The "Public" Speaks, But They Come Dressed As Activists!

Recall a few weeks ago in all the back and forth about the CEP report about No Child Left Behind there was some criticism of the CEP report because it was reported data and perceptions from school districts and schools. While certainly an important caveat in terms of the study, I didn’t think it was a fair critique more just an interpretative issue. After all, hard and very expensive to get the data too many other ways.

But, a similar critique can be leveled, and more fairly, at the new PEN report purporting to show what the public thinks about No Child Left Behind. Ed Week breathlessly reports the views of the “public” here. The PEN report is worth reading, in part because everyone else is and in part because it makes some good points. But the data comes from an online survey and people who showed up to “hearings” PEN conducted around the country. In other words, it’s enormously biased by self-selection. Instead of “Public Dissatisfied Over Key NCLB Provisions, Report Says,” a more accurate Ed Week headline would be, “Activists Dissatisfied Over Key NCLB Provisions, Report Says.”

Of course, the views of activists matter, and in politics they arguably matter more than other views in terms of driving political behavior, but to purport that this is what the “public” defined broadly, thinks is absurd. Who knows, it may well be but this method won’t help us know one way or the other. And, I’m actually skeptical, with phrasing like “anguished” and “worst” and characterizations of NCLB like single-tests for school accountability, it’s almost like there is an agenda here. Never in education! Besides, I daresay most of the “public” really does not care enough about NCLB one way or the other to show up at a hearing anyway. That’s a problem PEN and I agree must be tackled.

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