I co-direct a new project that reviews the quality of reports issued by such think tanks. We just finished our first year of reviews, and the results were awfully depressing. So to brighten our spirits, we decided to make lemonade by issuing the 2006 Bunkum Awards in Education.
The Bunkum Awards recognize and celebrate the dubious accomplishments of think-tank reports over the past year. In 2006, 13 such reports were reviewed by independent scholars commissioned by our Think Tank Review Project. These reviewers were asked to scrutinize the reports and write brief reviews for the project website.
What’s left out of the column is how notoriously one-sided is the Think Tank Review Project’s selection of reports. And no surprise there, for both the Post and the author fail to disclose that the Project is funded by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, which is an extension of the National Education Association, the 2.7-million member teachers union. The Project focuses exclusively on “exposing” conservative and free market think tanks, with a special disdain for research that promotes choice and/or privatization in education.
Researcher Nancy Salvato highlighted the obvious problem with the Project in an April 2006 column for the American Chronicle:
Because of the source of their funding and the objects of their interest, one would have to be suspicious of this groupâ€™s motivation. Furthermore, sowing the idea that traditional think tanks have little credibility among academic researchers hoists another red flag about whose interests are being served by this project.
Any person who visits a think tank on the web can read the â€œabout usâ€ section to know what ideological agenda is being served, be it conservative or liberal. Although think tanks advance agendas, they certainly do not disguise their â€œideological argumentsâ€ as research, as is suggested by co-director Kevin Welner, who because he heads the Education and Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has his own agenda.
It is laughable that Welner criticizes “think tanks” for an ideological bias, while his group accepts money from the NEA to discredit the very think tanks which discredit the education monopoly which serves the union. It is hard to believe his statement that, â€œThe project’s reviewers are independent scholars who probably do not know the source of the project’s funding and are not pressured by the Great Lakes Center.â€ The grand unveiling of this project is so transparently disingenuous; it should be dismissed at a blink of an eye.
Maybe the Post‘s editors could ask Salvato or any one of literally dozens of qualified education experts to write a Sunday Perspective column to respond to the farce they published today.
But since that’s unlikely to happen, discriminating Colorado readers would be wise instead to peruse the columns of Linda Seebach, whose regular critiques of education reports are much more reasonable, insightful, and balanced. As excellent examples, look at a recent column assailing a report from the libertarian Cato Institute, another column criticizing a report from the center-right Fordham Foundation, and yesterday’s column dismantling a new Education Week report, a favorite source for many of the education establishment defenders in Colorado.
Time permitting, I’ll take a closer look at the actual claims made in today’s Post Perspective piece on education. But take Kevin Welner’s Think Tank Review Project seriously when he can’t even disclose the highly relevant interests of his funders? Bunkum, indeed.
Full disclosure: The author of this post and proprietor of this blog is employed by the Independence Institute, one of the think tanks under “review” by the Think Tank Review Project but sadly not recognized in the 2006 Bunkum Awards.