Minnesotans for Better Education, Standards and Testing

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10/08/2004

Chester Finn Shows His Ignorance Again

Read about Chester Finn's 'expert' testimony

State's "Expert" Witness Proves He's No Expert on New York Schools

The State of New York presented their first witness before the panel of special masters on Friday -- Chester E. Finn Jr., a long-time charter school proponent and current president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a conservative Washington D.C. think tank (read full testimony pdf).

Called an "expert on education and public policy," by the State's lawyers, Dr. Finn was expected to testify to the validity of the state's costing-out analysis, the Standard & Poor's (S&P) study commissioned by the Zarb Commission last year. During the cross examination, Joseph Wayland, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, asked Dr. Finn to account for his expertise since the State asked him to respond to the education finance portions of both parties' proposals. But during questioning, Dr. Finn admitted that he was not an education finance expert per se, not a member of the American Education Finance Association, and has not written any articles on education finance. He also admitted that he has never conducted a costing-out study for any district or state, and did not participate in the New York State study. Through Mr. Wayland's questioning, it became apparent that Dr. Finn had neither thoroughly examined the State's proposal nor the S&P study as the State's lawyers claimed, even though he received it almost two months ago.

For example, when pushed by Mr. Wayland, Dr. Finn was not able to recall what the "Ed Resource Calculator" was, though it was specifically discussed in the first paragraphs of the S&P study -- nor did he go to the S&P website to examine the calculator, a central tool of the analysis. Furthermore, Dr. Finn testified under direct examination that he supported the State's weighting for students in poverty. However, when questioned by Mr. Wayland he was unable to recall the exact poverty weighting from the State's proposal and could not satisfactorily explain to the panel why one poverty weighting was more valid than another.

During the State's direct examination, Dr. Finn testified that both CFE's and the State's accountability recommendations comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act. When asked by the State to respond to the costing-out studies and financial remedies proposed by the parties, Dr. Finn found that the State's plan -- which is comprised of the S&P study and the Zarb Commission report -- satisfies the Court of Appeals' order. He attempted to validate the State's use of the "successful schools" methodology to determine the actual costs of a sound basic education, including their controversial use of an arbitrary "efficiency" factor that discounts the top fifty percent of highest spending schools from among the "successful schools" cohort. When questioned by the referees on the arbitrary nature of removing the top 50 percent of highest spending schools, Dr. Finn was unable to explain why it was more valid to remove the top 50 percent of those schools rather than remove the outliers -- the highest spending and lowest spending -- in order to determine the average cost necessary to deliver a sound basic education. In Dr. Finn's estimation, the higher spending schools have "money to burn" and so could not be considered efficient regardless of the types of services they were purchasing or their geographic location in the state.

Dr. Finn then tried to debunk the "professional judgment method" used in the plaintiffs' New York Adequacy Study by explaining that professionals in the field were biased and unable to determine the resources necessary to provide a sound basic education for students in their schools. Judge Leo Milonas questioned this presumption, explaining that during times of war, the government does not use a "successful war" model -- one that looks at past wars -- to determine the resources necessary for the war, but rather asks generals and professionals in the field what resources they require.

Moreover, in his affidavit to the panel, submitted prior to the hearing, Dr. Finn testified to his belief that there is virtually no link between the amount of resources in a school and the quality of education that school provides. Mr. Wayland objected to this testimony, claiming it was an attempt by the State to reopen liability issues that had already been ruled on by the Court of Appeals. Although Mr. Wayland did not ask for the affidavit to be excluded, the panel noted that it was not seeking to retry the liability portion of the suit.

When pressed by the panel of referees to explain his belief that money doesn't matter in schools, Dr. Finn grudgingly testified that there is a "limited link" between the amount of resources in a school and the educational outcomes of its students. He agreed eventually that factors in successful schools might include highly qualified teachers and small class sizes.

Dr. Finn was paid $250 per hour by the State of New York for his preparation and testimony.

The October 1 hearing was one of twelve scheduled by the special masters to gather expert testimony from witnesses of both parties before the panel reports their recommendations to Justice DeGrasse on November 30, 2004. Future witnesses will include a number of education finance experts and policymakers, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein who will testify on October 13. The next hearing will take place on October 6 at the Moot Courtroom at Fordham Law School see full hearing schedule>>.