The Mythical Founding Study

You’ve probably heard educational Deformers like Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Arne Duncan or Bill Gates use various studies to justify their Deforms.

They say that “research shows” that if student A gets excellent teachers in, say, math for three years in a row, and student B gets bad teachers in the same subject for three years in a row, then student B’s life is utterly ruined, and student A is headed to Harvard (more or less).

A blogger named Gary Rubenstein (whom I only just heard about) who teaches math in the South, actually went and looked at that research.

What he finds is that not only is the research itself is almost a joke. but the conclusions drawn by Rhee and co. are nonsense.

I strongly recommend reading the article. And keep up with Gary Rubenstein’s blog. The posts, so far, look excellent to me, and his commenters are great, also.

Himself a former TFA “corps member”, he and his readers point out what a joke the so-called TFA teacher training is…

Published in: on August 21, 2011 at 9:33 pm  Comments (10)  

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  1. Thanks for the endorsement. I always look forward to your enlightening stats (and great graphs! what program do you use to make them?) on D.C. performance. Gary


  2. Many years ago I was a graduate student in education at one of the nation’s top universities in the field. What I learned is that much of educational “research” is not worth the paper it is written on. There are so many variables that it is easy for the researcher to guide the data down the desired path. Almost all conclusions support the researcher’s original hypothesis. I can’t remember a single instance where the professor found that the data did not support his thesis.

    One other point: Most university researchers in education base their studies on test scores reported by school districts. As one researcher told me “It’s all we have.” Well, we all know what that means.

    In addition to the above, it now appears that studies are commissioned by rich people who expect the results to match their philosophies. This probably explains why places like Stanford can publish two studies on the same subject and come up with different conclusions.

    Let’s all hope, for the sake of children, that we see an end to this nonsense soon.


  3. Hi. I just received my teaching credential (single subject, English, California – seeking a job!!) and rediscovered research papers for several of my class assignments. Although I wrote research papers many years ago in college, what I recognized this time was that research not only can, but should be used to support a thesis. So, rather than being a purely objective work, a research paper is rather an argumentative piece with supporting external sources.

    In terms of using research papers to promote positions, then, one would have to use research from various sources to make an objective point.

    An excellent “synthesis,” or more objective work, would state, “so-and-so research says this (xyz), and so-an-so research says that (abc).” Then, the reader can make a choice. That is the exact method a research paper would use to be objective.

    On the other hand, raw data is supposedly more objective. It, too, depends on many factors and can be subject to misuse.

    This is one of the reasons I am not an advocate of rigorous assessments. In general, people learn and express themselves as individuals in their personal life and in their work. I am much more a supporter of a wholisitic approach, where the student’s strengths and skills are valued and cultivated – with the goal of making a life-long-learner.

    As a relative newbie to the field, I am also quite disheartened about different “camps” and “methods” being bashed by others. We need to recognize what was happening in D.C. when Rhee took over, the economic factors of the times, the fact that education was on the downswing, and more. She tried hard for a few years and writes regularly about her objectives. She pushed many people the wrong way and possibly harmed people economically. But, she certainly lit a fire in the field. Let’s not shoot the messenger, but redouble our own efforts to collaborate and fix the system. Blaming wastes effort.


    • There is well-done research.
      Sometimes research is poorly done.
      Sometimes folks simply make up stuff in order to “prove” a thesis.
      Michelle Rhee falls into the last of the three categories.
      I claim she is fundamentally dishonest, and that her brand of educational ‘reform’ is having devastatingly negative effects on the education of our most underprivileged children.


      • I agree, but you omitted the fact that Rhee is nothing more than the spokesmodel for a corporate sales pitch written by her funders. The bootstrapping of ideological warfare by others who wish to end public education and unions among other things is just gravy for them. It must be said though that having such a clear enemy does create a discussion in the public mind where before there was just a murmur, though it’s entirely regrettable how toxic this enemies weapons are to society as a whole.


  4. Thank you for engaging in dialog about this topic. Commenting and replying on blogs are new methods of collaboration that were not even available (or widely used and understood) even several years ago.

    As a relative newcomer to the field, I “research” by reading blogs, websites, and articles as much as I can while not working. Reading about, commenting on, and creating solutions to education has become a passion because when I become a teacher, I want to have a well-grounded understanding of my field.

    That said, I heard about Michelle Rhee because she was in the news so much. She was not hard to miss. I signed up for her newsletters and joined her organization (free) because I wanted to keep up. Then, I discovered Diane Ravitch and found out that she didn’t like Rhee, and many others did not as well. They were vehemently opposed to her ideas.

    Once again, as a newbie, I remain open. If you read Rhee’s goals objectively, I am sure you will not disagree with them, but I can’t speak for you. I’ve also read Diane’s site and see that she is a highly renowned expert (as a matter of fact, my daughter is at NYU now).

    In terms of who to believe or trust more? As I stated about research above, it has its important place in education – in fact, it is an essential basis of the field (whereas, for example, computer programming is the basis of the field of technology). I know there is research, papers, journals, etc. – I have written them myself (my first education article will be published next month). So, I put research into a category of what it is – subject to interpretation and imprecision.

    On the other hand, the idea of fighting, bad-mouthing, and making enemies of those in the same field, with the same purported objectives, to me, is MUCH more disheartening than misusing research. I think it’s wasteful and should stop.


    • Well, I hate to give the argument “but she started it” — but it’s true. She has been attacking teachers for a long time.

      Also, Rhee and the billionaires who bankroll her do NOT have the same goals as I do.

      Saying that we are all in the same game and gtoing in the same direction , is kind of like saying that the Heritage Foundation and others of that ilk are honest when they put their ads on buses about making retirement and social security secure. What their plan is, is precisely the opposite: abolish defined-benefit pensions, abolish social security, and further increase the already-widening gap between the rich and the poor.

      It’s also like Rick Perry saying that unemployed workers should vote for him because he says he wants to create jobs by eliminating the capital gains tax and reducing the corporate income tax, and getting rid of government regulations. Fact is, we need more regulation, not less: that’s what brought us into this current economic depression, remember? Fact: corporate profits are already higher than ever before. Fact: tax rates on corporations are probably lower now than ever. They don’t need more profits, but if we tax the corporations at a reasonable rate, then the government could jump-start the economy by rebuilding infrastructure; and one of those possible projects might be to require polluters to add on equipment that will reduce their pollution.

      I’ve done a fair job of documenting Rhee’s many, many distortions. I invite you to explore the extensive documentation in my many blogs, going back nearly 2 years now.


  5. Yes, I agree that there is a concerted effort on the right to decimate public institutions and government. What they want to replace them with, I don’t know….In any event, representatives from charter schools and public schools should debate civilly. Government is not going away, and neither is the private sector. We have libraries and Barnes’ and Nobles. We have public transportation, and taxis. If the post-office has a problem, they should streamline and modernize. Same with public schools. It’s not a crime to say that – I see lots of problems. And, I have also come up with some solutions and push them in blogs and tweets. But, I will never allow my emotions to enter the debate because not only does it hamper my own cause, but it makes education look like a shoddy product — when it could be great. But, it’s harder to make it great than to shout about it.


    • I admire your desire to be unemotional, but the reality of Rhee’s solutions is that they are flat out wrong and harmful. There is an objective reality in which facts exist that demonstrate this. The most obvious example is that she advocates for teacher evaluation methods that are highly flawed, inaccurate and expensive whose only guaranteed outcome is the extraction of tax dollars paid by us all from our children’s classrooms. How can a radical increase in costs for evaluations and the associated testing that produce no learning at a time when large numbers of teachers are being fired for budget reasons alone be justified or explained? Put this in the context of Rhee’s disingenuous and impractical claim to want to pay teachers more out of the shrinking pool of funds available to do so and one must wonder what her actual agenda is. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said:” When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” For me and many many others the truth is that Rhee is a shill and is public education enemy #1


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