Millot: Professional Ethics on Holiday from EdSector?
We believe that by marrying the methodological rigor of sound research with the communications excellence of the best journalism and the real-world impact of policy analysis Education Sector is uniquely positioned to both make a compelling case for fundamental reform and to promote change directly with policymakers.
From EdSector's Our Mission and Strategy
How could EdSector change Tom Toch’s critique of CMOs in Sweating into the pro-CMO rhetoric of Growing? By ignoring the professional ethics that support “sound (education) research.”
Universities and research organizations maintain formal ethical systems for their research staff and managers. These consist of a written code of behavior, procedures for the review of materials intended for publication, and a process to investigate violations. EdSector appears to have no system to define or enforce professional standards. Like many small nonprofits, it relies on informal norms, the integrity of staff and management, and oversight exercised by its board of directors. EdSector could only publish Growing because this approach failed on multiple occasions.
Although EdSector lacks a written code, the nonprofit has stated a commitment to the norms of education research. Consequently, it’s reasonable for consumers of EdSector’s reports to assume the organization acts in ways that are reasonably consistent with ethical standards developed by the American Educational Research Association (AERA).
Over the next few days I will draw on AERA's code to offer examples of EdSector’s ethical shortcomings. The sections most relevant to my discussion are I. Responsibilities to the Field; III. Intellectual Ownership; and IV. Editing, Reviewing and Appraising Research. Readers can download the code and consider the matter for themselves.
I. Responsibilities to the Field
The first standard in this section states [e]ducational researchers should conduct their professional lives in such away that they do not jeopardize future research, the public standing of the field, or the discipline's research results. The second defines actions that jeopardize the profession: Educational researchers must not fabricate, falsify, or misrepresent authorship, evidence, data, findings, or conclusions.
• There can be no doubt that EdSector misrepresented authorship. Growing identifies no author, although Tom Toch drafted the initial draft, i.e., Sweating. We now know that EdSector Policy Director Kevin Carey rewrote the report, but he does not claim exclusive authorship. EdSector now implies that everyone listed on the page that typically identifies an author and those supporting publication share authorship, but that is not apparent from the page itself.
• Evidence, data, and findings have been misrepresented and, when taken as a whole, falsified by Carey as he rewrote Sweating. Fellow TWIE contributor John Thompson sums the matter up in his comparison Sweating and Growing.
(Referring to Sweating) But Toch then writes "the research for a report on CMOs that I’ve produced for the think tank Education Sector reveals that many of these organizations are going to be hard-pressed to deliver the many schools that Duncan wants from them." (Referring to Growing) Education Sector sees the same evidence and writes "state and national leaders increasingly see leading CMOs as an important part of their larger plans for educational reform in the toughest educational environments." .... (Toch's) Education Sector research duly reports the disappointing results of its favored reforms, but to the Education Sector spin masters, those shortcomings are not as important as the ambitions of "reformers." And it may also be illustrative that the Education Sector concludes by praising "the core mission that unites all leading CMOs" while Toch ends with a plea for collaboration between charters and public school systems.
No original research was added by the policy director to produce Growing. Carey did add original conclusions, but he supports their emphasis by removing or ignoring Toch's conclusions and subtracting important content from Sweating.
• Growing’s conclusions constitute a misrepresentation or falsification of Toch’s draft. While they might be plausible based on evidence not presented in Growing, in Sweating Toch argued that the kind of political conclusions subsequently inserted by Carey do not address the fundamental business problem identified by Toch's research. Moreover, rather than address the evidence behind Toch's key conclusions in Sweating, Carey simply ignored it by disposing of it.
The tenth standard requires researchers “to decline requests to review the work of others where strong conflicts of interest are involved."
As reported by EdWeek on December 3, Toch contends that Ms. (Kim) Smith joined with the NewSchools Venture Fund in lobbying heavily to soften the report’s depiction of CMOs’ financial fragility and to remove data gathered on the 17 charter networks that NewSchools has helped support.
I am not sure if Smith considers herself an education researcher, but to the extent she does, she was under a professional obligation to decline the opportunity to become what a NewSchools spokesperson called one of the official peer reviewers of the paper. Ms. Smith coined the term CMO, developed an investment strategy to pursue it, and headed an organization that led investment in many CMO’s. Smith’s status defines a conflict of interest in research.
Whatever her status as a researcher, Smith is also subject to an entirely separate set of legal obligations as an EdSector board member. She knew, or should have known, that her role at NewSchools constituted a legal conflict of interest per se. As an EdSector board member, she was in a position to exercise undue influence over the editorial process. A responsible board member with Smith's conflicts would recuse herself from any review of CMO reports. (A prudent board, informed of Smith's intent to become a reviewer, would insist on it.) Merely by participating in the review process, Smith cast doubt on the credibility of any final report, and so acted contrary to her duty of loyalty to EdSector.
Ironically, as a board member of NewSchools, Smith has also violated her duty to that organization. Deciding to serve as a reviewer and appearing to influence a report on NewSchools' CMOs can only call into question the viability of NewSchools' portfolio and the credibility of its management. Rather than defend Smith's role, NewSchools' statement should have recognized the conflict of interest and offered some apology for its employee/board member's misstep.
(It's a very tangled web.)
Next: The Ethical Difference Between Intellectual and Legal Ownership.
Note: A great many TWIE readers remember edbizbuzz , my Edweek.org blog, and have welcomed me back to the edublogfray. Thank you. Alexander reintroduced me by referencing some edbizbuzz posts relevant to my current series. He also interviewed me some time ago and, while my teenie-tiny firm's products and prices have evolved, the transcript offers my new readers a sense of what I have at stake in the Sweating v. Growing controversy.