To the Editor:
If the points made in the paid advertisement attacking our report on charter schools (“Charter School Evaluation Reported by The New York Times Fails to Meet Professional Standards,” Sept. 15, 2004) did not distort our work and were not so breathtakingly hypocritical, we could agree with most of them. Certainly, “professional research standards” need defending, but not in a way that violates norms of fairness and decency.
Flattering as it might be to have our work called a “study,” it was instead a presentation of 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress results for charter schools, public data that the Bush administration had buried, without public announcement, in the Web-based naep Data Tool. Because the public, via journalists, ordinarily gets naep results in a highlights report, our aim was to present the data essentially in the way a typical naep highlights report would, except that unlike those reports—and contrary to the claim of the ad signers—we did all the fair comparisons between charter and regular public schools that the limited naep Data Tool would allow. Also contrary to the ad signers’ charge, we offered no conclusions about charter schools; we didn’t even have a conclusions section because naep reports do not.
If the naep charter school results we unearthed do “not meet current professional research standards,” then our critics’ beef should be with naep, not our work. If our critics object to the fact that naep is only a single-point-in-time snapshot (a legitimate point that, by the way, is also true of the No Child Left Behind Act’s adequate-yearly-progress formula), then those of them who routinely use naep or other “snapshot” measures in their research, either appropriately, as we did, or to indict regular public schools, should cease doing so.
They might also join us in urging the naep governing board to continue including a nationally representative sample of charter schools in naep for the sake of the “further research” they, and we, seek. And if our critics think the background information we used in our report was too limited—and we agree—then they also should join us in our effort to have the 2003 student-level naep data set released and the still-suppressed results of the Charter School Survey Questionnaire made publicly available.
We are not holding our breath. After all, if the Center for Education Reform, the ad’s funder and an advocacy organization that has never seen a cautionary charter school study it didn’t hate, could get a bunch of academics to sign an ad that pontificates about professional research standards without saying a word about the administration’s suppression of public data, then clearly our report is not the issue but, rather, its findings.
But perhaps we are wrong, so here’s something that can prove it: a Center for Education Reform ad criticizing the latest charter school study by Carolyn Hoxby (“New Data Fuel Current Charter School Debate,” Sept. 8, 2004), one of the signers of the ad. And since the original cer ad slammed The New York Times for reporting on the American Federation of Teachers-uncovered naep results before our “study” was “vetted by independent scholars,” the new ad should also chastise The Wall Street Journal for doing the same thing in breaking the news about Ms. Hoxby’s results.
Like our naep report, Ms. Hoxby’s study used only one set of test scores and did not simultaneously consider “all available background characteristics” (few were available to us). Indeed, unlike our naep report, Ms. Hoxby’s study presented no background information or fair comparisons.
An ad like that would satisfy us even more than an apology.
F. Howard Nelson
Nancy Van Meter
American Federation of Teachers