School Choice & Charters

NCES Commissioner Is Co-Author of Book on Charter Schools

By Sean Cavanagh — August 28, 2007 1 min read

When Mark S. Schneider began working on a book about charter schools several years ago, he was a political science professor at Stony Brook University—and a relative unknown in Washington.

But now, as the book goes on sale in stores and on Amazon.com, he carries a more prominent title: commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics.

Mr. Schneider is today in the unusual position of having a book published on an important, and often hotly disputed, education topic while serving as the head of the NCES, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Education, and an agency that seeks to protect its reputation for objectivity.

The book, Charter Schools: Hope or Hype?, uses research methodology to examine charters’ performance in the District of Columbia. The results are “sobering,” and suggest charter schools often “fall short of advocates’ claims,” the description on the book’s jacket says.

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The co-author is Jack Buckley, who also moved from academia to the NCES, where he is the deputy commissioner. The two scholars began work on the book in the late 1990s, Mr. Schneider said in an interview, and the first draft was largely completed by the time President Bush nominated him as NCES commissioner in mid-2005, though revisions continued after that date.

The Bush administration has supported charter schools. But Mr. Schneider, who is on leave from Stony Brook, said that he told administration officials about the book project during his nomination, and that no one objected to it, then or now. He believes the book, which has gotten favorable reviews, presents a mixed record on charters.

“If you read the book, it’s very much driven by data,” he said, calling it “nonideological.”

Both he and Mr. Buckley, he added, have taken extra steps to avoid having their NCES duties linked with their scholarship. They told the publisher, Princeton University Press, not to use their NCES affiliations in marketing it. On the book’s jacket, they are described by their academic affiliations, not their federal jobs.

Emerson J. Elliott, the first person to lead the NCES, said the situation is the natural result of the government hiring a productive scholar. Most NCES commissioners “were not academics,” he said. “It takes a long time to get a book out.”

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