Think Tanks and/or Policy Centers   The American Enterprise Institute is a usually, but not always, conservative economic think tank whose scholars often write commentary on education, one of several broad policy categories in which they are involved.  Frederick Hess is one of their education scholars.  He does contribute to the blogs at, and made waves recently when he and Linda Darling-Hammond actually agreed on something.  The Center for American Progress is a liberal think tank covering many areas, one of which is education.   If you’re a social studies, sociology, or economics maven, this is a great site for progressive commentary.  The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University offers many services, including reports on critical policy issues.  This one is very readable:  “Can teachers be evaluated by their students’ test scores? Should they be?  The use of value-added measures of teacher effectiveness in Policy and Practice.”   It should be one of the first articles to read—it discusses the New York City model which is making news these days.  The Bookings Institution supports the Brown Center on Education Policy.  Brookings is an economic policy center, and Brown U hosts the educational work.  Grover Whitehurst, formerly the controversial head of the US DOE Institute for Education Sciences, is central to this workgroup.  Its writings appear to be moderately conservative, but there are exceptions, such as the article immediately following:

  • Brookings Institution, 2010.  Evaluating Teachers: The Important Role of Value-Added.  From the conclusion: “Teaching is a complex task and value-added captures only a portion of the impact of differences in teacher effectiveness. Thus high stakes decisions based on value-added measures of teacher performance will be imperfect. We do not advocate using value-added measures alone when making decisions about hiring, firing, tenure, compensation, placement, or developing teachers, but surely value-added information ought to be in the mix given the empirical evidence that it predicts more about what students will learn from the teachers to which they are assigned than any other source of information.”

Another report from Brookings that is not slanted and is worth a review:   Center for Greater Philadelphia’s Operation Public Education.  Here you’ll see quite a bit of general information on value added based on the EVASS model from Bill Sanders in Philadelphia schools.  This page includes a pretty good brief summary of value added, but one must read it with a few caveats.  If the EVASS model of tracking standardized testing is used throughout the year instead of as a summative assessment, there is the possibility of using a VA process to guide or focus instruction.  So, this explanation is a broader description of VA than what would be implemented in a state assessment system as a teacher evaluation measure.

This link from the Center for Greater Philadelphia site has a substantial pro-VA set of references — no research here questions the model.  Still, there are many articles here that explain and promote value-added systems:  The Council of Chief State School Officers represents 44 states and the District of Columbia in the development of “next-generation accountability systems to dramatically improve student achievement through …..improved state accountability systems.”  As the organizing body of the Common Core State Standards, you might enjoy reviewing the publications section of their website, which has multiple articles that provide a glimpse of policy issues.  You are likely to find several items of interest here.  They summarize, and occasionally sponsor excellent research.  For example:   Does Teacher Professional Development Have effects on Teaching and Learning? is the website of the Thomas B Fordham Institute.  Supported by an endowment from the Thomas B Fordham Foundation (in Ohio, not connected with Fordham University), it is the first nonprofit organization in the US to be granted the opportunity to run charter schools, which is a major element of its work.  From its website:  “A consensus is growing that America’s schools need a dramatic overhaul. While that consensus creates great opportunities, it also carries the risk of groupthink. We’re here to help keep reformers honest and defenders of the status quo on their toes.”   Chester Finn is the President of the Board of Trustees.  He’s relatively well-known for his policy writings.  Aside from an unwavering promotion of charter schools, much of the rest of the work of the Foundation looks at school quality and improvement of schools serving urban populations.   Education Next is a quarterly journal of opinion and research about education policy published by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and additionally sponsored by the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.  The magazine and its online presence include several bloggers of conservative to hard right points of view, but generally the feature contributors are conservative supporters of testing to evaluate teachers, and charter schools.  One can subscribe to a daily briefing that features Eric Hanushek, Frederick Hess, Paul Peterson, and Michael Petrilli, among the most dependable conservative critics of public education.  The site is primarily the work of the Hoover Institute, a conservative think tank that covers a wide range of political issues.

Coverage of educational policy from Education Next can be relatively broad.  You’ll never see progressive commentary here, but some blogs do attempt a reasoned analysis of current issues.  There is little research here, though Eric Hanushek is a major conservative researcher who has published many articles on the impact of funding and class size.  Education Sector describes themselves as “an independent think tank that challenges conventional thinking in education policy. We are a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization committed to achieving measurable impact in education policy, both by improving existing reform initiatives and by developing new, innovative solutions to our nation’s most pressing education problems.  They have a staff of policy analysts that are often coming out of journalism, but as I read their commentary, they feel like reporters and not promoters.  Their funders are listed on the website, and include a range of foundations who have supported educational initiatives for many years.  When you run across a report from this group, it’s usually worth reading.  One feature is called Charts You Can Trust—it’s often on topics related to costs, but they do take a look at a lot of surprising data there.  I’ve just subscribed to a bi-weekly digest of their work, so I’ll be developing a better idea about their work in the coming months.

  • Growth Models and Accountability: A Recipe for Remaking ESEA available at is a product of Education Sector and suggests the use of growth models (of which value-added is a specialized form) for school accountability.  It points out that among states that have done growth pilots, there has been little difference in accountability results, and they propose modifications for the future.   The Economic Policy Institute.  From their website: The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a non-profit, non-partisan think tank, was created in 1986 to broaden discussions about economic policy to include the needs of low- and middle-income workers. EPI believes every working person deserves a good job with fair pay, affordable health care, and retirement security.  Working in multiple disciplines, they generally interpret everything from a progressing economics point of view, and they do a lot of work on educational issues.

  • Educational Policy Institute, 2010.   “Problems with the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers.”  2010, by Baker, Barton, Darling-Hammond, Haertel, Ladd, Linn, Ravitch, Rothstein, Havelson, and Shepard.                                     Multiple authors who are nationally known psychometricians and educational policy experts.  Among the findings:  Value-added estimates “have proven to be unstable across statistical models, years, and classes that teachers teach.”  Good summary of problems, good list of references.  Educational Testing Service.  A few useful assessment articles can be found here, like “Using Student Progress to Evaluate Teachers:  A Primer on Value-Added Models, by Henry I. Braun, found at   “A sociological Eye on Education,,” Dr. Aaron Pallas, Teachers College, Columbia U.  Dr. Pallas writes this blog for the Hechinger Institute on Education.  He’s a sociologist and statistician, once working for the National Center on Educational Statistics.  The blog is wonderfully relevant for its consideration of societal issues as they influence educational policy.   FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, is one of the best known anti-standardized testing groups in the nation.  Some of their work is useful, but even I find them at times a bit too knee-jerk in their commentary.  For example, in taking note of drops in SAT scores over the years, they use the drop as a demonstration that NCLB has failed.  What a better analysis of the data might suggest is that scores are dropping for aggregated data, but as the numbers of poor and minority students taking SAT tests increases, subgroups are actually increasing their scores year by year.  So, despite increasing performance (and gap closing by minorities) that are truly significant, overall scores are stable or decline.  The Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, Teacher College, Columbia U.   From their website:  They offer  “Authoritative reporting on a wide variety of topics, from pre-school through adult education.”   Includes several blogs, research reports, case studies, and publications.  Works collaboratively with several other news organizations.  Feels like a middle of the road group—no obvious political leanings.  The Hoover Institute at Stanford is a very conservative, free market policy think tank that includes an education work group.  If you believe free markets can solve all educational woes, this is the place from which to build your arguments.  A recent study published in EducationNext is “Let the Money Follow the Child” under Grover Whitehurst’s name on behalf of a workgroup at the Hoover Institute.  While promoting parental choice, it has other interesting comments about the role of the Federal Government in education, which include more compensatory funding and more promotion of interstate competition in cyber schools and cyber charters to foster choice.  Mathematica Policy Research is one of the largest evaluation businesses in the nation.  It is a common evaluator of Federal programs across a spectrum of health, family. Labor and education arenas.  If you see work coming from this group, it is generally of the highest quality and pushes no agendas that I detect.  A good read:  “Error Rates in Measuring Teacher and School Performance Based on Student Test Score Gains”, at 

From their website, go to the education page and look for the links to value-added research.  While the article here is a cautionary tale done for the USDOE, the group also advises states on the development of value-added assessment models.  The National Center for the Improvement of Education Assessment is an excellent source for scholarly work on assessment.  The group has been involved in the evaluation and/or design of assessment systems in many states, including New York.  Its researchers have studied the impact of various assessment models for many years, and are scholarly authorities that look at how assessment designs impact results on students.  This is an objective organization that attempts to do its work without trying to support positions.  I recommend searching their publications online and reading articles of interest to you.  Three on Student Growth Percentiles for scoring student progress, being used in Colorado, Massachusetts, and New York:   The National Education Policy Center is a progressive think tank that is an outgrowth of work begun at the University of Arizona by Gene Glass (the father of meta-analysis) and the late Gerald Bracey, among others.   From their website: “The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence.”

The group uses professors from around the US to do original research, and more often to reexamine the research of others to evaluate the quality of research that is being used to drive educational policy decisions.  NEPC also hosts the Education Review, which is a free, online educational policy journal—one of the first peer-reviewed journals on the Internet.  This was another project out of U of Arizona and was originally edited by Gene Glass.

NEPC Researchers as Resources:  NEPC provides “a list of experts who can speak to the overall knowledge base on important education issues under the ‘press’ link on the homepage at:  This list ‘is weighted toward those we’ve worked with .. at ..NEPC..’ and suggests folks interested in scholarly researchers who are experts on topics can be contacted here, or through references to the American Educational Research Association or the National Academy of Education, as well as RAND and research universities.  Expertise runs a gamut of topics from cost effectiveness, ELLs, early childhood, dropouts, grade retention, all phases of testing, value-added and accountability, poverty, general reform, charters, discipline, special education, teacher prep, virtual schools.  Scholars are listed with their university affiliations and links to emails.

They differentiate their list from the list of ‘experts’ provided by Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, who listed on his blog ‘about two dozen Republican and/or conservative edu-thinkers that … reporters might tap for expertise when writing about GOP policy proposals….” and he notes they have a conservative perspective.  Only a half-dozen of the 34 ‘thinkers’ Hess names are researchers.  The rest are commentators and pundits, who, like me, read and interpret the ideas and occasionally the work of others and add our own slant.

NEPC also offer the Bunkum Awards, which (per the website) “highlight nonsensical, confusing, and disingenuous education reports produced by think tanks. They are given each year by the Think Twice think tank review project to think tank reports judged to have most egregiously undermined informed discussion and sound policy making.”

Conservatives attack NEPC because it received funding from teacher unions, I think both NEA and AFT., as well as other sources.  “Getting Teacher Assessment Right: What Policymakers Can Learn from Research” by Patricia Hinchley, 2010, comes out of NEPC and can be downloaded from

Mathis, W. (2009). NCLB’s Ultimate Restructuring Alternatives: Do they Improve the
Quality of Education?  points out that none of the NCLB four school improvement processes have any basis in school reform research.  They have not been shown to be effective anywhere, and they ignore the research on effective schools.  The Rand Corporation has an education division doing lots of large scale studies, “Bringing accurate data and objective analysis to education policy.”  A decent resource when they publishing anything on assessment.  More policy, less advocacy.  Here’s a good sample from multiple authors:  “The Promise and Peril of Using Value-Added Modeling to Measure Teacher Effectiveness.” At

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