Studying the Mayor's Study of Studies: A Study

Someone needs to do a study on how Mayor Rahm Emanuel studies studies. If they did, though, the mayor would probably misinterpret the results.

First, the Chicago Tribune challenged Emanuel’s interpretation of a study on the life-saving benefits of speed cameras. The mayor claimed they had reduced traffic deaths by 60 percent. The Tribune was skeptical.

When the administration's numbers expert finally sat down with the Tribune after weeks of requests, he acknowledged the claimed reduction in fatalities was based only on an informal analysis of traffic statistics.

"Study is a bit of a term of art," Scott Kubly, managing deputy commissioner in the Chicago Department of Transportation, said earlier this month.

In the Emanuel administration, analyzing studies is indeed an art, in which the conclusions match the mayor’s vision of what will best advance his agenda. Now, Emanuel is being challenged on his interpretation of studies he says prove a 7½ hour school day results in better education. This time, the Sun-Times called out the Emanuel. Chicago Parents for Quality Education, a group opposed the 7½-hour day demanded a meeting with the mayor to discuss what they said was “misinformation” his office was spreading about the benefits of a longer.

So the Sun-Times called the authors of the studies the mayor was citing. They challenged the mayor’s spin on their work.

In fact, when the Sun-Times called the author of one analysis of 15 studies cited by CPS as proof that longer school days work, Erika Patall of the University of Texas said the evidence the studies cited was “weak’’ and their conclusions were “very tentative” because “a good deal of the research does not rule out something other than time causing the improvement.’’

Parents also questioned CPS contentions that the system needed a 7.5 hour school day to get “on par with other districts.’’ CPS officials have said their numbers were based on weekly instructional minutes in a National Center for Education Statistics chart, multiplied out annually.

However, an author of the NCES report told the Sun-Times that the chart was based on weekly teacher minutes, not student minutes, of instruction. Plus, the NCES researcher said, every district counts school days differently, so NCES would never extrapolate student instructional minutes in a year from one week’s worth of teacher instructional minutes.        

 “In putting it all together, somebody is making a lot of assumptions,’’ the NCES researcher said of the CPS calculations. “We do not do that at the National Center for Education Statistics.’’

From now on, whenever Mayor Emanuel cites a study to back up one of his proposals, study that study yourself.

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