kevin Welner from NEPC that shows that the spirit of Sutherland’s Professor Dave Jennings is alive and well at the University of Colorado.

Again there is no attempt to address any of the gaping holes in retention theory. These holes include the fact that Florida’s 4th grade reading scores had improved substantially before the retention policy went into effect, and that they have continued to rise even as retention has fallen off substantially, and that they have fallen off substantially because of a very large improvement in 3rd grade scores.

Welner attempts to tiptoe around this by noting that our EdNext article addressing these points were addressed to a previous Walter Haney paper on the subject rather than the NEPC stuff, which is a distinction without much of a difference. The Chatterji paper contains a carbon copy of the Haney analysis. Amazingly, Chatterji dinged Burke and I for not doing a literature review (not the norm in our tribe) and then cites neither the Education Next paper nor Haney’s analysis. At best, she employed a double standard and at worst, she owes Professor Haney an apology.

Welner’s broader project is to attempt to use the causation problem as a shield. We don’t know, after all, exactly what caused Florida’s remarkable learning gains. Florida’s reformers had to implement their reforms in the real world rather than in a petri dish or in an Intention to Treat Random Assignment study. Welner believes that this allows him the opportunity for strategic nihilism:

The truth might be: (a) there are not actual improvements (the current study is too weak to say whether or not there are), (b) there are improvements, and they’re caused by a combination of all these things, (c) there are improvements, and they’re caused by something none of us pointed to (perhaps the green shirts??), or (d) there are improvements, and they’re caused by some of the things we’re pointing to BUT some of the other things we’re pointing to are actually harming students (just not enough harm to overcome the benefits of the other things).

In other words, when it comes to understanding the FL package of reforms, we are flying blind.

Welner is flying blind all right, but it is by choice. Let’s take each of these little gems on one at a time:

A. The NAEP results show very substantial improvements, as do other indicators.

B. I have always held that the exact cause for the improvement is impossible to know, because Florida’s reformers enacted multiple reforms simultaneously. The logical response to this is not to do none of the Florida reforms, but to do all of them.

C. Florida lurked near the bottom on NAEP for many years, enacted reforms in 1999, and then enjoyed sustained gains over time. While it could be the case that some mysterious X-factor caused the improvement, I’ve yet to hear a plausible theory regarding this. Dan Lips and I addressed multiple possibilities in the Education Next article, including demographic change, spending, etc, and found no evidence to support them.

D. This could be the case, but I haven’t seen a single scrap of evidence to suggest that it is actually the case- return to B above.

Welner is of course correct that there is a correlation and causation problem to consider. As a practical matter, there is nothing else to do but to carefully examine the evidence and history and draw the best conclusions that we can. Dan Lips and I did this in the Education Next article. Florida’s reforms coincided with the student population becoming poorer and less Anglo. State lawmakers increased funding per pupil, but it wasn’t by much and is still below the national average. NEPC complains about a lack of mention of the preschool voucher program when those kids have yet to age into the 4th grade NAEP sample. The class size amendment was implemented very slowly, long after Florida’s scores had begun to rise.

If Dr. Welner would like to provide a plausible explanation for why Florida’s NAEP scores increased so much after 1998, I’d be very interested to read it.

If he prefers to attempt to continue to play games, NEPC’s credibility will go on double secret probation.





Run to the Hills!

September 30, 2010

(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.

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