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Millot: Professional Ethics on Holiday from EdSector? (III)

Growing Pains: Scaling Up the Nation's Best Charter Schools: This Education Sector report takes an objective look at how prepared the nation's best charter schools are to meet the challenge of rapid expansion.

From Education Sector’s home page

Objective: not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased: “an objective opinion.”

From Dictionary.com

If Growing represents the culmination of an ordinary process of objective research, as Communications Manager Kristen Amundson suggests, she should have no difficulty providing a statement from EdSector’s Research Advisory Board saying as much....

Returning to AERA’s Ethics Standards, Section IV covers Editing, Reviewing and Appraising Research. The first standard returns us to the decision to involve NewSchools’ director Kim Smith’s in the peer review of Tom Toch’s Sweating.

Editors should strive to select reviewers who are familiar with the research paradigm and who are not so unsympathetic as to preclude a disinterested judgment of the merit of the inquiry.

Assume NewSchools' board member Kim Smith does not consider herself an education researcher or didn't know the ethical rules. Set aside the legal question of her duties as a member of EdSector’s board. Recruiting her to the peer review process was a clear and gross violation of professional norms by EdSector’s managers. I need not repeat the barriers to “disinterested judgment” created by Smith’s strong commitment to CMOs.

In its statement to EdWeek’s Debra Viadero, EdSector states that Toch agreed to this arrangement.  We should all be interested in the circumstances surrounding his “agreement.” Still, regardless of the story, ultimate responsibility for the selection lies with EdSector management, not Toch. Even if Toch was the first to suggest Smith, the nonprofit's managers should have known that ethical standards of research were an absolute bar to her participation.

Is it possible that EdSector's managers knew that what they were doing, or at least what they had done, was unethical when they decided not to identify anyone who reviewed Sweating? It is standard practice in education research – and in EdSector reports, to identify peer reviewers. One plausible reason to deviate from the norm, is that revealing Kim Smith would have undermined the credibility of Growing per se. (Readers must wonder who else reviewed Sweating, what they said, and if they will come forward.)

Tom Toch has an ethical dispute with EdSector over misappropriation. It’s important, but distinct from a second matter. There is a great deal of evidence pointing to the nonprofit's intellectual fraud on the public. There’s enough in the public record to warrant a full, direct review at - or of - EdSector.

EdSector is accountable in the court of public opinion, but it has no legal responsibility for violations of AERA standards. Still, the board of directors or research advisory board might provide professional accountability. And, as a PhD candidate, EdSector co-founder Andy Rotherman's is subject to the University of Virginia Honor Code's prohibition of "academic fraud."

I am not convinced that Rotherman is the responsible party here, but, as the remaining Co-Director, he held himself out as the chief executive after Toch's departure in June. His new position as "Publisher," announced in September, suggests control over the publication process. I'm not convinced because this fiasco is the product of either utter stupidity or supreme arrogance, and I don’t think either describes him. But someone is responsible, and in the absence of a plausible story to the contrary, it's the leader.

Next week:  Reflections on CMO Imagine Schools' View of Charter School Law


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Ed Sec is continuing to go with the spin. Their Dec. 8 "Biweekly Digest" has a blurb touting the report: "Scaling Up the Nation's Best Charter Schools." The spin is mightier than the ethical sword.

while lots of folks are ignoring or belittling the incident, PDK takes it a little more more seriously :

"One thing that’s clear, however, is that the whole affair has damaged Education Sector’s reputation for fair observation and comment."


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