Friday, December 7, 2012

Is CREDO "Part Of The Bandwagon?"

At Wednesday's State Board of Education meeting CREDO researchers presented the findings of their study, Charter School Performance in New Jersey.  Commissioner Cerf introduced them by saying he was "nervous" to have CREDO perform the analysis of New Jersey's charter schools.  He claimed CREDO was "not part of the bandwagon" and made a point to say that the national CREDO study is often cited by charter opponents.  

In an opinion piece today in NJ Spotlight Julia Sass Rubin asks four questions of the authors.  

Let's look at the first one.
Question #1: Why does the CREDO press release misrepresent the study’s findings?
The CREDO press release claimed that “New Jersey charter public schools significantly outperform their district school peers.” However, this is not even remotely what the CREDO study found.
If CREDO is in fact "not part of the bandwagon" why would the press release make claims that seemed contrary to the findings of the study?

Where does CREDO get their funding?

Rubin points out that CREDO is a part of the conservative Hoover Institution, and is funded by the equally conservative Walton Foundation.  However, neither of these facts are anywhere to be found on the CREDO website.  In fact, researching an essay I wrote for WHYY on the CREDO study, I asked the lead researcher of the study, Macke Raymond, how the study was funded.  

Here is her response:
The study of New Jersey Charter Schools is part of a larger array of studies we are conducting on charter school effectiveness across the country.  We have received foundation support for that body of work, though none of it was specifically ear-marked for the New Jersey study.
I hope this answers your question.  I do not, however, agree with you that we should be expected to announce our funders.  Many of the entities that support our work are "quiet" organizations and we try to respect their wishes as our funding partners.  Where funders are interested in being identified, we will generally go along.  So we're not trying to hide anything, which the tone of your email implies. (emphasis mine)
A tone?  Moi?  Since she didn't answer, I did a bit of digging, and found that her bio on the Hoover Institution's website disclosed her funding sources.
In partnership with the Walton Family Foundation and Pearson Learning Systems, Raymond is leading a national study of the effectiveness of public charter schools. The public-academic-private partnership helps public charter schools adopt information technologies as a means to both support their operations and generate information required by the study design.  (emphasis mine)
So CREDO is funded not just by Walton, but by Pearson as well.  Pearson, the biggest test pusher on the planet, and Walton, whose "core" education strategy is to "infuse competitive pressure into America’s K-12 education system by increasing the quantity and quality of school choices available to parents, especially in low-income communities."

A marriage made in heaven for CREDO which seems to be using test scores to push charters.

I checked the Walton website to see exactly how much Raymond gets.  One thing I will give Walton credit for is they do not hide where they spend their money, and what they use it for.  

I noticed that the only dollar amount greater than the $375,000 to Hoover/Stanford was $435,000 to University of Wisconsin-Madison, and that the combination of the two grants was more than half of the total amount Walton doled out for research, which says to me this research is pretty important to their "core strategy."

So what are they funding in Madison?  The Value-Added Research Center.

As part of the Value-Added Research Center's (VARC) work with the Walton Family Foundation, we are working with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and the Cooperative Educational Services Agency (CESA) #2 to develop a production statewide value-added system for the state of Wisconsin.

Oh goody.  VARC also continues to work with the NYCDOE to develop VAM ratings that led to the highly criticized release of teacher data.

Point being, Walton is putting money into very reformy research, and the results of this research are creating chaos and upheaval in public schools across the country.  

The Company You Keep

So now we know where CREDO gets it's money, let's look at who they are associated with.  

Macke Raymond, Director

As Rubin stated, CREDO, and more specifically Raymond, is associated with the conservative Hoover Institution.  The Hoover Institution is also home to Eric Hanushek, a Senior Fellow in Education.  Hanushek would like to fire the lowest 5-10% of teachers (based on test scores).  Diane Ravitch has called him the "favorite economist of the VAM crowd."

Turns out Hanushek and Macke are not only co-workers.  They're married.   

In an article for Education Next titled "Why are Some Environments Better than Others for Charter Schools? Today’s Policy Question" Hanushek discusses the national CREDO study and it's implications, with the following disclaimer:
[Full disclosure: Macke Raymond, the lead author on the CREDO study, is my wife, so I know more about these studies than the random reader].
OK, I hear you, this could be a James Carville/Marly Matalin thing, right?  So, let's keep going...  But man, that sure is interesting isn't it??

Devora Davis, Research Manager 

Devora was at the State Board of Ed Meeting talking about the study, and has been in the press quite a bit too.  Guess what Devora did before she came to CREDO?  She was a research analyst for KIPP.  

You can follow this link to listen to Davis on KALW in San Francisco talking about charters with the KIPP Chief Academic Officer for the Bay Area, and Jill Wynns President of the California School Boards Association.  Wynns does an amazing job defending public ed, and Davis sounds a lot more like a charter cheerleader than a researcher.

Meg Cotter Mazzola, Manager of Federal Projects

Before working at CREDO Mazzola was at the Center for Education Reform (CER).  It just DOES NOT get more reformy than CER.  Mazzola is listed on the CER website as an alumni; one of many who have "come through CER to intern, work or test their interest in reform."

Guess she passed the test. 
Mazzola was listed as the contact on the press release.  Not sure if she wrote it or not, but ed reform spin and media messaging is a core component of CER's work.

Larson Communications

Until January of 2010 press releases for CREDO were written by Larson Communications, and Larson employees were given as press contacts.  Press releases since that date have listed either Davis or Mazzola as the contact.  

Taking everything above into account, once you learn about Larson Communications, you'll be hard pressed to believe Cerf that CREDO is NOT a "part of the bandwagon."

First, watch this video of Gary Larson, Founder and President of Larson Communications. (Not the Far Side's Gary Larson, sorry.)

"...building relationships with reporters is probably one of the most 
effective ways to make sure you get a positive message out 
about what you're program's doing."

Then peruse their website.  It's a real eye opener.  For starters:
Larson Communications manages a very small number of quality clients and is the only public and media relations firm that specializes in education reform and charter schools. 
Not sounding terribly unbiased...

But dig deeper, and it's simply unreal what this guy has done.  Larson was a California charter cheerleader for years before founding Larson Communications in 2007.  Larson's bio says he specializes in Strategic Positioning and Crisis Communications.  Here's an example of his Crisis Management work:
Protecting the Movement by Holding Questionable Programs Accountable
In the fall of 2004, California Charter Academy (CCA) abruptly shut its doors before the start of the schools year, stranding several thousand students and jeopardizing public confidence in all charter schools.
Show that the California Charter Schools Association was holding this “bad apple” accountable and was doing everything in its power to remedy the situation..

Just keep talking about accountability, and open more, MORE, MORE!


And speaking of NACSA, CREDO and NACSA, along with the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) and the Colorado League of Charter Schools (ALL funded by the Walton Foundation by the way...) are part of a project funded by the USDOE's Office of Innovation and Improvement called Building Charter School Quality.
Over the course of four-years, these partner organizations created a variety of important Publications and Tools designed to help align expectations and create clarity among charter school operators, charter support organizations, authorizers and policymakers around how a quality charter school performs and how different stakeholders can work together to hold these schools accountable for both academic and operational quality.
So to top it all off, CREDO is partners with the two largest national charter advocacy organizations on a USDOE project to build charter quality.

NOT Part Of The Bandwagon?

With all of these connections, can Cerf really say with a straight face that CREDO is NOT part of the bandwagon?  Funded by Walden and Pearson; employees with ties to KIPP and Center for Education Reform; using the services of the reformiest of reformy PR firms; AND partnered with both of the major national charter advocacy organizations on a USDOE funded project.

I think we may have the answer to Rubin's first question.  

The CREDO press release misrepresented the findings of the study because just about everyone in and around CREDO seems to be ideologically driven.  They are immersed in the reform movement and trained to produce ideologically driven conclusions and spin for the press to influence policy and advance the growth of the charter sector, above all else.  



  2. Ditto,
    Truly outstanding "reporting".
    At what point does a "study" like this go from "controversial" to "discredited?"

  3. Maybe a better description is "incestuous" in every respect.

    Nice job, Darcie.

  4. Thank you Mother Crusader!! TPS and stakeholders in public education have grossly underestimated the scope and funding behind the charter school movement. The use of data and testing companies along with ideologically based operatives have reframed this critical debate. The goal of making a profit based ultimately on data points will eventually segregate students and create a zero sum game. Private companies will do "what they have to do" to win this new game, even if it means recruiting favored students and shuning the most needy. The ultimate irony is that the biggest losers will be the urban poor whom thios caharde is marketed to.

  5. Great job sifting through all this information. Thanks for connecting the dots.

  6. They can not be accused of having a conflict of interest, they serve their own interests well!

  7. Kudos to sir Raymond for emphazing the importance of Information Technology it support