I posted a very important commentary this morning by researcher Ed Fuller of Penn State University about the Center for American Progress’ “study” claiming that American schools are “too easy.” Fuller is an expert at statistical analysis and he pulled the study apart to show that the best students said it was “too easy” and that the conclusions of the report were unfounded.
Fuller sent me the following postscript and I thought it was too important to bury as a P.S. in the original post. What he writes is symptomatic of education commentary in general. Everyone is an “expert” when it comes to education because they were once in school. Everyone who has made a lot of money in real estate or insurance or technology or selling shlock feels they have the right to “reform” the schools attended by Other People’s Children. Every think tank desk-jockey knows how teachers ought to teach, even if they have never taught or taught for a year. In no other field where expertise matters are the practitioners bombarded and undermined by the mandates of know-it-alls without relevant knowledge and experience.
That’s the context in which to read what Ed Fuller wrote to me this morning:
Two additional points need to be made that are not related to the report per se.
First, it seems to me that education research is one of the few fields where people with no training in either education or education research feel comfortable conducting “research” and can have their views blindly accepted by politicians, pundits, and the public. Thankfully, no one would invite me to run a bank, be a journalist, edit a newspaper, or make economic policy. It would be a disaster. Yet, evidently anyone can enter the world of education research and conduct shoddy work and have the findings widely accepted.
Second, the media needs to slow down and spend some time investigating the quality of the research and researcher regardless of whether the research originates from a think tank, university, or individual researcher. The education writers in Texas with whom I am familiar are generally a great example of journalists that spend some time doing some background work to get the story right. The Education Writers Association has recognized the problem of media reporting bad research has adopted a number of strategies and policies to help journalists improve upon this situation. EWA should be commended for recognizing and acting on this problem. Unfortunately, EWA cannot reach all journalists. Ultimately, this is why the peer-review process is so important–it helps weed out bad research such as the CAP study.