Per all the blogginess about the Center for Education Policy No Child Left Behind report, Education Next, sensing a good PR opportunity, has released their profile of CEP head Jack Jennings early. You can read it here (pdf). Russo’s in a frenzy about it and weighs-in here and has an interview with the piece’s author, Greg Forster, too.
Couple of thoughts. First, I had always sort of thought that the nature of this CEP study – self-reported by schools and districts with some case studies – made it obvious that it was not definitive about NCLB but rather one view. But that is a big issue here says Forster. I think it says a lot more about the sloppy consumption of education research than CEP per se.
Second, on the issue of whether Jennings has a partisan/ideological affiliation, I don’t think it really matters on its face. In fact, a lot of people dismiss Ed Next without engaging on substance because it’s “conservative.” John McWhorter has pointed out that too often in education that’s a euphemism for “asshole,” but it’s no better if the label “Democrat” becomes a euphemism for “in the tank with the establishment.” Education debates do not graft cleanly onto partisan lines today anyway.
Having a partisan affiliation and trying to be an honest broker are not mutually exclusive (at least I hope not, I’m a Democrat so obviously not a dispassionate observer of that debate). I’m more interested in whether someone plays it straight than labels. Forster implies Jennings does not.
Seems to me a good indicator is whether someone criticizes their own party when it conflicts with their views or only parrots the party line. I haven’t seen a content analysis of Jennings’ comments in the press. Anecdotally, my sense is that he doesn’t criticize Democrats much. But, whether that means he really doesn’t or those parts of what he says do not make it into the press is an open question. Also, for instance, does someone change their mind and are they willing to engage with contrary evidence?
The third issue is independence what does independent mean anyway? By my reading it means calling it like you see them and being transparent about sources of funding and support. I don’t think that independent has to be synonymous with being viewpoint neutral. Again, I don’t care that Jennings has a viewpoint, sure he does and I didn’t, and hope no serious observer of the debate did, need an article to point that out. The issue is whether the work is straight. On that score Forster raises some questions that are worth checking out though I don’t think every point is damming.
Update: There seems to be some confusion about this post. It’s about the Ed Next piece linked above, not the back and forth on the 71 percent hysteria that has bugged me for the last week. So don’t read anymore into it than that. Guess I should have made that more clear. In sum, to be clear, I think the Ed Next piece raises some fair questions about CEP’s work but that the partisan charge/framing weakens it. As I tried to say above, saying that Jack Jennings can’t be trusted because he was/is a partisan Democrat is an assertion not an argument (and, if I’m reading it right, one that relies on the notion that all Democrats are hostile to ed reform). It’s almost a mirror image of the way the establishment dismisses the work of almost anyone right-of-center. Argue about the work, not the motivations and characterizations. Andy Mollison has some sensible thoughts about that here. Put another way, I still think the way the 71 percent figure was played is misleading but it has nothing to do with Jack’s partisan affiliation!