'New Frontier’ Founded on Old Distortions, NEPC Review Concludes

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Expert on rural education finds no value in paper promoting expansion of rural charter schooling.


...It is little more than an advocacy document with premises that predetermine its recommendations...

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A recent publication promoting charter school expansion in rural states in order “to strengthen rural education” is little more than a political lobbying document, concludes a new review by one of the nation’s foremost experts in rural education.

Craig Howley of Ohio University reviewed "A New Frontier: Utilizing Charter Schooling to Strengthen Rural Education" for the Think Twice think tank review project. The review is published today by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

New Frontier was issued in January by Bellwether Education Partners, which describes itself as a nonprofit that works with education organizations, shaping education policy and providing a variety of consulting services. The paper was authored by Andrew Smarick, a “partner” in the organization, which has offices in several major cities, including Washington, D.C.

Reviewer Howley has researched rural education and published extensively in peer-reviewed venues about rural school leadership, education policy and rural schooling, school size, rural school consolidation, rural school transportation, gifted education in rural schools, mathematics education in rural schools, aspirations of rural students, and academic scholarship about rural schooling. He is retired from Ohio University and previously directed an NSF research effort and an ERIC clearinghouse (Rural Education and Small Schools).

Howley explains that “a major purpose of the document is to argue for expanding charter schools” into the nine most rurally populated U.S. states that currently have no such schools.

On the surface, the document presents itself as scholarly research. But Howley finds it riddled with “serious omissions and distortions,” offering inadequate support or explanation for its premises and using research in a “superficial and misleading” manner. Neither the author’s claims of inadequate rural student achievement, nor those for the inherent superiority of charter schools, reflect the actual weight of evidence, he points out.

“In the end, it is little more than an advocacy document with premises that predetermine its recommendations: how to establish more charter schools in rural regions,” Howley writes.

“New Frontier does not provide objective evidence to assist a reader in understanding the issues, and it will be harmful for busy readers comparatively uninformed on the issues – for example, many rural legislators and their staffers.”

The result, he concludes, renders the paper nothing more than “propaganda – neither a thoughtful inquiry nor an honest report.”

Find Craig Howley’s review on the NEPC website at:


Find "A New Frontier: Utilizing Charter Schooling to Strengthen Rural Education," by Andrew Smarick, on the web at:


The Think Twice think tank review project (http://thinktankreview.org) of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. The Think Twice think tank review project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence. For more information on the NEPC, please visit http://nepc.colorado.edu/.

This review is also found on the GLC website at http://www.greatlakescenter.org/.

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William Mathis

Craig B. Howley

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National Education Policy Center (NEPC)
since: 03/2011
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