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Fuller's Work Touches Off Controversy

Secretary of Education suggests that there might be politics involved in education policy? Surely not. Surely everyone is as pure as he.

A University of California, Berkeley, researcher set off a political firestorm this month when he released an analysis casting doubt on the Bush administration’s contention that academic achievement is rising across the nation.

The U.S. Department of Education quickly enlisted 12 scholars and advocates to denounce the findings. The study was also disowned by Policy Analysis for California Education, or PACE, the respected think tank on whose letterhead it had been circulated. And the Education Trust, a Washington research and advocacy group, rushed to respond with the release of its own report offering a very different take on state test-score trends. ("Report: States See Test-Score Gains," this issue.)

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige also suggested in a statement that, with a presidential election near, the release of the Berkeley scholar’s study might be “politically motivated.”

Bruce Fuller, the lead author of the study and a professor of education and public policy, said the intense reactions surprised him.

He said the study was not meant to criticize the No Child Left Behind Act, the centerpiece of President Bush’s education agenda. “All we’re trying to say is that the evidence is too thin to claim No Child Left Behind is boosting test scores,” he said.

Internal Squabble
His report is a compilation of statistics showing trends in reading-test scores since the 1990s for 3rd and 4th graders in 15 states. Mr. Fuller said the figures showed that “no consistent pattern of gains in children’s reading skills can be detected since passage of the No Child Left Behind reforms,” which President Bush signed into law in January 2002. In 11 of the states studied, the analysis says, scores had either flattened out or declined.

Mr. Fuller released the data in tandem with a Commentary he wrote on the findings in Education Week. ("Are Test Scores Really Rising?" Oct. 13, 2004.) Because of an error, he said, the release of his analysis went out on letterhead for the California policy group, which Mr. Fuller co-directs.

That manner of release drew a protest from Michael W. Kirst, another PACE co-director, who said that Mr. Fuller had overstepped the state-based think tank’s mission of providing independent analysis of the impact of education policy in California.

Federal officials were more concerned about the findings themselves. They said test scores for some of the states cited in the report had climbed even though Mr. Fuller claimed otherwise.

— Debra Viadero
Education Week


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