Bunkum Awards 2006

At a time when America’s education policymakers have nominally embraced the idea of tying school reform to "scientifically-based research," many of the nation’s most influential reports are little more than junk science. A hodgepodge of private "think tanks" at both the state and national levels wield significant and often undeserved influence in policy discussions by cranking out an array of well-funded, slickly produced, ideologically-driven research. The Bunkum Awards were created to shine a bright light each year on a selection of examples of the worst of the worst think tank “junk science” in the hope that perhaps satire can succeed in changing this chronic misbehavior where reason, logic, and evidence have failed.

Bunkum Awards

Damned Lies Award for Statistical Subterfuge

Hoover Institution and Manhattan Institute for Policy Research for Review of Getting Ahead by Staying Behind: An Evaluation of Florida's Program to End Social Promotion
Manhattan Institute for Policy Research for Review of Getting Farther Ahead by Staying Behind: A Second-Year Evaluation of Florida's Policy to End Social Promotion
Harvard University Program on Education Policy and Governance for Review of On the Public-Private School Achievement Debate

The Program for Education Policy and Governance at Harvard and the Manhattan Institute share the second runner up honor. The Harvard folks won for their "On the Public-Private School Achievement Debate," while the Manhattan Institute is being recognized for its twin reports "Getting Ahead by Staying Behind: An Evaluation of Florida's Program to End Social Promotion" and "Getting Farther Ahead by Staying Behind: A Second-Year Evaluation of Florida's Policy to end Social Promotion." Each of these reports demonstrated a flair for the resolute use of statistics to achieve a desired outcome. The Harvard report, however, deserves special recognition. Dissatisfied with the work of other researchers who found private schools to have worse academic results than public schools once student characteristics were accounted for, the authors of the Harvard report offered an alternative of, at best, tangentially related statistics that failed to factor in the student demographic differences that were supposedly at the core of the analysis.

Honorable Mention

Cato Institute for Review of Giving Students the Chaff: How to Find and Keep the Teachers We Need

The Cato Institute is recognized for "Giving Students the Chaff: How to Find and Keep the Teachers We Need." After sensibly describing the importance of high-quality teachers, the authors take a leap of faith, ungrounded in their own research or the larger body of existing research, to conclude that choice and vouchers offer the best strategy for recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers.

Honorable Mention

Reason Foundation for Review of Assessing Proposals for Preschool and Kindergarten: Essential Information for Parents, Taxpayers and Policymakers

The Reason Foundation is recognized for "Assessing Proposals for Preschool and Kindergarten: Essential Information for Parents, Taxpayers and Policymakers." This report relied on selective citation of research and then presented policy conclusions poorly linked to the limited literature reviewed as well as to the authors' own findings.

Caveat Emptor Award

Lexington Institute for Review of Immersion, Not Submersion, Vol III: Can a New Strategy for Teaching English Outperform Old Excuses?

This year's grand prize is given to the Lexington Institute for its report "Immersion, Not Submersion, Vol III." This report purports to demonstrate the success of California's Proposition 227, an anti-bilingual ballot initiative passed in 1998 that emphasizes English-only teaching methods. The Lexington report's findings rest on a smorgasbord of bad data, severely flawed methodology, and a willful disregard of a large body of conflicting research evidence.

Honorable Mention

Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions for Review of The Financial Impact of Ohio's Charter Schools

Ohio's Buckeye Institute is recognized for "The Financial Impact of Ohio's Charter Schools." Buckeye's report offers a wonderful illustration of the logical fallacy, "post hoc ergo propter hoc" (after this, therefore because of this). After noting that charter school growth coincided with revenue growth in urban school districts, the report announced the unfounded conclusion that the first caused the second.