T. Jameson Brewer, Ph.D.
Educator, RESEARCHER, author
The new Fordham report, Pluck & Tenacity, examines the impact of school vouchers on five private schools in Ohio. While the journalist who authored the report is primarily interested in the effect on this small set of schools, we focus here on an underlying assumption asserted in the executive summary of the report: that because of vouchers, “school outcomes will improve.” As presented in this report, this assumption about the beneficial impacts of vouchers is a case-study in how to engage in slanted selection and interpretation of research evidence. As we show in this review, the totality of three endnotes used in the report reflect not just an incomplete picture of the research literature on vouchers, but an extreme case of cherry-picking sources to support a contested policy agenda. Moreover, even with the few sources cited to put voucher outcomes in a favorable light, the report cherry-picks the findings that suit Fordham’s agenda, while ignoring the findings from those very same sources that do not support—and even contradict—the premise. Thus, the report is grounded in a twice-skewed and intellectually dishonest view of the research on vouchers and their academic outcomes. The subsequent journalistic celebration of five schools in Ohio then continues this unsystematic treatment of evidence, amounting to little more than cheerleading for vouchers.
A new report from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Do Impacts on Test Scores Even Matter? Lessons from Long-Run Outcomes in School Choice Research, examines whether student achievement scores on math and English language arts tests align with “long-run” attainment outcomes such as high school graduation rates, college enrollment, and college graduation rates. Drawing on a systematic review of the literature, it concludes that the impacts of school choice programs on test scores are not well connected to such attain- ment outcomes, which are presented as more positive. This review considers two issues with the report: consistency and evidence. Regarding consistency, the report’s suggestion that achievement scores should play a smaller role in determining the efficacy of school choice models represents a stunning effort to move the goalposts in search of new justifications for supporting their preferred policies. After decades of pro-school-choice research and advo- cacy promoting test score comparisons with public schools as the primary measurement for evaluating school choice models (e.g., charters and school vouchers), the AEI report now suggests that less attention be given to these learning outcomes. Regarding evidence, the AEI report is riddled with numerous internal inconsistencies in its discussion and treatment of a set of studies that were selected by questionable methods. In view of the 180-degree turn based on questionable evidence, the report — despite the authors’ assertions — is of little use to policymakers.
Peabody Journal of Education (2016)
Voucher proponents have increasingly pursued empirical evidence on the effectiveness of vouchers as a form of education improvement, in addition to advocating for vouchers on moral or ethical grounds. Voucher proponents contend that randomized assignment studies of students in voucher programs have consistently confirmed the effectiveness of vouchers. We examine such advocacy claims about these “gold standard” studies from a leading voucher proponent, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, to consider how such advocacy is presented. Although voucher advocates indicate that the research is conclusive, consistent, and thus generalizable, and essentially beyond reproach, closer examination of the studies put forth by advocates suggests little consensus or consistency across the reported findings. When there are positive effects, they do not translate across different contexts, populations, programs, grade levels, or subjects. Moreover, we highlight some limitations of these studies, which the advocates do not acknowledge, and show that, because findings on vouchers are less compelling or promising than proponents claim, the misrepresentation of empirical findings by advocates appears to be a key element of their advocacy agenda.