I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Our Failed Education Policy Debate

I am going to try to stay on Bruce Baker's good side. Because when he delivers a beat-down, it ain't pretty:
I’ve reached a point after these past few years where I feel that I’ve spent way too much time  critiquing poorly constructed arguments and shoddy analyses that seem to be playing far too large a role in influencing state and federal (especially federal) education policy. I find this frustrating not because I wish that my own work got more recognition. I actually think my own work gets too much recognition as well, simply because I’ve become more “media savvy” than some of my peers in recent years.
I find it frustrating because there are numerous exceptional scholars doing exceptional work in school finance and the economics of education whose entire body of rigorous disciplined research seems drowned out by a few prolific hacks with connections in the current policy debate. It may come as a surprise to readers of popular media, but individuals like Mike Petrilli, Eric Osberg, Rick Hess (all listed on theUSDOE resource web site) or Bryan Hassel wouldn’t generally be considered credible scholars in school finance or economics of education. I’d perhaps have less concern – and be able to blow this off – if many of the assertions being made by these individuals – and others – weren’t so often completely unsupported by reasonable analysis and if those assertions didn’t lead to potentially dangerous and damaging policies.
This post is specifically about the body of methodologically flimsy research produced in recent years by Marguerite Roza, previously of the Center on Reinventing Public Education and currently an advisor to the Gates Foundation.
Why this post now? I’ve simply lost my patience. [emphasis mine]
Read the whole thing, but understand that this is a huge, huge problem in education policy today - and, I fear, in just about every other policy domain.

The sorry fact is that large, wealthy, and generally corporate interests have created a policy-making apparatus that runs parallel to the mass-media apparatus they also fund. That mass media collective gives this phony group of "scholars" a credibility they would never earn if they were subjected to regular rounds of peer review by credible experts in their fields.

And when I say a "mass-media apparatus," I'm not talking about the right-wing echo chamber of Fox News and talk radio; I'm talking about "mainstream" news organizations like NBC or Newsweek. NBC's "Education Nation," for example, pushes a corporate education reform agenda that is powered by the work of the very "scholars" that Bruce quite correctly derides. And Newsweek - well...

What more can you say?

Again: the problem extends far beyond education. Bob Somerby points out that we now live in a world where politicians regularly claim that cutting taxes increases revenue... and no one bats an eye (except, unbelievably, Bill O'Reilly).

Other than publicly embarrassing the hacks and those who quote them in their reporting, I don't know what to do about this.

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