Think Tank Research Quality: Lessons for Policymakers, the Media, and the Public

Kevin G. Welner, Patricia H. Hinchey, Alex Molnar, and Don Weitzman, eds.
Think Tank Review Project

Everyone knows that the Think Tank Review Project just loves Fordham publications, and this volume doesn’t disappoint. A collection of “scholarly” reviews of various reports published by education think tanks—including yours truly—the book brings a scrutinizing eye to the overall quality of think tank output. The authors’ overarching goal is to encourage an open dialogue about the methodological rigor of reports published by (almost exclusively) “free-market” think tanks. They focus on these organizations because, as the authors write, they have “dominated” the think tank sector in terms of resources and output. The authors conclude that most free-market think tank publications do not meet minimal standards of research quality—they are poorly designed, biased, and non peer-reviewed. In that sense, this book and project does serve an important role: keeping think tanks honest. It is immensely important to ensure that data are sound and methods are robust, and that bias does not outweigh objective analysis. Still, the book’s overall voice would be stronger if not for the reviewers’ own subjective focus on free-market think tanks. (And we’re heartened that the Project has just started to more regularly review the work of left-of-center groups too, like Education Trust and the Center for Education Policy.) As the authors make clear in the introduction, they disagree with free-market-ers’ “constrained set of education policies,” such as privatization and school choice (not surprising, as most authors are education-school professors). Perhaps the Think Tank Review Project should take a page out of its own book. You can buy the volume here.

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