"Donkey In Disguise": What EdNext Says About Jennings and the CEP Study

The normally unflabbale Jack Jennings may be thinking that his stars are a little crossed right now. First, his annual report on NCLB gets hijacked by a Times reporter working on a related story that emphasizes the report's most controversial -- and perhaps weakest -- finding. The resulting confusion and concern raises questions about the study and about whether Jennings and CEP presented the report in a balanced way.

Now, EdWeek quotes a critic who suggests that Jennings' work is biased and is working on an EdNext story about him. Officially not out until mid-May, the story (see exclusive excerpts below and PDF here) is a doozy -- for Jennings and others who who have tried to recast themselves as unaffiliated and independent quasi-academic voices, for education reporters who might have to think about who they're quoting, and for the foundations who fund them to do good research.


Placed in EdNext's regular section Check The Facts, the Forster story is titled "Donkey In Disguise" and focuses on two basic issues: Jennings' political past as a Democratic Hill staffer, and the inadequacies of the research CEP produces on NCLB, exit exam, and choice issues.

Leaving the obvious political slant and agenda of the story aside, the article does make some points I think are worth considering:

The first point that, as I've noted several times in the past, there's a lot of useful information in the CEP reports, including both pro and con, that has tamped down extreme arguments on both sides:

Education professionals looking for a detailed review of the policies, procedures, and regulations used under NCLB will find much that is useful in these annual studies and other CEP publications on NCLB. The CEP has also debunked some of the more intemperate claims about NCLB that have arisen from both sides of the political aisle."

Second, Jennings like others has tried to shed his political affiliations -- and the press and philanthropic funders have by and large let him do so without questioning it:

...There’s a booming market for education experts, especially those who claim to speak with the disinterested voice of reason among the gaggle of partisan squawkers and interest groups....The media sees Jennings and the CEP as the voices of education research and reason, an enviable position at a time when nonpartisans are hard to come by."

Third --and in my view most important -- the CEP reports on NCLB are based almost entirely on nonrandomized surveys and interviews with educators, almost all of whom have a vested or structural interest in the status quo and against NCLB, without making clear throughout that this is only one part of the NCLB implementation story:

"CEP researchers report as facts what the public school system says about how things are going in the public school system....both the studies themselves and Jennings’s public comments about them present the findings as scientifically confirmed facts, not merely as the claims made by public school officials and staff.They rely on the accuracy of these claims as a basis for policy recommendations....the CEP is investigating the merits of an accountability system by asking the opinion of the institution that is being held accountable."


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