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Peter W. Cookson, Jr., (202) 403-6203,
Dan Quinn, (517) 203-2940,

Review finds State Education Agency report is earnest but oversimplifies

Report called for less state involvement in school reform

EAST LANSING, Mich. (June 17, 2014) – A recent report from the Fordham Institute and Bellwether Education Partners argues that states should get out of the reform business directly and hand it over to an "ecosystem of nonprofit organizations." It proposes a governance overhaul to replace the role of State Education Agencies in school improvement. An academic review finds the report is well written, but reveals that the findings and recommendations are not based on original research.

Peter W. Cookson, Jr. of Georgetown University reviewed The State Education Agency: At the Helm, Not the Oar for the Think Twice think tank review project of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The report outlines the responsibilities of SEAs and suggests that they struggle to deliver.  It cautions against strengthening SEAs to meet new accountability obligations.

In his review, Cookson found the report fails to support its findings or recommendations with the in-depth research needed to support the sweeping claims in the report.  "There is no real substantiation of their claims about the failings of SEAs or the efficacy of their solutions; it relies on the preponderance of secondary evidence as the authors' have collected it."

He also calls into question the validity of the findings and recommendations, because the data are subjective in nature. Cookson says "The methods used in this report are more akin to advocacy journalism than scholarship."

On a positive note, Cookson says that the report "is a useful document for those who are engaged in educational reform because it lays out an argument for change that needs to be addressed honestly by those who support it and those who do not."

In his conclusion, Cookson finds value in this flawed work because it pushes us to question our own unexamined assumptions. He says, "The report is an earnest attempt, but conflates the people's work with the work of reformers-for-hire."

Read this review at:

Find The State Education Agency: At the Helm, Not the Oar on the web:

Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policymakers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The review can also be found on the NEPC website:

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The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

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