No Excuses for Advocacy Masquerading as Research

“I guess irony can be pretty ironic sometimes.”

Commander Buck Murdock (William Shatner), Airplane 2: The Sequel

A rallying mantra of politicians, education reform advocates, and many charter schools is “no excuses”—a mask for an ideology steeped in classism and racism and targeting mostly black, brown, and poor children.

In the spirit of Commander Buck Murdock, we now have ample evidence that there should be no excuses for the pattern of advocacy masquerading as research used to justify “no excuses” charter schools.

First, let me remind everyone of a 2007 report on school choice from Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI), which promotes itself as Wisconsin’s free-market think tank.

Despite the study finding choice ineffective, George Lightbourn introduced the report as a Senior Fellow, admitting:

The report you are reading did not yield the results we had hoped to find. We had expected to find a wellspring of hope that increased parental involvement in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) would be the key ingredient in improving student performance.

And later on the WPRI web site (although no longer available online), Lightbourne emphasized:

So that there is no misunderstanding, WPRI is unhesitant in supporting school choice [emphasis added]. School choice is working and should be improved and expanded. School choice is good for Milwaukee ‘s children.

For many, if not most, school choice advocates, ideology trumps evidence.

In the more narrow commitment to charter schools as a market mechanism and then “no excuses” charter schools specifically, the evidence is overwhelming that not only think tanks but also university departments have relinquished academic freedom for masking advocacy as research.

The latest can be found in No Excuses Charter Schools: A Meta-Analysis of the Experimental Evidence on Student Achievement from the Department of Education Reform (University of Arkansas)—founded and funded by the pro-choice Walton family.

In a review of the report, Jeanne M. Powers finds:

The working paper reviewed here seeks to assess the extent to which “No Excuses” charter schools raise student achievement in English language arts and math and thereby close the achievement gap. The paper defines such schools as having: a) high academic standards, b) strict disciplinary codes, c) extended instructional time, and d) targeted supports for low-performing students. From their meta-analysis of 10 quasi-experimental studies , the authors concluded students who attended No Excuses charter schools had average achievement gains of 0.16 standard deviations in English language arts and 0.25 in mathematics. While conceding that charter schools with lotteries and No Excuses charter schools are not representative of all charter schools, the authors did not address whether or how students who apply to lottery charter schools might not be representative of all charter school students. They also did not address the possible relevance of student attrition for the individual studies’ findings and their own analysis. As a result, the claim that No Excuses schools can close the achievement gap substantially overstates their findings. Moreover, the report’s relatively small sample of schools concentrated in Northeast Coast cities suggests the current research base is too limited to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of No Excuses charter schools.

This is not, however, an isolated situation, as I have documented, so I offer below the full record:

Bankrupt Cultural Capital Claims: Beware the Roadbuilders, pt. 3

For the Record: Should We Trust Advocates of “No Excuses”?

Pulling a Greene: Why Advocacy and Market Forces Fail Education Reform [Redux]

The Charter Sham Formula: Billionaires + Flawed “Reports” + Press Release Media = Misled Public

Buying the Academy, Good-Bye Scholarship

Criticizing KIPP Critics

When a “Visit” Trumps Expertise and Experience: A New Deal

The Rise of the Dogmatic Scholar: “A Cult of Ignorance” pt. 2

Beware Reports Claiming “No Excuses”

One comment

  1. kimcfeldman

    This post caught my eye. As a second year PhD student who wants to advocate for teacher professional autonomy, I have been thinking a lot lately about how to pursue academic integrity in my research. I am concerned that my passion for teacher advocacy could make me miss “the guy in the gorilla costume.” Although you are talking more about reformers using “research” as propaganda, I am concerned about the same thing for my work as a teacher and scholar. I want my research to accomplish something and improve education and working conditions for teachers, but I also want it to have integrity as scholarship. I’m still trying to figure out what that will look like.

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