Debunking another right-wing hatchet job on public education.

A friend of mine posted the following item to a Santa Cruz area school discussion group (apologies if this is long, but their is a lot of detail to assemble):

> Where Do Public School Teachers Send Their Kids to School?

>

> NATIONAL – Teachers, it is reasonable to assume, care about

> education, are reasonably expert about it, and possess quite a lot

> of information about the schools in which they teach. If these

> teachers are more likely than the general public (which may not have

> nearly as much information or expertise in these matters) to send

> their own daughters and sons to the public schools in which they

> teach, it is a strong vote of confidence in those schools. … The

> data show that urban public school teachers are more likely than

> either urban households or the general public to send their children

> to private schools. Across the states, 12.2 percent of all families

> (urban, rural, and suburban) send their children to private schools –

> a figure that roughly corresponds to perennial and well-known data

> on the proportion of U.S. children enrolled in private schools. But

> urban public school teachers send their children to private schools

> at a rate of 21.5 percent, nearly double the national rate of

> private-school attendance. (by Denis P. Doyle, Brian Diepold, and

> David A. DeSchryver for The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation)

>

> http://www.edexcellence.net/foundation/publication/publication.cfm?id=333

My response:

The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation is not an objective source. See the item below, from Cursor’s “Media Transparency” website, which helps you figure out whether the money and ideology behind surprising/counter-intuitive “news” and “studies” you see in the media are suspect.

Their president, Chester E. Finn, is described as “one of the education policy gurus of the conservative movement” – and the conservative movement has made the defunding, degrading and destruction of public education one of their primary priorities. This guy has major “conservative” wingnut foundation credentials… he’s an advisory board member of the National Association of Scholars, and a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a leading ultra-right wing think tank.

http://www.mediatransparency.org/people/chester_finn.htm

There’s a discussion of the foundation on the “school workers on-line community”, in which Finn is described by one participant as:

“an enemy of public education as well as a driving force for standards based reforms and high-stakes tests”



http://lists.wayne.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0105&L=swoc&D=0&P=2390

Their research director is also a “research fellow” at the Hoover Institution.

http://hnn.us/readcomment.php?id=38716

More documentation on the background and ideological orientation of the foundation, and the authors of the report, can be found below.

Getting clear about the ideological predispositions of the sponsoring foundation doesn’t necessarily invalidates the particular study – it just calls for closer scrutiny.

As well, let’s get clear about something else:

These foundations don’t pay for “objective” research – if the results didn’t serve the particular ideological agenda, this study would never have seen the light of day… in fact, if the authors and funders hadn’t been pretty certain about what the end results would be, it would never have been funded in the first place.

***

I’ve read through the report, a PDF copy is available at this URL: http://thewheelerreport.com/releases/Sept04/Sept7/0907choicesstudy.pdf

A brief perusal of the report above reveals that this is fodder for the debate over “school vouchers” and “choice”. Not at all surprising, given the authors’ pro-voucher/”school choice” ideological predispositions.

For example, the report highlight Milwaukee’s results, in particular (and no other city’s), where voucher based “school choice” is well established. Numerous other positive references to “school choice” are scattered throughout the report (in fact, this is clearly the underlying hypothesis of their report: that “choice” leads to better results).

You’ll note that the summary below highlights the difference between urban public school teachers and the public at large – an intellectually and statistically indefensible comparison, as the report itself admits, when it admits that the difference between urban public school teachers and the urban public at large is only 21.5 vs. 17.5 percent (a much smaller 4% – you’ll also note that they don’t say anything about the level of significance of their results, and what the margin of error and confidence level is, basic statistical figures that are necessary in order to evaluate the results of any study), and when it focuses on a select sub-group of that particular sub-group (teachers making under $42,000 a year) – why? Because AT ALL OTHER INCOME LEVELS, teachers are MORE LIKELY to send their kids to public schools, not less!

In fact, the report makes a big deal of their finding that lower income teachers are 4.6% more likely to send their kids to school than the lower income public at large, while remaining completely silent about the fact that public school teachers making over $84k a year (where do they pay these wages!?!) send their kids to private [typo corrected] school at a rate of 8.9% LESS than the public at large. A completely counter-intuitive result if you assume that greater resources makes it easier to make the decision to send your kids to private school.

Given that I’m not a social scientist and statistical methodology specialist, I’m not as well equipped to analyze and understand the methodology used to develop the figures cited in this study (I hope someone with more credentials than myself does take a whack at that), but I have some basic questions that the report doesn’t answer adequately, in my opinion – how is the “control” group (the general public) defined? How accurate and relevant is it to compare lower income teachers to the public at large in the same income bracket – aren’t teachers more likely to be better educated than others in their income bracket (especially lower income teachers) – as the report acknowledges? Income is not a full descriptor of socioeconomic class and associated behaviors. Doesn’t structuring the comparison this way include teachers employed full time in the same category as many others employed at a much lower wage range, or not employed at all (mothers on AFDC, for example)? I wonder what the results would be if you “controlled” for all these factors? Wouldn’t you like to know?

As well, the report states that it backs up two decades of evidence showing that urban (you’ll notice that they focus on this group almost exclusively) public school teachers send their kids to private schools as a higher rate than the general public… but all the only evidence they are able to cite is a 1983 survey of public school teachers by the Detroit Free Press and a previous study of theirs done in 1995.

Interestingly enough, a 1999 era poll by Gallup on behalf of the Phi Delta Kappa (5th annual) shows that, UNIQUELY, teacher in inner city schools have dramatically different opinions than ALL OTHER teachers:

“The tendency for teachers to award high grades to schools holds true for all teachers except those in the inner cities. Inner-city teachers give their community schools, the school in which they teach, and the nation’s schools nearly the same grades, and all are lower than the grades given by teachers in urban, suburban, small-town, and rural areas.”

http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/klan9904.htm

Note that these teachers also tend to be the newest, and least well paid. So, if you’re going to pick a sub-population of teachers with a less than fully positive view of public education, you couldn’t do better than the group picked by the study’s authors.

Here’s what I think:

This report was bought and paid for by an ideologically biased institution with a clear anti-public education agenda. It was assembled by individuals with a clear ideological history of support for forms of “school choice” that include funding for private schools, including religious institutions. The report supports their pre-existing ideological positions, and it’s methodology and analysis is worth questioning in detail.

In summary this report is just one more salvo fired by the right wing noise machine, part of the right-wing’s long standing program aimed at undermining and destroying public education in favor of a “voucher” system that would use public funds to pay for private education and religious indoctrination, and should be viewed with great suspicion by all serious advocates for public education.

I look forward to seeing a more through analysis and rebuttal of this report by professionals… although I’m sure that any such analysis won’t be anywhere near as well covered in the media.

Regards,

Thomas Leavitt

BACKGROUND ON THE Thomas B. Fordham Foundation:

Here’s what “Rethinking Schools Online” has to say about it:

http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/17_01/Ford171.shtml

“The Fordham approach is profoundly anti-intellectual.”

They are much harsher on the foundation’s 911 publication than the reviewer below, but essentially pin the ideological position of the foundation in an identical fashion. School Voices folks should also note the foundation’s attack on Alfie Kohn.

Here’s a response to another report the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation issued a few years back:



http://www.asu.edu/educ/epsl/EPRU/peer_reviews/cerai-00-07.htm

“In the Foundation’s new report, each state is given a letter grade of A to F for each of the five areas evaluated – English, mathematics, history, geography and science. Only five states make the report’s honor roll, while 42 are rated negatively.

The problem with the evaluations is a simple one: the states’ rankings for quality of standards are inverse to their performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). That is, the same states that have done the best job in the eyes of the Fordham report’s authors in implementing high standards have shown the poorest performance on widely accepted national tests for student achievement, and vice versa. These states have also performed poorly when compared to other nations.”

“Yet while clearly taking sides in the debate between “back-to-basics” advocates of rote learning and automatic computation, and those who would focus more on understanding underlying mathematical principles and their application, the report never seriously engages the nuances of this debate. Instead it opts to place its arguments in ideological, almost religious, terms.”

Read the whole response, especially the last paragraph, describing the weak to non-existent underpinnings for the report in question.

Here’s another review of a book the foundation published:

http://www.lib.msu.edu/corby/reviews/posted/fordham.htm

The review’s author, while being relatively positive about the book itself, makes it clear that there is an ideological agenda behind it:

“In the attempt to balance out what it views as the liberal, left-leaning curriculum currently taught by historically ill-educated teachers, the collection offers examples of alternative ways of thinking which are unabashedly conservative and right-leaning.”

Here’s the summation:

“The collection affords a rich repository of topics and references to documents on which to draw to achieve a celebratory history of America. At the same time, the essays are an illuminating window into the thinking of serious people with serious concerns and they warrant critical and skeptical examination for their content, rhetoric, and assumptions. In some ways, they might be seen to correspond to the advocacy of creationism which likewise needs to be recognized and acknowledged but also to be treated with critical awareness of mainstream scientific thinking about evolution.”

The intellectual equivalent of advocating for creationism? Highly suspect, in my book.

BACKGROUND ON THE AUTHORS:

Here’s the lead author’s biography, he’s definitely a voucher/choice advocate:

http://www.thedoylereport.com/cyber_chair/about_denis_doyle

He has been associated with “think tanks” since 1980 — Brookings, AEI [American Enterprise Institute], Heritage and Hudson Institute, where he is presently a non-resident Fellow.

The last three are classic ultra-right wing think tanks… see mediatransparency.org for details.

Brian Diepold appears nowhere else as a published author (based on a Google search).

The third author appears to be currently working for Brian Doyle, but previously, he was Research Director for the Center for Education Reform (see article from their web site below, defending public funding of school vouchers for religious schools).

http://www.edreform.com/index.cfm?fuseAction=document&documentID=263&sectionID=58

The CER has received nearly 1.5 million in funding from extreme right wing foundations (see

mediatransparency.org, below) over the last decade.

http://www.mediatransparency.org/search_results/info_on_any_recipient.php?recipientID=56

Dave S. himself admits that the major teacher’s unions, NEA and AFT “traditionally do not like” CER.

http://www.nea.org/neatoday/9904/messages/10.html