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2011 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 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.

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Reports & Reviews for 2011

Report Reviewed: Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement
Publisher/Think Tank: Brookings Institution (Hamilton Project)

This report examines three school organizational reforms – moving from middle schools to K-8 schools, delaying the start time of high school classes and increasing teacher specialization by grade and subject.

 
Think Twice Review Date: November 29, 2011
Reviewer: Patrick J. McEwan, Wellesley College
McEwan praises the report for using sound research to judge the value of each of the three organizational reforms and indicates that they deserve careful consideration alongside more hotly debated reforms such as charters and cyber schools.
Press Release Link name=Review Link

 

Report Reviewed:

Redefining Teacher Pensions. Strategically Defined Benefits for New Teachers and Fiscal Sustainability for All Teacher Effectiveness from Changing Retirement Benefits

Buyer Beware: The Risks to Teacher Effectiveness from Changing Retirement Benefits
Publisher/Think Tank: Center for American Progress
These two reports consider the potential costs and benefits of eliminating traditional defined benefit pension plans for teachers and replacing them with cash-balance plans.
 
Think Twice Review Date: November 22, 2011
Reviewer: Teresa Ghilarducci, New School for Social Research, Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis
Ghilarducci concludes that the two reports are important contributions to the policy debate over pensions, however less for the proposals they set forth and more for the issues they raise.
Press Release Link name=Review Link

Report Reviewed: Chartering and Choice as an Achievement Gap-Closing Reform: The success of California charter schools in promoting African American Achievement
Publisher/Think Tank: California Charter Schools Association

This report claims that California charter schools are narrowing the Black-White achievement gap and that charter schools are centers of innovation.

 
Think Twice Review Date: November 10, 2011
Reviewer: David R. Garcia, Arizona State University
A review of this report by Professor Garcia finds that its conclusions are misrepresented and exaggerated.
Press Release Link name=Review Link

 

Report Reviewed: Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude?
Publisher/Think Tank: Fordham Institute, Northwest Evaluation Association

This report claims that the academic performance of high-achieving students is being undermined by a policy focus on lower-achieving students.

 
Think Twice Review Date: October 13, 2011
Reviewer: Jaekyung Lee, University at Buffalo, SUNY
A review by Prof. Lee finds that the report's conclusions rest on biased methodology and misleading arguments. Lee concludes that this report is of little value to policymakers.
Press Release Link name=Review Link

 

Report Reviewed: Incomplete: How Middle Class Schools Aren't Making the Grade
Publisher/Think Tank: Third Way

This report claims that so-called "middle-class schools" are disadvantaged compared with wealthier and poorer schools.

 
Think Twice Review Date: September 22, 2011
Reviewer: Bruce Baker, Rutgers University
A review by Prof. Bruce Baker of Rutgers University finds that the report's authors have an absurd view of who makes up the middle class and that the Third Way researchers misread their own data.

 

Report Reviewed: Charting New Territory: Tapping Charter Schools to Turn Around the Nation’s Dropout Factories
Publisher/Think Tank: Center for American Progress

This report advocates for turning struggling public schools into charter schools.

 
Think Twice Review Date: September 13, 2011
Reviewer: Tina Trujillo, University of California, Berkley
Trujillo's review finds that the report is biased and ignores extensive contrary evidence.
Press Release Link name=Review Link

 

Report Reviewed: Florida Formula for Student Achievement: Lessons for the Nation
Publisher/Think Tank: Foundation for Excellence in Education

The Bush presentation claims that six "reforms" caused gains in fourth-grade reading scores in Florida.

 
Think Twice Review Date: June 30, 2011
Reviewer: William J. Mathis, University of Colorado-Boulder
A review by William J. Mathis finds that Bush's presentation "is clearly an advocacy tool designed for advancing a particular set of reform proposals. This has resulted in a misleading presentation, with Bush promoting several policies that reputable research has shown to be ineffective or even harmful.
Press Release Link name=Review Link

 

Report Reviewed: Class Size: What Research Says and What It Means for State Policy
Publisher/Think Tank: Brookings Institution

This report argues that schools can save money by increasing class sizes without seriously affecting student achievement.

 
Think Twice Review Date: June 16, 2011
Reviewer: Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Northwestern University
In her review, Schanzenbach finds that the report's claims are based on a misleading summary of prior research and that the report puts too much emphasis on poor quality studies.
Press Release Link name=Review Link

 

Report Reviewed: The Comprehensive Longitudinal Evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program: Summary of Fourth Year Reports
Publisher/Think Tank: School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP), University of Arkansas

This report summarizes the SCDP's own earlier research on the Milwaukee voucher program.

 
Think Twice Review Date: June 2, 2011
Reviewer: Clive Belfield, Queens College, City University of New York
Belfield's review deems the SCDP report of little value because it relies only on the project's previous reports and ignores extensive research on vouchers.
Press Release Link name=Review Link

 

Report Reviewed: Yearning to Break Free: Ohio Superintendents Speak Out
Publisher/Think Tank: Thomas B. Fordham Institute

This report uses a survey of Ohio school superintendents to argue for an increase in district authority instead of increased school resources. The report suggests that academic achievement would improve if superintendents were freed from state mandates and union contracts.

 
Think Twice Review Date: May 3, 2011
Reviewer: Catherine Horn and Gary Dworkin, University of Houston
The reviewers find that the Fordham report relies on a flawed survey and that its conclusions are not well-grounded in the survey responses. The reviewers conclude that this report has very little to offer policymakers.
Press Release Link name=Review Link

 

Report Reviewed: Going Exponential: Growing the Charter School Sector's Best
Publisher/Think Tank: Progressive Policy Institute

This report argues that charters schools should be expanded rapidly and exponentially and uses the growth of molds, viruses and companies such as Starbucks as models for charter sector growth.

 
Think Twice Review Date: April 21, 2011
Reviewer: David Garcia, Arizona State University
Garcia's review finds that the report provides almost no evidence nor provides a credible research base to support its recommendations.
Press Release Link name=Review Link

 

Report Reviewed: Spend Smart: Fix Our Broken School Funding System
Publisher/Think Tank: ConnCAN

This report asserts that the Connecticut system for public school funding is broken and should be fixed by adopting a very simple weighted student funding formula where the money follows the student to whatever type of school he/she attends.

 
Think Twice Review Date: April 14, 2011
Reviewer: Bruce Baker, Rutgers University
Baker's review indicates that the report makes unsubstantiated and false claims and goes on to say that the system of funding forwarded by this report would divert funding from low-income students and unfairly boost the funding of charter schools. Baker indicates that the report is of "negligible value for informing policy decisions."
Press Release Link name=Review Link

 

Report Reviewed: Cross-Country Evidence on Teacher Pay for Performance
Publisher/Think Tank: Harvard program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG); also published in an abridged form in Education Next

This report claims that students in nations where teachers are paid on "merit" score higher on an international achievement test.

 
Think Twice Review Date: March 31, 2011
Reviewer: Mattias von Davier, Education Testing Service
Von Davier concludes that the study uses numbers that are "unreliable and invalid" and "leaves too many questions unanswered." He also found that the study compares apples and oranges, making comparisons between nations that have different standards and are socially, economically and culturally distinct. He recommends that this study not be used to guide policy.
Press Release Link name=Review Link

 

Report Reviewed: District Awards for Teacher Excellence: Final Report
Publisher/Think Tank: National Center for Performance Incentives

This report evaluates the D.A.T.E. performance pay system for Texas teachers.

 
Think Twice Review Date: March 3, 2011
Reviewer: Donald B. Gratz, Curry College
Gratz's review finds although the report is thorough and presents some interesting findings, "it suffers from two major constraints: data not collected and questions not asked." Gratz cautions against using this report for policymaking.
Press Release Link name=Review Link

 

Report Reviewed: Reform With Results for New Jersey Schools
Publisher/Think Tank: Lexington Institute

This report presents findings on the effectivenss of New Jersey's Abbott v. Burke court decisions. The report argues that the reforms ordered by the court have failed to increase student achievement despite what it terms dramatic spending increases. Based on this, the report argues for instituting such reforms as charters schools, changes to union contracts and vouchers.

 
Think Twice Review Date: February 10, 2011
Reviewer: Alan R. Sadovnik, Rutgers University
Sadovnik's review finds that the report provides little or no empirical evidence to support its critiques or recommendations and omits important parts of existing research literature. Overall, Sadovinik indicates that, "… the report has little or no use for informing education reform in Newark, New Jersey or nationally."
Press Release Link name=Review Link

 

Report Reviewed: Charter Schools: A Report on Rethinking the Federal Role in Education
Publisher/Think Tank: Brookings Institute at Brown

This report summarizes evidence from five studies of student achievement in popular urban charter schools and two studies on charter school revenues and combines it with the authors' judgment and experience to make recommendations regarding the federal role in charter schools.

 
Think Twice Review Date: January 20, 2011
Reviewer: Gary Miron, Western Michigan University
Miron's review finds that while some of the recommendations are reasonable, two key recommendations related to charter school facilities and funding are poorly developed and based on a narrow and misleading view of the evidence which undermines the utility of the report.
Press Release Link name=Review Link

 

Report Reviewed: Measures of Effective Teaching - Learning about Teaching: Initial Findings
Publisher/Think Tank: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

This study indicates that classroom effectiveness can be reliably estimated by gauging students' progress on standardized tests.

 
Think Twice Review Date: January 13, 2011
Reviewer: Jesse Rothstein, University of California at Berkeley
Rothstein's review finds that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation report is seriously flawed. His analysis found the MET report draws conclusions that are not supported by its own facts, with some data in the report pointing "in the opposite direction" from what is indicated in its "poorly-supported conclusions."
Press Release Link name=Review Link

 

Report Reviewed: U.S. Math Performance in Global Perspective: How Well Does Each State Do at Producing High-Achieving Students
Publisher/Think Tank: Harvard University PEPG and Education Next

This report compares the performance of high-achieving math students domestically and internationally, using data from the 2005 NAEP and PISA.

 
Think Twice Review Date: January 11, 2011
Reviewer: Jeremy Kilpatrick, University of Georgia
Kilpatrick's review finds that the PEPG report's deceptive comparisons and exaggeration of small differences make it useless in terms of helping educators improve U.S. students' math performance. He recommends that policymakers who are interested in obtaining data on student performance go to the website of the National Center for Education Statistics and ignore the flawed PEPG study.
Press Release Link name=Review Link
 

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) released a reply by Jeremy Kilpatrick as part of an exchange with Paul Peterson about Kilpatrick's damning review of U.S. Math Performance in Global Perspective: How Well Does Each State Do at Producing High-Achieving Students?, a report authored by Peterson, Eric Hanushek, and LudgerWoessman.

Read Kilpatrick's Response

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