A Letter to The Fordham Institute

Dear Colleagues at The Fordham Institute,

The American Education Research Association (AERA) developed a framework for Scientifically Based Research (SBR) in 2008.  The SBR definition described below was supported by the AERA Council as a framework that offers sound guidance to members of Congress seeking to include such language in legislation.  As you know Congress is inundated with partisan think tanks who offer their research results on issues close on their agenda.  I believe that you are one of those think tanks.

But here is the thing

Image 7-8-13 at 8.08 PMYou are part of the problem.  The rise of “think tanks” started with The Tobacco Institute, big tobacco’s industry think tank that mounted campaigns denying the growing body of scientific knowledge that smoking was linked to cancer.  To oppose science, The Tobacco Institute created their own research with bogus claims, and in the end launched a campaign of doubt, insisting that the scientific research on smoking and cancer was “junk science.”  The Tobacco Institute was a kind of mentor of yours, and other think tanks, especially those on the extreme right (like yourself, and your cousin, the National Council on Teacher Quality) or those on the extreme left.  The Tobacco Institute created a formula or modus operandi for advocacy groups. Attack real science, and create doubt about research on industry  issues.  In general, it was important for think tanks to assemble their own experts who were willing to support the party line, and indeed take part in questionable research practices.  Their goal was to attack scientific studies, lobby Congress and the states, pushing their own narrow agenda.  These organizations promote junk science under the guise of research that they do.  Let me be clear.  This happens on the right and the left.

In the last post on this blog, I provided some evidence that your research, the Fordham Institute’s Final Report on the Next Generation Science Standards was an example of junk science.  This conclusion was based on several investigations that I made of reports issued by the Fordham Institute on the science standards which you can read here and here.

Why is it that you continue to analyze science education without involving experts in the field of science education?  Yes, there were nine people with Ph.D’s in science, mathematics and engineering on your research team, but all of you lack the experiential and content knowledge of science education, science curriculum development, and classroom K-12 science teaching experience.

Why would biologists believe the results of research done by a group of people with degrees in history, political science, and communications, especially if they ignore or do not cite earlier studies in the field of biology?   And especially if they do not involve biologists in their research? I doubt whether your group would?  Why do you think we should accept the results of your research.  We don’t.

Given your credentials, it is surprising that you did not adhere to the principles of research that are outlined below by the AERA, which are no different from principles of research in physics, biology, geochemistry, mathematics or engineering.

Education research, just like research in the earth sciences, or the biological sciences, must be considered Scientifically Based Research (SBR) for its results to be considered credible and valid.  Accordingly, valid research requires (AERA, 2013):

1. The development of a logical, evidence-based chain of reasoning;

2. Methods appropriate to the questions posed;

3. Observational or experimental designs and instruments that provide reliable and generalizable findings;

4. Data and analysis adequate to support findings;

5. Description of procedures and results clearly and in detail, including specification of the population to which the findings can be generalized;

5. Adherence to professional norms of peer review;

6. Dissemination of findings to contribute to scientific knowledge;

7. Access to data for reanalysis, replication, and the opportunity to build on findings.

In my opinion your team fell short on these criteria for SBR.  Your research focuses on an examination of science standards.  In one study you assessed the content and rigor of the state science standards, and then in your latest report, you assessed the Next Generation Science Standards.  Yet your reports are not based on the scientific protocols  that are identified here.  The conclusions you draw are based more on ideology, than on the results of research.  They are biased, and narrow.

However,because of your lobbying efforts, and your  deep pockets, your reports on science standards have been accepted by the media as the last answer on the state of science education standards.  Unfortunately, the reports on the science standards have little credibility and are no different from reports issued by the U.S. Tobacco Institute.

Some Steps You Might Take

There are a number of steps that your organization can take if you plan to issue future reports on the state of science education in the United States.  For one, you might consult the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) or specific members of NARST for advice on how to conduct research in science education.  You might visit their journal website (Journal of Research in Science Teaching).  Another journal you might consider is the journal Science Education.  If you want to expand your horizons, you might consider these international journals of science education: International Journal of Science Education, and Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education.  Two additional sources of ideas include the Handbook of Research on Science Education, and The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences.

In the meantime, we will push back against your aggressive indictments of science education.


Jack Hassard