Finding external reviewers in the wild (for promotion and tenure)

In April, I wrote about finding peer reviewers in a journal context. This blog post is about a task that seems similar but isn’t: finding external reviewers of scholarship for promotion and tenure purposes. In most American colleges and universities with any research expectations for tenure, part of the process includes asking tenured faculty to write an external review letter assessing the scholarship of the candidate for promotion and/or tenure. Ideally, letter-writers are scholars who can provide an independent judgment (i.e., with no conflicts of interest), and who have both sufficient expertise in the field and understanding of tenure expectations in the U.S. to be able to explain their assessment for review committees and administrators at the candidate’s college or university.

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Attacking trans people and criminalizing teachers

In education, Ron DeSantis and Chris Rufo are the boys who cry woke, the politician and polemicist currently getting the most public attention for hyping the 2020s version of the culture wars.1 Adam Laats is among the many historians who have provided important historical perspective in Made by History (Washington Post) and Slate, among other places. I’m a little less sanguine than Laats that this current culture war wildfire will burn itself out, and even if it does, it is currently harming individual children and chilling the professional judgment of educators — which is one of its primary goals. The cruelty and intimidation are the point.

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  1. Jamelle Bouie coined this great phrase last month, in connection with political posturing around the Silicon Valley Bank failure. []

Finding peer reviewers (for journal submissions)

For the past year, I’ve been an associate editor for two journals, and for one of them, the run of manuscripts has been about 50% greater than one of the co-editors said was likely. So I’ve had to up my game in terms of the main job of associate editors for both journals, organizing the peer review process once a manuscript has been approved by the editorial leadership for peer review (i.e., not a so-called desk rejection, on first read). This blog entry describes my individual process of finding peer reviewers, in an era where the first impression of many journal editors is that manuscript submissions have increased at the same time as review invitations have been declined, especially for so-called ad hoc reviewers, outside the editorial board of a journal.

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Pandemic education history poster??

Yesterday, I presented a poster on this blog series at the Association for Education Finance and Policy, in Denver, and I had a challenge: how does one present a broad-brush historical argument in this format? So I hacked the idea of a poster, which is to present a limited amount of information as an entree to a discussion with people who decide they’re interested in the topic… and created a chart thematically tied to this series, rescaled to show proportionate changes (with the bottom of the chart representing the greatest proportionate loss 2020-2023 from the 2019 baseline), but without labeling the data:

Figure showing three unlabeled time series of data for 2019-2022, scaled to show proportionate drops -- blue and orange lines sharp in March 2020, slowly rising back up to 2019 baseline, and a gray line representing data that reached highest proportionate drop in early 2022.
Data from three pandemic series of data, 2019-2022
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Pandemic lessons 5: Conclusion (for now)

In early March 2020, my fellow historian of education Jonathan Zimmerman wrote a piece encouraging colleges and universities to enthusiastically see emergency remote instruction as an opportunity: Coronavirus and the Great Online-Learning Experiment (ungated version). Zimmerman’s piece amused me a little, because by using “experiment” in the title, he did not mean a rigorously-designed plan with data collection and analysis, but rather something like serendipitous discovery of what happened in the pandemic. I will leave it to the reader to assess whether our collective experience of emergency remote instruction was an experiment in either of those senses, in the sense of experimental theater, or in the sense of Victor Frankenstein’s creature. What is absolutely true is that the decision by many institutions to attempt all or almost all instruction by screen set up a cascading set of demands, which in turn absorbed the attention of several million educators and support staff. No school at any level had the capacity immediately to address these expanding and often new sets of needs. A few could reapportion effort and time to tackle them with the resources federal aid gave starting in the summer of 2020, with enough attention left over for tending to key relationships. For too many, devoting a pandemic level of attention to coordination of various tasks was overwhelming. Zimmerman’s hope of using the pandemic experience to learn a great deal about online learning was unlikely ever to happen.

In this series, I have made the argument that Zimmerman was unlikely to see his wish come true in large part because of the mismatch between schools’ connections with other social institutions, on the one hand, and the lack of experience effectively coordinating internally and externally, on the other. So much of American life revolves around schools at all levels, without schools’ necessarily having significant power to coordinate those connections, and often enough with insufficient coordination within school systems.1 To take one example, during the pandemic the deep connections around schooling meant that misinformation spread through education politics as much as anywhere else. In looking back, this understanding of how schools could be so connected without coordination should complicate our assessment of policies and people. The Biden administration was not always a sea change from Trump in terms of decision-making; unions were not as powerful as some would like to blame them for; urban charter schools were often in remote education more than nearby public schools. At all levels, schools could never turn on dime in the ways that would have been ideal, and that would be an unrealistic expectation, even for the wealthiest universities. But they could have done better.

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  1. Moderately careful readers may have noticed that I have not defined coordination in any entry of this series. That is fair: I came to thinking about coordination as a consequence of how schools were enmeshed in all sorts of relationships with no control, at the point the pandemic made those relationships critical: labor markets, politics of citizenship, and public health, not to mention with families and communities. My silent operational definition has been the capacity to assign time and resources to accomplish tasks in concert with other organizations and groups. []