Egad! School Research Has Power
I have long believed that politicians never read education research reports, and if they do, only believe the ones that confirm their biases. Timothy A. Hacsi's brilliant 2002 book, "Children As Pawns: The Politics of Education Reform," proved this with many examples. But here comes Harvard political scientist Paul Peterson, a well-known trouble maker, saying that in at least one recent instance, my faith in the intentional ignorance of pols has been mistaken.
In the latest issue of his magazine Education Next http://educationnext.org/powerful-professors/, Peterson presents the example of a recent study of public charter and pilot schools in Boston, initiated by the Boston Foundation and overseen by Harvard Graduate School of Education economist Thomas Kane. Charter schools are public schools largely independent of their school districts. Pilot schools are public schools that still answer to their school district leaders, but are allowed to experiment with some innovative policies such as ignoring seniority when hiring teachers. I reported the Boston study's results in my Friday Trends column in February. The charter schools did significantly better. I presented it as a victory for the charter people, who support total freedom from the clumsy administrative power of school districts, over the pilot people, who think their limited freedom is good enough.
What I didn't know, and what Peterson revealed, is that several important players in Massachusetts politics expected the pilot schools to do much better in the study, which would help them pass new laws limiting the growth of charters. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino read the study and turned unexpectedly in a pro-charter direction, despite his ties to anti-charter union leaders, Peterson said.
This is Peterson's take on it. Maybe some of the other 2 million political scientists in the greater Boston area (where even I managed to acquire a political science degree) will say he got it wrong. I hope so. If pols start reading education research and acting on it, we professional cynics are in big trouble.
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