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2007 Think Twice Reviews

Think Twice is one of the nation’s first efforts to serve as a watchdog to review think tank research on public education issues and policies, ensuring that published work meets the quality and standards of university scholarship. As think tank research becomes increasingly important reference sources in public policy debates, media and other critics have called for increased scrutiny to ensure validity and objectivity.

The goal of the Think Twice project is to provide the public, policy makers and the press with timely academically sound reviews of selected think tank publications. It is a collaboration of the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University and the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and is funded by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and practice.

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Reports & Reviews for 2007

Report Reviewed: 1) Are Private High Schools Better Academically than Public High Schools? 2) Monopoly Versus Markets: The Empirical Evidence on Private Schools and School Choice
Think Tank: 1) Center on Education Policy (CEP) 2) Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation
These two reports come to different conclusions about whether private schools are better than public ones at educating students. The CEP report found no advantage for either public or private schools using the National Education Longitudinal Study database. The Friedman report used the Educational Longitudinal Study database and presents evidence that private schools produce more benefit.
 
Think Twice Review Date: December 12, 2007
Reviewers: Jaekyung Lee, State University of New York at Buffalo
Lee’s review finds that there is little actual difference between the findings of the two reports – and little difference between public and private schools. The  most that can be concluded from the two reports taken together is that “students generally learn in public high schools about as well as in private high schools.” Lee also presents his own, independent cross-examination of the two data sources used in the reports.
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Report Reviewed: Shortchanging Disadvantaged Students: An analysis of intra-district spending patterns in Ohio
Think Tank: Buckeye Institute
This report argues that funding disparities in high-poverty Ohio schools are the fault of school districts, not the state. Districts, the report contends, have adequate funds but don’t allocate them properly to high-poverty schools under their jurisdiction.  The report’s central claim is that district-level policies are responsible for continued spending and achievement gaps.
 
Think Twice Review Date: October 17, 2007
Reviewers: Bruce Baker, University of Kansas
Baker’s review finds that the report’s authors fail to provide evidence to support their central claim. Further, the report contains weak methodology and a scant review of existing relevant research. Baker concludes that the report “is built on the weakest of foundations” and suggests that if taken seriously, “the Buckeye Institute report will only misguide policymaking. The report’s claims are further undermined by a technical appendix presenting Baker’s analysis of Ohio data.
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Report Reviewed: End It, Don’t Mend It: What to Do with No Child Left Behind
Think Tank: Cato Institute
This report urges scrapping the No Child Left Behind law and replacing it with a national voucher or tax credit system.
 
Think Twice Review Date: October 8, 2007
Reviewers: Bruce Fuller, University of California-Berkeley
Fuller’s review offers praise for the report’s analysis of how NCLB has failed to deliver on its promise of raising student achievement and has resulted in a number of negative consequences for schools including narrowing curriculum and a lowering of the achievement bar. Fuller criticizes the report for its use of “highly selective, even misleading” research to make some of its points. He also points out that the report ignores or downplays research raising serious questions about the benefits of market proposals such as school vouchers.
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Report Reviewed: The ABC’s of School Choice
Think Tank: Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation
This report, released in the form of a booklet, is designed as a resource for persuading people as to the merits of school choice. The report provides updated information on states that have choice policies in place and begins and ends with a “Frequently Asked Questions” section where the attempt is made to interpret the research on school choice issues for the lay reader.
 
Think Twice Review Date: September 24, 2007
Reviewers: Christopher Lubienski, University of Illinois
Lubienski’s review finds that this report is based on selective and shoddy evidence and makes misleading and false claims.
The reviewer considers the merits of each key factual assertion in the report’s “Frequently Asked Questions” section and points out that there is an overwhelming reliance on a very selective sample of studies from other advocacy organizations that are not peer-reviewed and are highly biased and of questionable quality. Lubienski concludes that the report, as a misleading work of advocacy, offers no useful guidance to policymakers.
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Report Reviewed: Portfolios – A Backward Step in School Accountability
Think Tank: Lexington Institute
This report argues that the current standardized testing system should be retained and criticizes the use of multiple measures, particularly portfolios, to assess school performance.
 
Think Twice Review Date: September 19, 2007
Reviewers: William Mathis, University of Vermont
Mathis’s review concludes that the Lexington report is ill-founded and of little value as research or policy development. Mathis notes that the report more closely resembles political propaganda than a research report.  According to Mathis, It provides no new data, examines only two studies done and includes only results favorable to the report’s conclusions. In addition, the report is problematic because its author presents portfolios as representative of all non-test measures of student performance – which they are not – and concludes that non-test based measures of performance are ineffective.
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Report Reviewed: Michigan Higher Education: Facts and Fiction
Think Tank: Mackinac Center for Public Policy
This report argues that Michigan ’s colleges and universities did financially fine during a period of sharp cutbacks to higher education between 2000-2004. Further, based on an analysis of a national set of data, the report finds that states with greater appropriations for higher education are more likely to have lower economic growth.
 
Think Twice Review Date: July 18, 2007
Reviewers: Jose Luis Santos, UCLA
In his review, Santos indicates that the report’s findings and conclusions are poorly grounded and misleading. Though Santos does credit the report with raising a number of important issues, he concludes that the report is basically an advocacy document designed to push policy-makers toward the position that increased state appropriations for higher education are wasteful. Santos’s indicates that the report’s authors “grossly overstate their findings,” and he cautions policy-makers to view the report with great caution.
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Report Reviewed: Answering the Question That Matters Most: Has Student Achievement Increased Since No Child Left Behind?
Think Tank: Center on Education Policy
This report concludes that since the implementation of NCLB in 2002, on average, student test scores have increased, the achievement gap has narrowed, and achievement gains post-NCLB have increased faster than before NCLB.
 
Think Twice Review Date: July 2, 2007
Reviewers: John T. Yun, University of California at Santa Barbara
Yun's review of this report finds that there are important weaknesses in the methodology used and that the wording of the findings and key conclusions in the report imply a much stronger connection between the implementation of NCLB than can be substantiated by the data.
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Report Reviewed: School Choice by the Numbers: The Fiscal Effect of School Choice Programs
Think Tank: Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation
This report concludes that school choice programs which subsidize private school attendance with public funds have saved taxpayers nearly half a billion dollars cumulatively over a 15 year period.
 
Think Twice Review Date: May 24, 2007
Reviewers: Bruce Baker, University of Kansas
In his review, Baker points out that the conclusions drawn from the report’s analysis are misleading and oversimplified. In addition, even if accurate, the amount of the savings is insignificant as it represents less than 1/100th of one percent of annual public school spending – about 60 cents per child per year.
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Report Reviewed: State Takeover, School Restructuring, Private Management, and Students Achievement in Philadelphia
Think Tank: RAND Corporation in partnership with Research for Action (RFA)
Report Reviewed: School Reform in Philadelphia: A Comparison of Student Achievement at Privately-Managed Schools with Student Achievement in Other District Schools
Think Tank: Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University (PEPG)
These two reports examine the impact of private and district management on student achievement in Philadelphia. In 2002, Philadelphia restructured 86 of its lowest-achieving schools and shifted the management of some of them to private companies. The RAND-RFA report concludes that private management has had no impact on math or reading achievement, while district management had a positive effect on math achievement but none on ready. The PEPG report reached virtually the opposite conclusion. It found that private management has had a positive effect on math and reading achievement, while district management has had no measurable effect.
 
Think Twice Review Date: May 7, 2007
Reviewers: Derek Briggs, University of Colorado at Boulder
Briggs’s review of both reports finds that both have flaws and that neither is yet sufficient to make definitive claims about the effects of Philadelphia’s school restructuring reform. He indicates that the different conclusions reached in the reports can largely be explained by the fact that PEPG did not have the same access to data as did RAND-RFA. He also identifies and describes the methodological weaknesses in both reports. Briggs commends the reports for contributing to the understanding of Philadelphia’s experience, but recommends that neither report be used as a basis for decision making about school restructuring.
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Report Reviewed: How Much Are Teachers Paid?
Think Tank: Manhattan Institute
This report asserts that teachers are paid at a higher rate and work fewer hours than most white-collar professionals and puts forward an analysis that finds no correlation between their measure of teacher pay and student achievement.
 
Think Twice Review Date: February 19, 2007
Reviewers: Sean Corcoran, New York University
Lawrence Mishel, Economic Policy Institute
The review shows that the report’s analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) data is fundamentally flawed. Corcoran and Mishel point out that the BLS had explicitly warned against using the data in the manner in which it is used and indicate that the defects in the report render it virtually useless.
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Report Reviewed: Whole Language High Jinks: How to tell when ‘scientifically-based reading Instruction’ isn’t
Think Tank: Thomas B. Fordham Institute
This report asserts that scientific research supports systematic phonics instruction and contends that ideologically biased supporters of whole-language instruction have thwarted the advance of scientifically based reading instruction.
 
Think Twice Review Date: February 14, 2007
Reviewer: Richard Allington, University of Tennessee
In his review of the report, Allington indicates that the report’s author, Louisa Moats, fails to provide convincing research to support her position and goes on to say that Moats exaggerates the findings of the research she does cite and incorrectly dismisses approaches that are well-supported by research. Further, Allington points out that Moats’ report is more a promotion of her own reading products than an unbiased report on reading instruction.
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Report Reviewed: Report Card on Education, 1983-84 to 2004-05
Think Tank: American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
This report, which promotes ALEC’s policy agenda, asserts that student achievement has not been improved by increased spending on education, smaller class sizes or improved teacher salaries. It concludes that improvement will occur when “accountability, choice and competition are injected into our current educational system.”
 
Think Twice Review Date: January 8, 2007
Reviewer: Gene V Glass, Arizona State University
Glass’s review of this report finds that it falls far short of being valid or useful research. He points out that data in the report are not analyzed and contradictory studies are ignored. In fact, Glass points out that the report fails to cite any research studies at all. He indicates that the report lacks firmly established facts and credible findings on which policy decisions could be based and concludes, “In spite of being clad with myriad numbers and statistics, the Report Card on American Education is rhetoric, not research.”
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