Dubious School Research and Dubious Journalists
|I’ve just read Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat aloud for what feels like the thousandth time this week; however, my efforts have been rewarded and the once cranky Charlie sleeps.|
It’s like this: the New York Times runs a story on Jan 28th about a research study that claims that demographic differences more than make up for achievement differences between public and private schools. This article has culminated in headlines in other papers that read along the lines of “Privatization is no answer to improving education,” Sun-Times Feb 4. Thankfully, I happened upon a great critique of this study entitled “NY Times Touts Dubious Conclusion on School Quality”. After reading all of these articles I took time to read the study and you should too.
In reading the study it becomes clear that the journalists reporting on the study haven’t taken the time to evaluate the claims in light of the actual research. Simply, they haven’t taken the time to read the actual study “Charter, Private, Public Schools and Academic Achievement: New Evidence from the NAEP Mathematics Data”. Maybe they just read the conclusion section of the research. Well, you know what they say about jumping to conclusions…
If they had they would realize that educational research is not like medical or scientific research in that nothing is definitive. In fact the authors caution the readers on page 18 that “overall, due to the complexity of the issues involved, no single study can provide a definitive determination of the effectiveness of various forms of schooling.” Clearly journalists missed this caveat.
Next, the authors warn readers on page 38 that “the present analysis treats charter schools as monolithic when they are not.” Remember that charter schools that don’t cut the mustard will cease to exist—they are not one entity, but multiple.
If we get in to research design we find that the authors of the study double counted for income using socioeconomic status and “Home Resources” as variables. Finally, the authors of the study do not include the following variables “school discipline, teacher qualities, and even parent involvement”. Of course these variables have a profound effect on student achievement.
More troubling is the claim that the authors or unbiased. This claims appears in the Sun-Times article when co-author of the study Sarah Lubienski says, “I went to a private, conservative Christian school and had no preconceived bias on the issue. I just wanted to create an accurate, comprehensive picture.” I journalist would look at the study’s bibliography they may have noticed that the authors cite themselves 9 times, and that many of these articles challenge the privatization of public schools. How is that unbiased?
The most troubling finding of the study—the persistence of the black/white achievement gap has been the least reported. The study finds that “Black eighth graders scored an average of almost 20 points (roughly 2 grade levels) lower than White students within the same school who were identical on all other demographic measures suggests that the goals of ‘leaving no child behind,’ and monitoring and reducing the achievement gaps within schools, are critically important”(39). Now, that is a bombshell and few folk want to talk about that because race makes most folk uncomfortable. Don’t we owe it to the children in America to discuss this persistent achievement gap?
I know that in my previous job I fell under fire for merely presenting the data from the school report card that indicated an achievement gap. Evidently, everyone wanted to put blinders on and when confronted with the numbers they became hostile. Folks need to set their defenses aside and work toward closing the achievement gap by any means necessary—even the full scale dismantling of the careerist public school bureaucracies.