Education Opinion

Clashing data

By Diane Ravitch — July 24, 2007 1 min read
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Dear Deb,

Your discussion of knowledge and trust sounds right to me. We are likely to accept statistics on topics far from our own field, but be skeptical about claims made in areas where we are better informed. This new world of 24/7 news, information, and opinion can sometimes seem overwhelming. We know so much more than we did in the past about happenings all over the world, yet our understanding of this constant flow of information does not appear to be especially deep. It is a constant source of frustration to me, which I have vented in our exchanges, that the media are unusually shallow when it comes to education. It annoys me that reporters typically repeat whatever the press release says, that they exhibit no curiosity about the truth claims of the press release.

For this reason, I am glad that Education Week exists. I appreciate the fact that this publication has reporters who do take the time to probe beyond the superficial story line and to assess the data that they are presented. Not only does Education Week take education seriously, but it does not have a “party line.” In this era when even education has become politicized, we should be grateful that there is at least one publication that strives for straight reportage without tailoring the facts to fit the views of its readers.

It has been interesting in the past year or two to watch the evolving story about the comparative performance of charters and vouchers. One batch of studies attributes gains to students in these schools; another batch of studies finds no differences. I don’t know how the public “reads” these disputes or interprets the clashing data claims. My guess is that over time, as more districts have more experience, we will eventually reach some sort of consensus that these changes make a difference—or not. It seems that the major structural issue in the next decade will be not about vouchers—which affect only a small number of students in a few districts—but charters, which now enroll well over a million students. This is a discussion that I hope we will return to when we resume our conversations in September.

Enjoy the August break!


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