Cowen Institute director resigns after botched education report

Matt Moore, Staff Reporter

John Ayers announced on Nov. 10 that he would resign from his position as executive director of Tulane University’s Scott Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives, effective at the end of the month. His resignation follows the retraction of a widely repudiated report from the institute, which Tulane said it later found to be inaccurate due to flaws in its original analysis.

Tulane issued the following statement on behalf of former President Scott Cowen regarding Ayers’ resignation from the institute.  

“I want to thank John for his contributions to the Cowen Institute, including assembling a talented staff, guiding a strategic planning effort and communicating our city’s educational progress as an ambassador for the Institute, K-12 education in New Orleans and Tulane University,” the statement read.

Matt Bailey, chief operating officer of the institute, will be interim executive director in his place. Bailey was hired as COO of the Cowen institute in September, after having previously served as Acting Dean of Enrollment and Communication and Senior Director for External Relations at Centenary College in Shreveport.

“During his short tenure as COO and in previous positions at other universities, Matt has demonstrated his skill as an effective organizational leader,” Cowen said.    

The Cowen Institute’s mission is to advance the success of children and young adults in their education by assessing the impact school reform and restructuring has on the education of New Orleans youth and their families.  This research would then be used to develop better learning environments, advance beneficial education policies, and develop new widespread programing throughout the school districts, its website states.

Cowen personally selected Ayers to head the institute in 2012 because of his background, as well as his interest in school reform, The Times-Picayune reported on Nov. 10.  He has served as vice president and treasurer for the Carnegie Foundation of Teaching, as well as a former vice president for the National Association of Charter School Organizers.  

The model which the Cowen Institute used to create its report was based on the students’ socio-economic standing and their past testing history, The Times-Picayune reported. The institute surveyed students in 25 New Orleans high schools, and it originally concluded that these students were doing better than expected regardless of their backgrounds.

The Cowen Institute retracted its widely cited report after it determined that this conclusion was erroneous due to flaws in its methodology.

Sophomore Will Griffin said he believes that Ayers’ resignation from his position as director was appropriate.  

“A lot of leaders and organizations working toward education reform in Louisiana backed his research,” Griffin said. “Their credibility probably could have suffered as a result.” 

Junior Michelle Sheena thinks that Ayers’ resignation was somewhat extreme, but she understands why it occurred.

“If they have been using the same methods for the past seven years but have only now [retracted] one, then that’s pretty bad,” Sheena said. “Since the head of the institute resigned, … [it] shows they are taking this matter seriously.”