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Think Tank Research: Policy Makers Should Beware

New Book from Think Tank Review Project Illustrates Prevalence of Low-Quality Research

Contact: Nikki Rashada McCord, EPIC, (303) 735-5290;

BOULDER, Colo. and TEMPE, Ariz. (April 29, 2010) - Education policy is heavily influenced by research published by private advocacy think tanks. Since 2006 the Think Tank Review Project, a collaboration of the Education and Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado and Boulder and the Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University, has published expert third party reviews of research reports published by those think tanks. A new book, available at and online bookstores, draws on this work to provide a detailed look at these reports and their value to policy makers.

Think Tank Research Quality: Lessons for Policy Makers, the Media, and the Public (Information Age Publishing) demonstrates the importance of independent expert reviews. Taken together, the reviews reveal that think tank publications have clear patterns of misleading, flawed, and even deceptive research practices. Yet this think tank research often serves as the foundation for federal and programs. As the nation moves forward with Race to the Top, as well as the current effort to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind law also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, this book provides a cautionary tale. Meeting a critical need, Think Tank Research Quality provides policy makers and the public valuable insight into the quality of the research used to support these and other reform initiatives.

Unfortunately, according to Think Tank Review Project co-director Kevin Welner, professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, "Across the nation, think tanks are churning out a steady stream of often low-quality reports that use weak research methods, offer biased analyses, and make recommendations that do not fit the data." "Moreover," explains co-director Alex Molnar, professor at Arizona State University, "in the political process, the influence of a report often has little relation to its quality. As a result, new school policies and reform proposals frequently are based on research of questionable value."

Purchase the book at and from online bookstores.

Early praise for Think Tank Research Quality:

"At a time when private think tanks seek to advance their ideological agendas through what is often shoddy research, this book is both a welcome corrective to and a reminder of the dangers of the misuse of data in significant educational policy debates," - Michael W. Apple, John Bascom Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Democracy thrives when a nation insures itself of a well-informed populace. The Think Tank Review Project helps our nation meet that goal by debunking bad social science, much of which emanates from the many highly partisan and well-funded think tanks that have developed over the last few decades.  This book presents the best of the Project's reviews in a compelling indictment of think tank reports and their influence." - David Berliner, Regents' Professor at Arizona State University

Think Tank Research Quality offers clearly written, jargon-free expert reviews of studies on topics such as vouchers, charter schools, and alternative teacher certification.

Think Tank Research Quality Table of Contents:

  • Bringing Think Tank Research Into the Scholarly Debate, Alex Molnar and Kevin G. Welner
  • Review of A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on How Vouchers Affect Public Schools Christopher Lubienski
  • Review of The Effect of Special Education Vouchers on Public School Achievement, John T. Yun
  • Review of Are Private High Schools Better Academically Than Public High Schools? Jaekyung Lee
  • Review of Markets Versus Monopolies in Education, Clive Belfield
  • Review of A School Privatization Primer for Michigan School Officials, Media and Residents, Clive Belfield
  • Review of Two Philadelphia Reports, Derek Briggs
  • Review of Freedom and Saving Money: The Fiscal Impact of the DC Voucher Program, Christopher Lubienski
  • Review of School Choice by the Numbers, Bruce Baker
  • Review of Series of Reports on The Fiscal Impact of Tax-Credit Scholarships, Luis Huerta
  • Review of Schools in Eight States: Effects on Achievement, Attainment, Integration, and Competition, Derek C. Briggs
  • Review of Trends in Charter School Authorizing, Ernest R. House
  • Review of Public Charter Schools: A Great Value for Ohio's Public Education System, Gary Miron
  • Review of Weighted Student Formula Yearbook 2009, Bruce Baker
  • Review of How Much Are Public School Teachers Paid? Sean P. Corcoran and Lawrence Mishel
  • Review of End It, Don't Mend It: What to Do With No Child Left Behind, Bruce Fuller
  • Review of Answering the Question That Matters Most: Has Student Achievement Increased Since No Child Left Behind? John T. Yun
  • Review of The State of State Standards 2006, Kenneth R. Howe
  • Review of Report Card on American Education, Gene V Glass
  • Review of How Sound an Investment: An Analysis of Federal Prekindergarten Proposals, W. Steven Barnett
  • Review of Evaluation of Teachers Trained Through Different Routes to Certification, Sean P. Corcoran and Jennifer L. Jennings
  • Review of Giving Students the Chaff: How to Find and Keep the Teachers We Need, Raymond Pecheone and Ash Vasudeva
  • Conclusion. Junk Social Science: Its Patrons and Its Audience, Kevin G. Welner and Alex Molnar

Think Tank Research Quality is edited by Kevin Welner, Patricia H. Hinchey of Pennsylvania State University, Alex Molnar of Arizona State University, and independent researcher Don Weitzman.

For more information on the book or the Think Tank Review Project, please contact Nikki Rashada McCord at (303) 735-5290 or

About the Think Tank Review Project

The Think Tank Review Project ( provides the public, policy makers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected think-tank publications. The project is a collaborative effort of the Education Policy Research Unit (EPRU) at Arizona State University and the Education and the Public Interest Center (EPIC) at the University of Colorado. The project is made possible by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.