December 14, 2006

The problem with the McGraw-Hill conflict-of-interest argument

Since Stephen Metcalf's 2002 article on family ties between the McGraw-Hill publishing company and the Bush family, it has become a minor cottage industry to assert that the (quite possible) conflict of interest is evidence of the inherent corruption of No Child Left Behind. (See the Students against Testing, DailyKos diary entry, Jim Trelease, and Jim Horn pages on this as examples.) The same narrative has been played out with the Inspector General's report on Reading First and conflicts of interest. (See the response by Jim Horn, as an example.)

I don't think anyone outside a small circle will contest the problems with conflicts of interest in education programs. But I also don't think that basing criticism of accountability on conflicts of interest will work. Conflict of interest stories are a recurring theme in the politics of liberal democracies, and there is a standard solution: require arm's-length decision-making. There is nothing inherently in the existence of a conflict of interest that dooms the program touched (though the stench can force restructuring or at least a fig-leaf version of reform). Gary Stager's column on Reading First illustrates that. He's disgusted with what he sees as corruption, but it's all within the normal liberal parameters of wanting clean policy that's based on science.

Note: I've put up a few more extensive discussions of testing and their role in a democracy over at Education Policy Blog, which is up for a 2006 Weblog award (vote for us!). See part 1 and part 2 of that longer discussion.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on December 14, 2006 8:30 AM |