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, September 17, 2011

Polls and "Experts"

I had briefly ragged on Patrick Murphy's Monmouth poll on schools a while back. Bruce Baker (via Twitter), DS Wright, and Matt DiCarlo gave their criticism as well.

Now Murphy's fighting back. But scroll down, and you'll find both Bruce and Matt have left responses of their own. Here's Bruce:
4) Setting aside this methodological quibbling, I take issue with Mr.
Murray's point that academic researchers might come at these issues with
normative values - as I admittedly do - and that having normative
values (based on years of extensive research on these topics) somehow
invalidates someone's ability to critique the poll. As Mr. Murray frames
it, only through outright blissful ignorance can anyone be sufficiently
impartial to be involved in, or make claims or arguments about polling
methodology.  Those with knowledge, and opinions derived from that
knowledge are necessarily too biased to have valid concerns.
I'll admit
that I have biases for rigorous research methodologies, and that is
perhaps what is at play here. Like Dr. Di Carlo (who holds a Ph.D. in
Sociology from Cornell, I believe), I'm not a pollster. I'm a researcher
and perhaps that alters my view on how research is conducted and what
kinds of conclusions can be reasonably drawn from survey responses to
questions with specific wording.  I generally don't care much for polls
or polling results, but I am a stickler for methods. This poll was about
policies, not politicians. And as someone who studies policies I am
particularly sensitive to the details of policy design &
implementation. This poll was clearly not, and was exceptionally sloppy
in its characterization of policies and policy design. And that's a
methodological problem, and one that is so glaringly apparent because of
my academic expertise in this area - not because of some normative
bias. Because of actual details, including statutes and regulations. [emphasis mine]
In many ways, this one sentence wraps up the entire debate about education "reform." Why does it seem that everyone who is driving the reform has no theoretical or practical expertise in education? Why aren't educators allowed to lead the dialog about reforms?

Murphy relies on argument by authority in his piece: "To start, most of the criticism has come from people without expertise in the field of survey research." Well, OK - but's what's YOUR expertise on education? Why do you get to decide what is and what isn't a mischaracterization of tenure when you have no experience in the field?

I've made this comparison before: nobody treats doctors or lawyers this way. Nobody would dare attempt to talk with authority about CPA licensing without a background in accounting. No one would put out a poll on nursing practices and reword the rules on employment practices unless they had a deep knowledge of nursing.

Just like no one would have a TV show panel about pilot training and safety without a lot of pilots. Or how no one would have a task force on veterinarian oversight with only one practicing vet.

And yet here we have, yet again, another example where teachers are treated like unskilled laborers instead of the professionals they are. It's insulting. It certainly insulted Patrick Murphy when folks outside of his field questioned him...

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