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NEPC: Bunkum Awards Spotlight Shoddy Education Research: Grand Prize Winner Says Charter Schools Should be Like Cancer

Bunkum Awards Spotlight Shoddy Education Research: Grand Prize Winner Says Charter Schools Should be Like Cancer


Kevin G. Welner, (303) 492-8370,

URL for this press release:

Boulder, CO (May 31, 2012)– The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder, has announced via online video the winners of the 2011 Bunkum Awards – presented for the most compellingly lousy educational research for the past year. The video is now available for viewing at

The 2011 Bunkum Grand Prize goes to the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), which received the “Cancer is Under-Rated Award” for Going Exponential: Growing the Charter School Sector’s Best. In its report, which advocated the rapid expansion of preferred charter schools, PPI compared those charters to viruses and cancers.

PPI says that it “conducted research about when and how exponential growth occurs in the natural world, specifically examining mold, algae, cancer, crystals and viruses. We used these findings…to fuel our thinking about fresh directions for the charter sector.”

“The Progressive Policy Institute deserves our top award for combining a weak analysis, agenda-driven recommendations, and the most bizarre analogy we’ve seen in a long time,” stated Kevin Welner, director of NEPC. “This report spoke to us in ways matched by no other publication.”

Welner and the NEPC recognized the report for its almost complete lack of acceptable scientific evidence or original research supporting the policy suggestions, as well as its failure to make the case that its suggestions are relevant to school improvement. To view the NEPC review of this report, and for a link to the report itself, visit

The NEPC also awarded its “Get a Life(time) Achievement Award” to Dr. Matthew Ladner, senior advisor of policy and research for Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. This is the first time NEPC bestowed an individual with a Bunkum Award.

“We’ve never before found someone with an individual record of Bunkum-worthy accomplishments that just cries out for recognition,” stated Welner. “Dr. Ladner’s body of Bunk-work is focused on his shameless hawking of what he and the Governor call the ‘Florida Formula’ for educational success.”

Specifically, Ladner argues that because Florida’s test scores had increased during a time period when Florida policy included things like school choice and grade retention, these policies must be responsible for the scores. Yet decades of evidence link grade retention practices to increased dropout rates, not to improved achievement.

Moreover, Florida’s recent test score results are notably unimpressive, but Ladner continues to promote his favored policies, blaming the scores on a slide in home prices and other factors he says are “impossible” to determine. Learn more at

NEPC’s other 2011 Bunkums (full descriptions are available at

“Mirror Image Award (What You Read is Reversed),” to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for Learning About Teaching (2011 First Runner-Up). Although the Foundation touted the report as “some of the strongest evidence to date of the validity of ‘value-added’ analysis,” showing that “teachers’ effectiveness can be reliably estimated by gauging their students’ progress on standardized tests,” the actual data show only a modest correlation between teachers’ effectiveness and students’ test scores.

“If Bernie Madoff Worked in School Finance Award,” to ConnCAN for Spend Smart: Fix Our Broken School Funding System. This report promotes a “money follows the child” funding system that would have the effect of making funding even more inequitable by shifting funding away from students in poverty and those learning English.

“If Political Propaganda Counted as Research Award,” to the Center for American Progress and the Broad Foundation, for Charting New Territory: Tapping Charter Schools to Turn around the Nation’s Dropout Factories. Drawing on mysterious backwards-engineering techniques, the authors of this report build a foundation for their findings and conclusions that mimics real evidence.

“Discovering the Obvious While Obscuring the Important Award,” to Third Way for Incomplete: How Middle Class Schools Aren’t Making the Grade. Mixing and matching data sources and units of analysis to such an extent that it’s almost impossible for readers to figure out which analyses go with which data, the report attempts to convince its readers that middle-class schools are doing a lot worse than we think. In fact, the results show the results of middle class schools to be … in the middle.

The word Bunkum comes from Buncombe County in North Carolina. Buncombe County produced a Congressman, Representative Felix Walker, who gained infamy back in 1820 for delivering a particularly meaningless, irrelevant and seemingly endless speech. Thus, bunkum became a term for long-winded nonsense of the kind often seen in politics, and today in education.

The National Education Policy Center unites a diverse group of interdisciplinary scholars from across the United States. The Center is guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence. To learn more about NEPC, please visit

Critical Education & Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor move to new site.

The Institute for Critical Education Studies is pleased to announce a new cyber-home for both Critical Education and Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor.

Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor:

Critical Education:

Please bookmark and circulate these new links.

Thank you for your extremely important, continued scholar-activism and support.

Institute for Critical Education Studies

Petition: Ginsberg v North Carolina State University

At North Carolina State University (NCSU), shortly after Dr. Terri Ginsberg made supportive political comments at a screening of a Palestinian film in 2007, she went from being the favored candidate for a tenure-track position to being denied even an interview.  Her efforts at redress were summarily rejected by NCSU and two courts.  A jury should be permitted to decide whether NCSU’s real reason for firing Dr. Ginsberg was its hostility to her political views, but this legal right has been denied.  We urge the Supreme Court of North Carolina to review Dr. Ginsberg’s case and to reverse the lower courts’ decisions to dismiss it.  On this basis, faculty at NCSU and elsewhere may finally exercise their legal right to academic speech on the topic of Palestine/Israel and, as such, to their full human rights as scholars, teachers, and intellectuals in the academic community.

To support this request to the NC Supreme Court, we invite academic faculty and students worldwide to sign our Open Letter as an e-petition at this URL:

We expect to submit the Open Letter with all signatures received by February 7, though signatures received later would still be helpful.

You are also encouraged to send your own letter to:

Supreme Court of North Carolina

Clerk’s Office

P.O. Box 2170

Raleigh, NC 27602-2170  USA


British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP)

U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI)

Center for Constitutional Rights

Jewish Voice for Peace-Westchester

WESPAC Foundation

Committee for Open Discussion of Zionism (CODZ)

Historical Materialism Conference Toronto – MAY 11-13, 2012

Historical Materialism Conference Toronto – MAY 11-13, 2012

Historical Materialism Conference




Call for Papers: Following on the successes of the two previous North American Historical Materialism Conferences at York University (2008 and 2010), we are pleased to issue a call for papers for our third  conference. In light of the continuing instability of global capitalism and the mounting resistances from Egypt to the Occupy Movement, our over-riding theme will be “Spaces of Capital, Spaces of Resistance.” But we welcome all contributions that contribute to critical knowledge on the activist and scholarly Left and the development of historical materialism as a living research program. We specifically welcome papers dealing with The Spaces of Power; Critical Theory and the Politics of Liberation; Capital and its Discontents; Modes and Movements of Resistance.

We welcome individual submissions as well as panel proposals. For individual papers, please send an abstract of no more than 250 words. Panel organizers should submit a 100-word panel abstract along with individual paper abstracts of no more than 250-words for each paper to be presented as part of the panel. We will formulate the conference itinerary based upon the broad themes generated through the submission process. Proposals will be accepted until January 15, 2012 by email to

We apologize, but cannot accommodate requests to present on specific days, so please be prepared to attend the full three days of the conference.

The ‘Highly Qualified Teacher’ Trope: Democratic Professionalism and Educational Policy in the Face of Risk, Uncertainty, and Blame

Critical Education
Volume 2 Issue 11 (September 21, 2011)

The ‘Highly Qualified Teacher’ Trope: Democratic Professionalism and Educational Policy in the Face of Risk, Uncertainty, and Blame
JoVictoria Nicholson-Goodman


The descriptor, ‘highly qualified teacher,’ serves as a trope in educational reform rhetoric that invites interrogation if it is to be vaunted as a key signifier of utopian thinking about improving American education in our times. Such interrogation may be furthered by informed awareness of the past, critical attentiveness to the present, and engaged openness for a future that reaches towards democratic aspiration as its guiding ethos. A trilateral orientation of historical awareness, policy critique, and democratic educative theory are linked to interrogate how ‘quality’ as a construct is constrained and distorted in talk about ‘21st century skills’ and teacher quality as guarantors of global economic competitiveness. Of primary concern is how the distortion manifests in the face of risk and uncertainty as features of a ‘culture of blame’ under a neo-liberal logic that replaces democracy with corporatist control. The ‘highly qualified teacher’ trope is interrogated and subverted as it is contrasted with a ‘democratic conception of professionalism’ and ‘wide-awakeness’ in ‘the nightmare that is the present’.