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2008 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 (click here to see related stories).

The Think Twice project is funded by the Great Lakes Center which commissions the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) to conduct expert third party reviews of think tank publications for the project. NEPC is directed by University of Colorado at Boulder professor Kevin Welner. Its publications director is Arizona State University professor Alex Molnar.

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Reports & Reviews for 2008

Report Reviewed: Public Charter Schools: A Great Value for Ohio’s Public Education System
Think Tank: The Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions
This report purports to show that charter schools in Ohio are unfairly underfunded relative to traditional public schools. It also claims that districts gain revenue for each student who attends a charter school and that there would be a net loss of revenues for districts if charter schools were closed.
Think Twice Review Date: December 10, 2008
Reviewers: Gary Miron, Western Michigan University
Miron’s review of this report finds it to be misleading, and in some cases, false and deceitful. He concludes that “the report is so misleading that it’s tempting to see the distortions as intentional.”
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: Reports on 10 state public opinion surveys on K-12 school choice
Think Tank: The Friedman Foundation for Education Choice
This is a series of reports based on public opinion polls in 10 states that claim that voters view public schools as unsatisfactory, that they prefer private over public schools, that vouchers should be available and that potential voters are more likely to support candidates who support school choice proposals.
Think Twice Review Date: December 2, 2008
Reviewers: Jon Lorence and A. Gary Dworkin, University of Houston
In their review of this report, Lorence and Dworkin find that the conclusions drawn by the reports are suspect due to several factors including poorly worded and biased questions and sampling problems.
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: Education Olympics 2008: The Games in Review
Think Tank: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute
This report parallels the Olympics by awarding medals to top performing countries based on international assessments in reading, math and science. The report makes the claim that the low rankings of the U.S. on these tests will weaken the U.S. economy and jeopardize its future global standing.
Think Twice Review Date: October 15, 2008
Reviewers: Edward G. Fierros, Villanova University
Mindy Kornhaber, Penn State University
In their review of this report, Fierros and Kornhaber question the international rankings but save their harshest criticism for the report’s leap to unsupported policy recommendations. They write, “The Education Olympics report, driven by predetermined positions and lacking any rigorous demonstration of argument, theory, evidence or methods provides no bases for generating constructive policy for improving our nation’s educational performance.”
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: The Misplaced Math Student: Lost in Eighth-Grade Algebra
Think Tank: Brookings Institution
This report argues that as a misguided national push a subgroup of students enrolled in eighth grade algebra lack the basic mathematical skills they need to succeed. It further argues that this unpreparedness harms those students as well as the highly proficient students in the class.
Think Twice Review Date: October 14, 2008
Reviewers: Carol Corbett Burris
Burris’s review of the Brookings report finds that its analysis provides little or no support for its conclusions. The declining NAEP scores that provide the impetus for the report may have several explanations. She criticizes the report’s final conclusion – that universal 8th grade algebra is ill-advised – as “not substantiated by the data presented.”
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: Markets vs. Monopolies in Education: A Global Review of the Evidence
Think Tank: Cato Institute
This report makes the claim that private schools around the world perform better than public schools and that the U.S. should embrace a free and competitive education marketplace.
Think Twice Review Date: September 30, 2008
Reviewers: Clive Belfield, Queens College/City University of New York
Belfield finds the report’s analysis to be faulty and the resulting policy conclusions to be unwarranted. He concludes that the report is of little value to U.S. policymakers.
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: Promising Start: An Empirical Analysis of How EdChoice Vouchers Affect Ohio Public Schools
Think Tank: Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice
This report makes the claim that Ohio's EdChoice voucher program has increased the effectiveness of public schools. The report indicates that substantial academic gains at public schools have been made because these schools have been exposed to the possibility of losing students to vouchers.
Think Twice Review Date: September 8, 2008
Reviewers: Christopher Lubienski, University of Illinois
Lubienski finds that the report suffers from multiple flaws which undermine the research. Among other things, he indicates that the report makes assumptions not supported by research and "cherry-picks" results to support its claims. Lubienski concludes his review by saying that the Friedman report is better read as a "statement of belief regarding vouchers than an empirical analysis."
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: High Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB
Think Tank: Thomas B Fordham Institute
This two-part report suggests that high achieving students may be losing out under the No Child Left Behind Law due to the fact that more attention and resources are being focused on lower achieving students
Think Twice Review Date: July 29, 2008
Reviewers: Gregory Camilli, Rutgers University
Camilli praises the report's focus on high achievers, but concludes that the report's findings and policy implications inappropriately overreach. Camilli suggests that the report's two studies attempt to "inform broad policies on the strength of two fairly narrow analyses."
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: The Effect of Special Education Vouchers on Public School Achievement: Evidence from Florida’s McKay Scholarship Program
Think Tank: Manhattan Institute for Policy Research
This report claims that Florida’s McKay program of providing private-school vouchers to special education students has resulted in improved educational outcomes for special education students who chose to stay in public schools. The theory behind this conclusion is that increased competition to enroll these students has led public schools to improve services and programs for special education students not choosing to leave.
Think Twice Review Date: May 22, 2008
Reviewers: John T. Yun, University of California at Santa Barbara
Yun concludes that any possible contribution made by this report is outweighed by research design problems, failure to take into account alternative explanations, and possible selection bias. He cautions against using this report for any decision-making or policy evaluation purposes.
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: Choice and Education across the States
Think Tank: The Heartland Institute
This report assigns letter grades to states based on how extensive the state’s school choice system is.
Think Twice Review Date: April 29, 2008
Reviewers: Wendy Chi, University of Colorado at Boulder
Chi concludes that this report offers little or no useful information for policy makers. The report asserts, based on a faulty use of past research, that an increase in school choice will strengthen accountability and improve student achievement. It awards most states low grades, reflecting a desire for more school choice throughout the nation.
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: The Turnaround Challenge: Why America’s Best Opportunity to Dramatically Improve Students Achievement Lies in Our Worst-Performing Schools
Think Tank: Mass Insight Education & Research Institute
This report puts forth an ambitious proposal aimed at getting chronically underachieving schools to improve academic achievement.
Think Twice Review Date: April 24, 2008
Reviewers: Patrick McQuillen, Boston College
In his review, McQuillen commends the report for making a “major contribution” to the debate over school reform, but warns that it has an overly optimistic timeline, relies too much on punitive sanctions, offers key recommendations beyond what research can support and pays little attention to the role students might play in the reform process.
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: Fund the Child: Bringing Equity, Autonomy and Portability to Ohio School Finance
Think Tank: Thomas B. Fordham Institute
This report is the latest in a series which argues that state funding should follow children to the public schools (rather than the districts) of their choice; that per-pupil funding amounts should be weighted according to children’s individual needs and circumstances; and that schools should have flexibility in how they spend the funds they receive. A major goal of these proposals is to end funding disparities within and between districts.
Think Twice Review Date: April 7, 2008
Reviewers: Bruce Baker, University of Kansas
In his review, Baker writes that this report is of higher quality than most past reports on the topic and praises it for avoiding overstatement. However, Baker points out that the report’s primary weakness is its general failure to use relevant, empirical research that might provide policy makers with useful insights.
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: How Sound an Investment? Analysis of Federal Prekindergarten Proposals
Think Tank: Lexington Institute
This report considers current proposals for federal involvement in prekindergarten (pre-K). It concludes that federally funded preschool program for all children would be unnecessarily expensive, provide little benefit to most children, decrease options for parents and could likely impair the social development of many children.
Think Twice Review Date: March 24, 2008
Reviewers: W. Steven Barnett, Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University
Barnett’s review of this report finds that it is misleading, poorly grounded, biased and inaccurate. Barnett concludes that the report oversimplifies the debate, ignores relevant research and falls short of thoughtful policy discussion.
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: A School Privatization Primer for Michigan School Officials, Media and Residents
Think Tank: Mackinac Center
This report is billed as a guide for Michigan school officials and other interested in privatizing school services.
Think Twice Review Date: February 19, 2008
Reviewers: Clive Belfield, Queens College, City University of New York
Belfield’s review finds that the report offers little evidence to support its premise that privatizing school services saves money or is otherwise beneficial. Belfield credits the report with offering practical steps for issuing and monitoring contracts, but notes that the report’s usefulness stops there.
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: Feeling the Florida Heat? How Low-Performing Schools Respond to Voucher and Accountability Pressure
Think Tank: Urban Institute’s National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research
This study examines whether Florida’s system of sanctions and incentives for its poorest performing schools has led to improved student achievement. It concludes that the system, including the threat of vouchers, appears to have spurred schools to improve practices and thereby improve performance.
Think Twice Review Date: January 15, 2008
Reviewers: Damian Betebenner, National Center for Improvement of Educational Assessment
Thought Betebenner’s review commends the report for its thorough analysis of the data, he observes that a very prominent shortcoming is the report’s overstatement regarding the relationship between the pressure of accountability sanctions and improvements in school achievement. He notes that the report’s title and some of the statements in the body of the report suggest that vouchers and other accountability measures are the cause of the achievement gains despite the fact that there is no supporting evidence that such a causal connection exists.
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: The High Cost of Failing to Reform Public Education in Missouri
The High Cost of Failing to Reform Public Education in Indiana
The High Cost of Failing to Reform Public Education in Texas
The High Cost of South Carolina’s Low Graduation Rates
The High Cost of Low Graduation Rates in North Carolina
Think Tank: The Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation
These five sister reports have been published by the Friedman Foundation over the past two years. They assert that private-school voucher programs can reduce the social costs of dropping out while increasing graduation rates.
Think Twice Review Date: January 9, 2008
Reviewers: Sherman Dorn, University of South Florida
In his review of these reports, Dorn finds that the reports are of little value because they ignore the abundance of relevant research and offer no means by which to gauge the alleged benefits of vouchers against other alternatives. Dorn advises policymakers who are interested in increasing graduation rates to bypass these reports and seek out “the available, well-researched scholarship on the topic,” much of which he identifies in his review.
Press Release Link name=Review Link

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