How The "Influentials" Report Gets (Nearly) Everything Wrong

Here's how the story goes: Ten years into its efforts to take over the world improve education, the Fordham Foundation wanted to know where it stood in the eduverse and so commissioned EdWeek's Education Research Center to do a report.

I know, I know. The navel-gazing element is very high here, even for me. This is the closest thing to a popularity contest as education has seen since, well, Hot for Education (a famously crass post that I hope to replicate later this winter). But that was just me sitting at home bored one night, not a full-length report that someone actually paid for.

Unfortunately, this report somehow gets nearly everything wrong.

Remember, folks -- influential means having an influence (or effect) on something. It's different from prestige, or preference. For example, NAEP and TIMSS aren't the most influential studies of the past decade -- what ongoing impact have they had, exactly? NCTAF's What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future -- which comes in #9 on the Fordham list -- is the clear winner in terms of influencing real (if not yet entirely effective) action. Now that was a blockbuster.

As for most influential organization, somehow the Education Trust comes in #4th on the Fordham list, when it should really come in #1st. The Trust practically wrote NCLB, picked up where NCTAF left off on teacher quality, and had tremendous influence on federal legislation for several years before. There's no other organization that's gotten so much of its agenda enacted.

As for individuals, calling Bill Gates the most influential person in education ignores the fact that he's not only a latecomer to school reform but also an under-performer. Kati Haycock (ranked #3rd), Edward Kennedy (ranked #5th), Governor James B. Hunt Jr. (#7th), and Linda Darling-Hammond (#10th) should all come in ahead of Gates -- for NCLB, or NCTAF/teacher quality, or both. Seriously. Other ignored influentials: Kozol, Kotlowitz, Jaime Escalante.

As for information sources, it's hard to beat the New York Times for impact, but Fordham's list puts it at #4th behind EdWeek, NCES, and NAEP. I can't recall when any of those sources really set or shaped actions in the real world (and NAEP is a study, not an information source). Ditto for the rest of the list, though I'm a big admirer of EdNext. (Go, Fordham!)

Covered (unimaginatively) here and here


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