The Cork in the Bottle**

Richard P. Phelps


“Education is a morass because several groups have veto power, but no interest group, or coalition of interest groups, controls all of the factors essential to effect either a major reform or a different system. Public education is a highly decentralized public service, buffeted by national, state, and local interests and reported by media that are not up to the task of describing the situation realistically.” (Myron Lieberman, The Educational Morass, 2007, p. xiii)


In the late Myron Lieberman’s final book’s final chapter, “Credence goods and the accountability gap,” he critiques the policy research of the self-titled education reformers, the small conglomeration of academic economists and political scientists, think tank resident scholars, and former Republican Party operatives who have staked a claim as the only legitimate spokespersons for “the other side” in US education policy debates.

Their presumed monopoly of education reform discussion has, in effect, been underwritten by many millions of dollars from conservative foundations and, during the George W. Bush administration, many more millions of taxpayer largesse. Having locked up close to all available resources—hundreds of millions of dollars—all for themselves, no other aspiring education reformers can compete with them. One must choose to either defer to their eminence or retreat to the education policy wilderness.

Thankfully, a few brave souls have nonetheless chosen not to defer and Mike was one of them. Though he attributed the following to the jurist and critic of public intellectuals, Richard Posner (2004), Mike obviously sympathized with the sentiment:

“Contemporary public intellectuals are mainly academics and think tank staff who do not risk their jobs or reputations by errors of prediction or assessment. Absent any risk when they are mistaken, they have become irresponsible in their analyses, predictions, and assessments of social policy….

“Their predictions and assessments over time are not monitored or readily available in one place….

“The mistakes of public intellectuals are excused because they are read mainly for their entertainment value or because they support the policy positions of readers who seek confirmation, not challenges to their beliefs. What they say or write is not intended to be tested.” (The Educational Morass, p. 275)


Myron Lieberman’s argument in brief: the US education establishment is most emphatically of the liberal persuasion if one were to peg them as a group on the standard liberal-conservative spectrum, and has always been allied with the more liberal of the two major US political parties, the Democrats. As a consequence, Republicans have had little experience working in the education business. There’s a lot about education they do not know but, naturally, they do not know what they do not know.


Entire research literatures left behind

When George W. Bush was elected president in 2000, the education reformers and Republican education policy wonks were suddenly called upon to help design and implement what would become the No Child Left Behind Act (2002), which would use assessment as its primary policy instrument. Problem was, they knew little about assessment.

When forced to learn an unfamiliar topic, the education reformers faced the same dilemma politicians and journalists face every day—whom do they trust to educate them on the issues? And, like anyone else, they are apt to give more credence to those with more creden-tials.

There is a little more to the explanation of the think tank elite’s adoption of most the education establishment’s assessment mythology, but not much. Like so much else in US politics, the larger story involves lots of money and Harvard University.

When Harvard University enters a field, it does so in a big way.[1] In the 1990s, Harvard leaders decided to establish a program of research and instruction in education reform. Sure, Harvard already had a Graduate School of Education, but it was afflicted with the same intellectual sclerosis of most US education schools, assuming the governance structure of the US public school system—their system—inviolate, and willing to consider only cosmetic reforms at the margins. The primary challenge was how to build a program from scratch and have it regarded, almost immediately thereafter, as the country’s best research program in education reform. Second best would not do for Harvard.[2]

Harvard leaders formed some alliances with other organizations of high prestige and/or funding: Chester A. (Checker) Finn’s Thomas P. Fordham Foundation, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University,[3] and various faculty at a handful of other universities, including U. Michigan and U. Washington (Seattle). All involved, however, were of two types—economics or political science faculty or career Washington insiders. And, what do economists and political scientists know about PSYCH-ometrics? Typically, not much.

One should have expected the policy advisors to support the party’s policies by, at minimum, revealing the several hundreds of research studies on the effects of assessment when used for accountability purposes. Moreover, one should have expected them to incorporate the lessons of the relevant research into the NCLB Act itself. One should have expected much more. Unfortunately, the Republican Party’s policy advisors knew then (and know now) little of the research literature on assessment’s effects.[4]

But, two more characteristics of the group are essential to understand their abysmal failure to serve their party’s leaders’ needs throughout the 2000s. First, they are a professional and intellectual monoculture. While there are many individuals in the group, they betray little diversity of background. They are all either economists or political scientists (note: no psychologists, program evaluators, nor psychometricians).[5] Except for those with some experience working in political positions in Washington, none of them have working backgrounds outside academe. Most important, none have worked in the assessment field, either for assessment developers or for assessment users.

Second, even their limited academic backgrounds suffer further from inbreeding. Not only are their professional backgrounds limited to academic training in economics and political science, they are limited to just that training at just a few universities with just a few faculty. For example, education policy researchers at, arguably, the three most prominent US think tanks on education policy, the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Manhattan Institute all received political science PhDs in the recent past from Harvard University, with Paul Peterson as their dissertation advisor. Then, each of them landed in publicly visible roles—frequently appearing in the national media—and directly affecting public policies within a year or two of leaving school.[6]

Inbreeding to this extreme degree is ripe both for intellectual narrowness and for groupthink. Typically, when one member of the group believes something, all members of the group believe it. When one member of the group sees that multiple members of the group hold an idea, that not only lends credence to the idea, it defines a group norm. When someone outside the group criticizes the research of a group member, the group can react as if the entire group was attacked.

“…most think tanks must constantly raise funds. In this context, criticism is perceived as a threat to organizational and personal survival. The result is much less criticism of think tank products by analysts in think tanks of the same or similar broad policy orientation. Such criticism could easily spill over into mutual assured destruction; it is safer for liberal think tanks to be critical of conservative ones and vice versa. Thus without any formal treaty or agreement, there is a striking absence of criticism among think tanks that appeal to the same funders.” (Morass, p. 292)


Among other myths, the think tank elite chose to believe the establishment assertion that research on the benefits of high-stakes testing did not exist.[7] I assume that because they were in a hurry to appear knowledgeable they chose to accept the information that was easiest to obtain.

But, they may also have been enticed by professional rewards. Once the think tank elite publicly supported some of the establishment doctrine on assessment,[8] they were invited to join high-profile national committees, panels, and commissions on assessment—even though they knew little about assessment—which helped them bulk up their CVs with impressive-sounding credentials, and paid honoraria. (See, for example, Phelps, 2012b, 2013.)

Read their writings on assessment and peruse their references. You will see that they generously cite their colleagues within the group and, on psychometric topics, they depend almost entirely on the establishment folk who showered them with honors and invitations. One might say that the ultimate proof of the marriage’s successful consummation appears in the school accountability chapter of Erik Hanushek’s encyclopedia of the economics of education. Hanushek chose David Figlio and Susanna Loeb (2011), both with backgrounds in economics and finance, and none in assessment. Their chapter generously cites orthodox education establishment research, and completely ignores a cornucopia of contrary evidence accumulated over a century by several hundred scholars. (See, for example, Phelps, 2005a.)

The education reformers entered an information vacuum, and they have yet to exit. They have now had a dozen years to discover the larger research literature on assessment and assessment policy, but they haven’t yet bothered looking for it. (See, for example, Koretz, 2008; Figlio & Loeb, 2011; Hanushek, 2011.)

Assessment with stakes has been the primary education policy instrument employed by the US federal government from the early 2000s to the present day. With most policy-makers believing what they heard from the likes of the think tank elite—because that is all they were exposed to—that simply, a decade flew by with the vast majority of the large relevant research literature on assessment effects hidden from policy-makers’ and the public’s views (Phelps, 2008/2009).

The result? …the research-uninformed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, whose requirements are now being incorporated into the Common Core State Standards Assessments (Phelps 2005a, 2007).

In our age of information torrent, responsible information gatekeepers should channel the flow, not dam it. They should represent the entire sample of information relevant to an issue, not just the subset that favors their interests or careers.

Fair information gatekeeping not only requires adherence to ethical standards but diversity of points of view, training, and experience. Unfortunately, one finds little effort at diversity of sources or evidence among some information gatekeepers in US education policy research, or at least among the gatekeepers who matter—those that journalists and policy-makers listen to. Instead, one finds an unrelenting effort to optimize and constrain the information flow to benefit the causes or career advancement of a few.


The “Influentials”

“Educational literature is replete with scholarly discussions of ‘accountability,’ but the discussions stop well short of identifying anyone who should be held accountable for the educational morass in which we find ourselves. The argument here is that although the extent of accountability in public education is vastly exaggerated, the absence of it among its critics may be a more serious problem in the long run.” (Morass, p. xiv)


Myron Lieberman never belonged to the think tank elite, and he would not have fit in had he been invited. He was too independent. But, he mostly got along with them. He praised their work when he thought it was good, and criticized it when he thought it was bad. As far as I can tell, until his latter years or, more specifically, until he wrote The Educational Morass and its penultimate chapter, the treatment was mutual. A book review of Public education: An autopsy, written by Terry Moe (1993), of the Koret Task Force and Stanford University recommended it highly. Likewise, Mike Podgursky, an education economist who often writes for the group’s flagship publication, Education Next, wrote a positive review (2004) there of Lieberman’s next to last book, Public education as a business: Real costs and accountability.

But, Mike noticed the same tendency I have noticed, particularly among the younger members of the think tank elite: a disregard for surveying prior research and conducting responsible literature reviews bordering on contempt. Time and again, members of the group have declared themselves the first ever to study a topic that has, in fact, been studied for decades by hundreds or thousands of scholars.[9] Time and again, members of the group have not only ignored entire research literatures, but openly declared them to be nonexistent, …and then recommended that the country adopt hugely impactful new social policies based on their single studies alone.

Most of Mike Lieberman’s attention in the final chapter of his final book focused on other issues related to the think tank elite. But, in one section, he critiqued a chapter that Frederick M. “Rick” Hess had written on collective bargaining in education and convincingly repudiates it. Mike was, without doubt, one of the country’s foremost experts on the topic having worked in the field for many years, directly participating in many negotiations. By contrast, like many think tank residents, Rick Hess writes on most any subject whether or not he has any working experience in the field.

“The previous examples are only a partial list of the erroneous and misleading statements in just the first four pages of Hess’s thirty-four-page chapter; continuing in this vein would be belaboring the obvious, but one additional statement sheds considerable light on the entire chapter (Morass, pp. 287–291):

“Despite the importance of arbitration [in education labor negotiations], the process has largely escaped either scholarly or journalistic attention” (Hess & Kelley, 2006).


Mike had, himself, written extensively on the topic, but did not mention that in his critique of Hess’s chapter. Instead, Mike described the contents of a 1,336-item bibliography of education arbitration publications assembled by a university press, and the ongoing activities and relevant periodicals of the American Arbitration Association, the Labor and Employment Relations Association, and the National Academy of Arbitrators.


The Morass strikes back

“These putdowns [by think tankers] reflect equalitarian hostility and an attitude of moral superiority toward free-market views and help to explain the absence of a unified coalition among the pro-choice groups.” (Morass, p. 206)


I believe that Mike Lieberman’s The Educational Morass: Overcoming the Stalemate in American Education is the most important and insightful book on US education policy in print, and none other approaches it. Anyone interested in education reform or understanding how and why our education policy processes do not function rationally or productively, should start by reading his volume.

Given its high quality and thorough coverage of the issues, one should reasonably have expected anyone genuinely interested in education reform to have read the book thoughtfully and learned from it. As the many positive reviews of the book show, some did.

The think tank elite, however, treated the book quite differently. Here is the review of Educational Morass published in Education Next, their flagship publication, operated and financed by Harvard’s Program in Education Policy & Governance (PEPG) and Stanford’s Hoover Institution (Glazer, 2008):

“The equal-opportunity, granddaddy longlegs of all curmudgeons, Myron Lieberman, manages in one volume to savage teachers unions, education schools, the Education Writers Association, the New York Times, the Washington Post, education research, egalitarian school-choice proponents, and conservatives Diane Ravitch, Terry Moe, Frederick Hess, and Chester E. Finn Jr. A style thought to be reserved for left-wing agitators and trade-union swat teams surfaces from the opposite end of the political spectrum.

“Lieberman’s fact-filled, right-handed punches land solidly, entertainingly, time and again, but so pugilistic is the attack dog he forgets his alleged purpose: overcoming the education stalemate. For him, nothing works—neither merit pay, nor test-score accountability, nor alternative certification, nor class-size reduction, nor education schools, nor choices for low-income families. All fall short of the glory of the free-market ideal.

“A few positive suggestions nonetheless intrude. Told not to pay good teachers more, we are instead asked to give extra cash to those teaching math and science. Told to be more critical of charter schools, we are asked, in a brief passage, to let them continue.

“Lieberman is such a well-read, critical thinker it is a shame he cannot turn off the invective spigot long enough to construct the viable political and policy strategy none other has been able to devise. Unfortunately, Lieberman, in style, cannot escape his own trade-union past, however distant.”


One may be struck by the irony. The writers of this flippant, snarky character assassination are accusing someone else of behaving unprofessionally.

Neatly juxtaposed next to EdNext’s sophomoric, condescending treatment of Morass, one finds only respect and praise for a book written by Frederick M. Hess and Chester E. Finn, Jr., two of their own (Glazer, 2008):

this important book”, “the findings are sobering”, “Hess and Finn, in hard-hitting chapters”, and “those seeking… a coherent, workable system for school improvement will find welcome counsel in these pages.”


Education Next’s goal may have been to convince the reader to avoid both Mike Lieberman and his work, and rely only on what they had to say. But, intrepid readers with the temerity to read Educational Morass anyway would have found nothing in the book remotely fitting Education Next’s description. For example, Mike Lieberman “savaged” no one. Read the book and one will discover that, at worst, Mike sometimes disagrees with them. Are the EdNexters telling us that it is unprofessional to disagree or, perhaps, to disagree with them?

For example, the last chapter of Morass includes a short section on Chester E. “Checker” Finn, Jr.’s impact and legacy on US education policy. Mike “savages” Finn thusly:

“He is intelligent, hard-working, thoroughly knowledgeable about the Beltway scene… Furthermore, Finn is an excellent speaker and participates frequently in forums with other policy leaders. Last but not least, nobody works harder at stroking the media, an inexpensive but extremely effective tactic in achieving media recognition.” (Morass, p. 279)


Inarguably, Mike did not always agree with the Education Next crowd. But, he always took their work seriously and treated them with respect. The same cannot be said for how they have treated him.

Myron Lieberman was hardly alone in advocating a genuine, uncompromised market for education. If holding that principle is wrong, as Education Next seems to suggest, than also wrong are: Andrew Coulson (Morass, p. 235), William A. Fischel (p. 214, 239), Milton Friedman (p. 260), Albert O. Hirschmann (p. 210), John Merrifield (p. 261), Mancur Olson (p.215), and Amartya Sen (p. 211).

But, the Education Nexters were simply wrong that Mike Lieberman was unwilling to consider the benefits of any policies other than the one he preferred the most. In Morass alone one finds praise and encouragement from Mike for tuition tax credits (pp. 231–234), private scholarships or nonrefundable tax credits (pp. 234–236), school board vouchers or supplements (pp. 238–241), and teacher salary equalization across district schools (pp. 214–215).

Lieberman also saw promise in charter school chains and members associations, which could provide the economic scale and political influence necessary for individual schools’ survival:

“…charter schools are likely to survive their limitations. …charter schools have led to institutions, such as state and national organizations of charter schools, that have some ability to represent their members in legislative and other forums; they have achieved lift-off, albeit at a low altitude. Also, charter schools provide significant opportunities for for-profit providers to contract with charter school boards and gain valuable experience in operating schools. The upshot is that despite their limitations, it is too early to dismiss charter schools as just another superficial reform. Charter schools are a structural innovation, and like innovations generally, they cannot be expected to work perfectly, or even at all, in their first trials. Most early carmakers failed to produce viable cars, but it would have been a major blunder to rely on this fact to predict the demise of the automobile industry.” (Morass, p. 44)


What’s the lesson?

“…there is no accountability for even the most egregious mistakes coming from the most prestigious sources of educational information and policy leadership. On this issue, both the supporters of public education and its critics are often unreliable and will continue to be so as long as there is no accountability for major mistakes on important matters.” (Morass, p. 247)


Ironies abound. The think tank elite harangues others for disrespect, but exhibits plenty of it themselves. They oppose monopoly in school provision, but they aggressively promote their own monopoly of education reform research dissemination. They call for more accountability in education, but they are accountable to no one for what they say and write. If ordinary scholars made the same types and magnitude of research blunders that they sometimes make, their careers would be over. But, mention the think tank elite’s mistakes in public, and you, not they, will pay a price.

Was Mike Lieberman supposed to have said nothing after reading Hess’s chapter? Just let trusting policy makers act on a batch of advice he knew was massively wrong? Could he have written his critique in a nicer way? Perhaps, but what message would that send? If Mike’s critique is on the mark, Hess’s chapter is not just erroneous; it is grossly irresponsible and, if believed by policy-makers, would lead to severely misguided public policy. If we care about public policy, at some point the quality of policy research must be taken seriously. Real people are affected. At some point, policies that profoundly affect millions of citizens should be granted a higher priority than the feelings of a single relatively well-off policy wonk.[10]

Too often, the band of scholars gathered around Williamson Evers, Checker Finn, Erik Hanushek, Carolyn Hoxby, Paul Peterson, Grover “Russ” Whitehurst, and their professional progeny get things hugely, colossally wrong. That’s not good for the country in a policy-making environment where few dare criticize them for fear of retribution, and the media and policy-makers rarely consult anyone else.

The Education Next hatchet job of The Educational Morass is unsigned. Those who wrote it should be ashamed of themselves; the entire group should be ashamed of its tacit consent.


The Cork in the Bottle

“The conservatives are fond of saying that the basic reform issue is not more spending: it is how educational funding is spent. Unfortunately, the same principle applies to conservative expenditures to achieve educational improvement. Whether conservatives will face up to this reality remains to be seen.” (Morass, p. 294)


The education establishment retains its power and influence with the complicity of the “other” education establishment—the conservative-leaning education reform think tanks. For whatever one thinks of US education journalism—and neither Mike nor I have ever held it in much regard—most reporters do make a cursory attempt to get “two sides” to their stories. Unfortunately, more often than not, the “other side” is represented by one or more professional offspring of Paul Peterson, Checker Finn, and Eric Hanushek, probably has little or no genuine expertise on the topic in question, but speaks on the topic anyway.

It would most benefit the general public, as well as those foundations and politicians who support the think tank elite, if the self-proclaimed education reformers helped to break open the education establishment’s seal of censorship and suppression to reveal the full cornucopia of education research and evidence available to policy makers. Instead, they have chosen to behave exactly like the education establishment they criticize. They reference selectively and flagrantly dismiss the work of others, even that which is supportive of their own stated goals.[11]

The think tank elite is the education establishment’s BFF.[12] The establishment doesn’t need to censor and suppress most of the evidence and information they do not like, the think tank elite does it for them. The establishment doesn’t need to shun and ostracize most of those who publish or conduct research they do not like; the think tank elite does it for them. The think tank elite is the cork in the bottle that keeps the American public misinformed (Phelps, 2012a).

It is difficult to believe that the wealthy entities that fund the think tank elite want them to behave the way they do: censoring and suppressing, shunning and ostracizing other education reformers. It seems to me that the elite are exploiting those who pay and trust them in order to serve their own career advancement. But, that doesn’t let the funders off the hook for not critically evaluating how their money is spent. The big funders could drain the educational morass tomorrow if they wanted to.

“There are dozens of philanthropic foundations that have the resources to bring about a higher level of accountability among the media, universities, and think tanks, even if their personnel are opposed to independent evaluation of their own projects or publications. Such evaluation might foster safer, more conservative philanthropy, but the results in the absence of any accountability are not impressive.” (Morass, p. 293)


One might argue that if wealthy foundations, party leaders, and advocacy groups wish to continue to fund the activities of the think tank elite in return for such poor service, why should anyone else care that they waste their money? We should care because what they do affects education policy, and that affects all of us.


Chingos, M. (2012, November). Strength in numbers: State spending on K–12 assessment systems. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution. Retrieved March 12, 2014 from:

Economist, The. (2013, December 14). Scientific publication: What’s wrong with science? Author.

Figlio, D., & Loeb, S. (2011). School Accountability, in E. Hanushek, S. Machin, & L. Woessman (Eds.), Handbooks in Economics, Vol. 3, (pp. 383–421). The Netherlands: North-Holland.

Glazer, N. (2008, Spring). [book review] The educational morass: Overcoming the stalemate in American education. Education Next, 8(2). Retrieved March 12, 2014 from:

Hanushek, E. (2011, June 3). The NRC judges test-based accountability. Education Next. Retrieved March 12, 2014 from:

Hess, F. M., & Kelley, A. P. (2006). Scapegoat, Albatross, or What? In J. Hannaway & A. J. Rotherham (Eds.) Collective bargaining in education: Negotiating change in today’s schools. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Educational Publishing.

Koretz, D. (2008, September 22). Presentation at conference “What educational testing can and cannot do.” Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute.

Lewis, H. (2006). Excellence without a soul: Does liberal education have a future? New York: Public Affairs.

Lieberman, M. (1993). Public education: An autopsy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Lieberman, M., & Haar, C. K. (2003). Public education as a business: Real costs and accountability. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.

Lieberman, M. (2007). The educational morass: Overcoming the stalemate in American education. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Martin, B. (1983, Summer). Suppression of dissident experts: Ideological struggle in Australia. Crime and Social Justice, 19, pp. 91–99.

Martin, B. (1996a). Conclusion: Learning from struggle. In Brian Martin (Ed.), Confronting the experts, (pp. 175–183), Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Martin, B. (1996b). Introduction: Experts and establishments. In Brian Martin (Ed.), Confronting the experts, (pp. 1–12), Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Martin, B. (2008–2009, November). Expertise and equality. Social Anarchism, 42, pp.10–20.

Moe, T. M. (1993, October 31). Reviving the system. [book review] Public education: An autopsy. Washington Post.

No Child Left Behind Act. (2002). Public Law No. 107-10. United States Federal Education Legislation.

Phelps, R. P.  (2005a, February). Educational testing policy: Stuck between two political parties, Yale Politic.

Phelps, R. P.  (2005b). The large, robust research literature on testings’ achievement benefits. In R. P. Phelps (Ed.), Defending standardized testing (pp. 1–22). Mahwah, N.J.: Psychology Press.

Phelps, R. P.  (2007, Summer). The dissolution of education knowledge. Educational Horizons. 85(4), 232–247.

Phelps, R. P.  (2008/2009). Educational achievement testing: Critiques and rebuttals. In R. P. Phelps (Ed.), Correcting fallacies about educational and psychological testing, Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Phelps, R. P. (2012a, Spring). Dismissive reviews: Academe’s memory hole. Academic Questions, 25(1).

Phelps, R. P. (2012b). The rot festers: Another National Research Council report on testing. New Educational Foundations, 1, 30–52.

Phelps, R. P. (2013). The rot spreads worldwide: The OECD: Taken in and taking sides. New Educational Foundations, 2, 11–41.

Podgursky, M. (2004, Summer). [book review] Public education as a business: Real costs and accountability. Education Next, 4(3).

Posner, R. A. (2004). Public intellectuals: A study in decline. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Williams, J. (2011). Muzzled: The assault on honest debate. New York, NY: Broadway Paperbacks.


Richard P. Phelps is editor and co-author of Correcting Fallacies about Educational and Psychological Testing (American Psychological Association, 2008/2009) and Defending Standardized Testing (Psychology Press, 2005).




* An earlier version of this article was published in the Journal of School Choice, volume 8, Issue 2, .

[1] For example, in the 1970s, its leaders decided to build a new graduate school in an already-crowded field of study—public administration and policy—the Harvard Kennedy School. When it opened, it was larger than most similar programs at other universities. Within several years, its size doubled. Harvard is blessed with a relative surfeit of donations and, for over a decade, those from donors with some flexibility were steered toward the new school. Soon the new school was ranked among the top in the US despite its recent origins.


[2] The primary focus of Harvard’s efforts became the Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG), with an office at the Harvard Kennedy School.


[3] Also of importance in the grouping is the Koret Task Force on K–12 Education, based at Stanford.


[4] To be thorough, they did sometimes consult Gregory Cizek, an accomplished psychometrician based at the University of North Carolina. But, Cizek turned out to be something of a Trojan Horse, willing to be seen criticizing only some aspects of the prevailing education school dogma on testing. For example, he often repeated the mantra that no research existed on the effects of high-stakes testing, despite having been told directly—by me, for one—that the research literature was extant and large.

[5] To be thorough, Grover Whitehurst, who served as head of the Institute of Education Sciences during the Bush Administration, and now works on education policy issues at the Brookings Institution, is a psychologist by training, but an expert in early (child) development who had worked years before on a program with George W. Bush’s mother, Barbara Bush.


[6] Now working at those think tanks with those Paul Peterson students are a third generation in training that one might call Peterson’s grand-students.

[7] Those declaring the large literature on testing’s effects to be nonexistent include Greg Cizek, David Figlio, Jay P. Greene, Erik Hanushek, Rick Hess, Brian Jacob, Daniel Koretz, Helen Ladd, Tom Loveless, Maurice Lucas, Margaret Raymond, Sean Reardon, and Melissa Roderick (see Phelps, 2012a). 


[8] Some elements of establishment assessment beliefs are: (1) there is no, or almost no, research finding any benefits to high-stakes testing; (2) standardized educational testing, particularly when it has stakes, is enormously costly in monetary terms; (3) there exists substantial evidence that high-stakes tests cost plenty in nonmonetary terms, too—they “distort” instruction, narrow the curriculum, etc.; (4) all high-stakes testing is prone to “test-score inflation”—artificial rises in average test scores over time due to “teaching to the test”; (5) no- or low-stakes tests, by contrast, are not susceptible to test-score inflation because there are no incentives to manipulate scores; (6) as score trends for high-stakes tests are unreliable and those for no- or low-stakes tests are reliable, no- or low-stakes tests may be used validly as shadow tests to audit the reliability of high-stakes tests’ score trends; and (7) the primary cause of educator cheating in testing administrations is high-stakes; without high-stakes, educators do not cheat.

[9] As well as “firstness” claims, education reform think tankers make “bestness” claims—asserting that their study is, say, of higher quality or more comprehensive than any previous (the implication being that one needn’t bother looking for any other work on the topic, as it must be inferior). Read, for example, the text of a report written by Matthew Chingos (2012), a former student of Paul Peterson’s now working at the Brookings Institution. Chingos employs the word “comprehensive” eight times (as in his work is the most comprehensive) to hammer home the impression that no one need look for other studies on the same topic, a few of which just happen to be far more comprehensive than his. Chingos asserts that some rather large cost elements simply cannot be known—even though others have managed to estimate them reliably.

[10] The Economist leads a story (2013) on a related topic (of scientific censorship) like this: “Blunt criticism is an essential part of science, for it is how bad ideas are winnowed from good ones.”

[11] Some well-written discussions of the dangers of scholar censorship and debate stifling include Martin, 1983, 1996a, 1996b, 2008–2009; Lewis, 2006; and Williams, 2011.

[12] For you oldsters, BFF is the texting acronym for “Best Friends Forever.”