Thursday, January 15, 2015

History of Goldwater Institute's Very Bad Civics Survey

Posted By on Thu, Jan 15, 2015 at 12:04 PM

I should have caught this myself. When Governor Ducey said 96 percent of Arizona students can't pass the civics test given to new citizens to justify a mandatory civics test for high school students, I should have remembered the discredited Goldwater Institute survey he got his figure from. But it took today's AP article to remind me.
The survey Ducey relied upon was done for the Goldwater Institute and is widely cited by groups promoting civics education.

But Goldwater spokeswoman Starlee Coleman told The Associated Press on Wednesday the institute withdrew the survey results in 2009 after a company that conducted the survey for Goldwater failed to show its basic research met Goldwater's standards. Another survey done for an Oklahoma group showing similar dismal testing results also has been discredited.
The reason I should have remembered is, I wrote a slew of posts about the bogus survey back in 2009 when I was writing on Blog for Arizona. A quick search brought up a dozen of my old posts, including this one, which looked at research into the Strategic Vision LLC, the company Goldwater Institute hired to do the survey: Fooled Gold? Another look at the G.I. Civics Test
Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight believes Strategic Vision LLC concocts fraudulent surveys on a regular basis. In case you haven't heard of Silver, . . . If you're looking for the smartest guy in the room — more specifically, in any room where statistics are the topic — Ladner and I would be hanging around in dark corners looking confused and Silver would be standing in the spotlight with other stat heads gathered around listening to what he had to say.
At the end of the post is a long list of articles about the bad data from Nate Silver, Politico and

Ladner, who I referred to in the post, is Matthew Ladner. He used to be G.I.'s education guy before he was snatched up by Jeb Bush to work at his conservative "education reform" group, Foundation for Excellence in Education. (Ladner surfaced recently as a member of Ducey's education transition team.) Ladner was a frequent commenter on my posts back then, and he defended the survey data but said he would look into possible problems. I guess he did, because on the Goldwater Institute's website, instead of the article about the study, Freedom From Responsibility: A Survey of Civic Knowledge Among Arizona High School Students, there's this:
Questions have been raised about results of a polling survey cited in the material that had been posted on this web page. The material has been removed while the Goldwater Institute reviews the information underlying those results to determine if it complies with the Institute’s research guarantee.

But a half dozen of Ladner's summaries of the article are still on the website, like this one from June, 2009:

Just in time to celebrate Independence Day, the Goldwater Institute will release its new report, "Freedom from Responsibility: A Survey of Civic Knowledge Among Arizona High School Students," which reveals only 3.5 percent of Arizona high school students have learned the basic history, government and geography necessary to pass the U.S. Citizenship test.
The media, including the Star, picked up the story back then and ran with it as they do with so much of the media-friendly information G.I. pumps out, so I really can't blame Ducey's researchers and speech writers for using it — especially since I never saw a follow-up in the MSM talking about the problems with the survey. The Goldwater Institute loves to plant factoid-filled stories like this one with a mixture of truths, half truths and lies in the media, and the stories just hang around on the web waiting for someone to pick them up. What was that quote frequently attributed to Mark Twain? "A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

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