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2010 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 2010

Report Reviewed: The 2010 State School Report Card: A state-by-state analysis of learning, efficiency, and standards
Publisher/Think Tank: The Heartland Institute

This report ranks states on four indices of school performance: learning, education expenditure, quality of state standards, and an overall achievement grade based on the average of the first three indices. The authors use the data to advocate for Parent Trigger legislation and school choice policies.

Think Twice Review Date: December 14, 2010
Reviewer: Edward Fierros and Bridget Ann Rooney, Villanova University
Fierros and Rooney find that the report and its grades are very poorly grounded. They note that the report cites very limited, partisan research, provides no rationale to support its methods and fails to control for underlying variations from state to state in demographics and other characteristics. They conclude that the report is of no use in guiding policy or practice.
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: Closing the Racial Achievement Gap: Learning from Florida's Reforms
Publisher/Think Tank: The Heritage Foundation

This report contends that Florida's "far-reaching" education policies have caused test scores to increase and the achievement gap to narrow. In particular, the report focuses on fourth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Think Twice Review Date: November 30, 2010
Reviewer: Madhabi Chatterji, Teachers College at Columbia University
In her review, Chatterji finds that "The report's key conclusions are unwarranted and insufficiently supported by research." Most importantly, she points out the very direct effects of the state's grade-retention policy, causing the report's comparisons to be largely meaningless.
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: An Analysis of Arizona Individual Income Tax-credit Scholarship Recipient's Family Income,
Publisher/Think Tank: Harvard University Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG)

This report attempts to counter claims made by two AZ newspapers that the state's tuition tax credit voucher program has failed to increase private school access for low-income families.

Think Twice Review Date: November 18, 2010
Reviewer: Casey D. Cobb, University of Connecticut
In his review, Cobb indicates that though the report makes a reasonable attempt to determine the income of families receiving scholarship, it overstates the newspapers' claims. He also finds that the report's validity is uncertain because of questions regarding accuracy and representativeness of the data used.
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: Teacher Evaluation 2.0
Publisher/Think Tank: The New Teacher Project

This guide analyzes how to fix teacher evaluations, proposing six design standards that any rigorous and fair evaluation system should meet. It offers states and school districts a blueprint for better evaluations that can help every teacher thrive in the classroom.

Think Twice Review Date: November 16, 2010
Reviewer: H. Richard Milner, Vanderbilt University
In his review, Milner notes that the report suffers from several problems. Among them: It assumes teacher evaluation reform can be a panacea for resolving far greater educational problems. The result, Milner concludes, is a report that "does not tell us anything that is not already suggested or asserted in the teacher evaluation discourse."
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Report Reviewed: The six research summaries supporting the "Blueprint for Reform"
Publisher/Think Tank: U.S. Department of Education

Released by the DOE in May, these six research summaries support the education reform proposals included in the Obama administration's "Blueprint for Reform" for ESEA reauthorization.

Think Twice Review Date: October 5, 2010
Reviewer: Clive Belfield, Gene V Glass, W.Steven Barnett, Kevin G. Welner, Paul Shaker, Beth Warren, Janette Klingner, William J. Mathis, Diane Ravitch
Though each of the six reviews has its own specific findings, strong overarching themes emerged from the individual reviews. For instance, each author found the research that he/she examined to be of inadequate quality and that the six summaries made extensive use of non-research and advocacy sources to justify the policy recommendations made.
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: The Impact of a Universal Class-Size Reduction Policy: Evidence from Florida's Statewide Mandate
Publisher/Think Tank: Program for Education Policy and Governance at the Kennedy School, Harvard University

This report analyzes statewide achievement data for school districts in Florida and purports to find that Florida's constitutional amendment limiting class size, "had little, if any, effect on cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes."

Think Twice Review Date: July 14, 2010
Reviewer: Jeremy D. Finn, The University of Buffalo- SUNY
Finn finds that the study doesn't actually address the effect of class size reduction on student achievement and has four major flaws which, when taken together, invalidate it as an evaluation of class-size reduction.
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: Charter School Autonomy: A Half-Broken Promise
Publisher/Think Tank: Thomas B. Fordham Institute, with Public Impact

This report argues that autonomy is a prerequisite for there to be innovative, effective charter schools.

Think Twice Review Date: May 26, 2010
Reviewer: Charisse Gulosino, University of Massachusetts-Boston
In her review, Gulosino finds that the report assumes the positive impact of autonomy, but provides no empirical evidence to support this. She indicates that the report is of very little value to anyone concerned with charter schools including policy makers, school leaders, parents and charter supporters.
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: Has Progress Been made in Raising Achievement for English language Learners
Publisher/Think Tank: Center for Education Policy

This report urges finds that states have generally made progress in raising the achievement of English Language Learners (ELLs) under No Child Left Behind.

Think Twice Review Date: May 19, 2010
Reviewer: Jeff MacSwan, Arizona State University
MacSwan finds that the CEP report has significant weaknesses in its research methods which undermine its findings. Further, he indicates that given the limitations in the data, it is inappropriate to draw conclusions from the data summarized in the report.


Report Reviewed: Teacher Layoffs: Rethinking "Last-Hired, First-Fired" Policies
Publisher/Think Tank: National Council on Teacher Quality

This report urges making teacher layoff decisions on the basis of teacher quality and performance as opposed to the seniority system used by most school districts.

Think Twice Review Date: May 12, 2010
Reviewer: Richard Ingersoll and Lisa Merrill, University of Pennsylvania
The reviewers credit the report for being straightforward and reasonable, but point out that the reforms it proposes are neither new nor unique and are very challenging to implement.
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: They Spend WHAT? The Real Cost of Public Schools
Publisher/Think Tank: Cato Institute

This report contends that the figures most commonly associated with spending on K-12 public education do not include all relevant expenditures, and that the real costs are much higher than reported.

Think Twice Review Date: May 5, 2010
Reviewer: Vaughn Altemus, University of Vermont
Altemus concludes that the report's claim that public education is overpriced is much overstated because it counts capital expenditures twice. Altemus indicates when this error is eliminated, the report's main argument collapses rendering it virtually useless for policymaking.
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Report Reviewed: Behind the Curtain: Assessing the Case for National Standards
Publisher/Think Tank: Cato Institute

This report argues that national curriculum standards will have a very limited effect on education reform and concludes that universal school choice (free market model) is the best way to reform education.

Think Twice Review Date: April 21, 2010
Reviewer: William J. Mathis, University of Colorado, Boulder
Mathis applauds the report's useful summary and critique of the research on national standards, but says its conclusion that the free market is the best way to reform education is simply unsupported. Mathis writes that, as logic, this conclusion, "is the equivalent of saying that since elephants can't fly, frogs will."
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Report Reviewed: Fix the City Schools: Moving All Schools to Charter-Like Autonomy
Publisher/Think Tank: Reason Foundation

This report argues for the decentralization of urban school districts and cites increased student achievement in post-Katrina New Orleans as support for city schools moving toward a "portfolio" of schools model.

Think Twice Review Date: April 15, 2010
Reviewer: Katrina E. Bulkley, Montclair State University
In her review, Bulkley points out that the heavy reliance on New Orleans is a significant weakness of the report as there are numerous reasons unrelated to the portfolio approach that can explain some or all of the student gains. Additionally, Bulkley criticizes the report for its reliance on selected, biased examples as opposed to systematic research.
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Report Reviewed: Stuck Schools
Publisher/Think Tank: Education Trust

This report aims at providing a framework for identifying schools that are simultaneously low-performing and low-improving and in most need of school turnaround strategies.

Think Twice Review Date: April 7, 2010
Reviewer: Jaekyung Lee, University at Buffalo, SUNY
Lee's review of this report finds it relies on misleading data and unreliable methodology. Lee indicates that, "the report's methods are so simplistic, arbitrary and poorly fitting to the report's own assumptions that it is more harmful to sound policymaking than helpful."
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: Graduation Rates for Choice and Public School Students in Milwaukee, 2003-2008
Publisher/Think Tank: School Choice Wisconsin

This report argues that Milwaukee students who use vouchers to attend private schools graduate in larger numbers than do students who attend traditional Milwaukee public schools.

Think Twice Review Date: March 31, 2010
Reviewer: Casey D. Cobb, University of Connecticut
Cobb's review of this report praises it for its technically sound analysis and results that are descriptively useful. However, Cobb cautions that any real claims about whether the voucher program is actually causing higher graduation rates must depend upon a much stronger research design.
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Report Reviewed: America's Private Public Schools
Publisher/Think Tank: Thomas B. Fordham Institute

This report identifies public schools across the U.S. that enroll very few students from low-income families (private public schools) and argues that the existence of these "exclusive" schools justifies the support of publicly funded vouchers to private schools.

Think Twice Review Date: March 24, 2010
Reviewer: John T. Yun, University of California, Santa Barbara
Yun's review concludes that the report's policy arguments are based on tenuous logic, oversimplification and "critical omissions of fact, context and prior research."
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Report Reviewed: The Shaping of the American Mind: The Diverging Influences of the College Degree and Civic Learning on American Beliefs
Publisher/Think Tank: Intercollegiate Studies Institute

This report argues that colleges are failing to provide and adequate education in civic knowledge and is also influencing graduates to become less supportive of American values.

Think Twice Review Date: March 17, 2010
Reviewer: Gregory J. Marchant, Ball State University
Marchant's review of the report finds that it ignores contradictory findings, omits key information, wrongly argues causation and confuses civic knowledge with conservative political values. Marchant warns that the report "may, in fact, be destructive of the very ideals of education the authors ascribe to the Founding Fathers – particularly informed democratic participation."
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Report Reviewed: Connecticut's Charter School Law and Race to the Top
Publisher/Think Tank: Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCan)

This report argues for lifting the charter school cap and increasing funding for charter schools in Connecticut.

Think Twice Review Date: March 10, 2010
Reviewer: Robert Bifulco, Syracuse University
Bifulco's review of this report finds that it ignores relevant research and offers no evidence to support its claim that expanding charters would increase low-income student achievement.
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: Expanding Choice in Elementary and Secondary Education: A Report on Rethinking the Federal Role in Education
Publisher/Think Tank: Brookings Institution

This report calls for a federally led, universal expansion of school choice programs and makes the argument that increased choice is what the majority of parents want in federal education reform.

Think Twice Review Date: March 3, 2010
Reviewer: Janelle Scott, University of California at Berkeley
Scott's review of this report finds that it lacks the evidence to support the call for an expansion of school choice. Scott identifies three major shortcomings in the report: it relies too heavily on research in progress and research produced by advocacy organizations; it neglects prior research concerning the nature of parental choice; and it fails to acknowledge that unconstrained school choice has segregative effects.
Press Release Link name=Review Link


Report Reviewed: How School Choice Can Create Jobs for South Carolina
Publisher/Think Tank: South Carolina Policy Council Education Foundation
This report argues that school choice, in the form of vouchers to attend private schools, would create significant job opportunities in five poor, rural counties in South Carolina.
Think Twice Review Date: January 14, 2010
Reviewer: Joydeep Roy, Georgetown University
Roy's review of the South Carolina report finds that it is built on seriously flawed assumptions and offers little insight into the effects of school vouchers. Roy writes that the report relies more on rhetoric and less on authentic research and concludes that it is significantly biased and of little value to policymakers.
Press Release Link name=Review Link

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