One of the great things about these here inter-web thingies is their ability to hold newspapers accountable when they make mistakes. And the editorial by Maureen Downey that the Atlanta Journal Constitution ran last week on vouchers was very much mistaken. In it Downey claimed “in the handful of states that have conducted experiments with vouchers, the results contradict claims of improvement by Johnson and other voucher advocates… Yet, in return for zero impact, Johnson proposes to dismantle public education in Georgia.” She also described “vouchers as a threat to the bedrock American belief that public education is critical to the health of the democracy and should not be sacrificed to political agendas.”
To support her overwrought claims she cites a newspaper article on Ohio’s voucher program, studies of the voucher programs in DC and Milwaukee conducted by my colleague Pat Wolf, and a review of the literature by Barrow and Rouse. Unfortunately she cites all of them selectively or misinterprets their findings as showing “zero impact.” Fortunately, Pat Wolf noticed her incorrect interpretation of his work and sent a letter, which the AJC ran today.
But letters are limited in length and less salient than the editorials they attempt to correct. In the old days when newspapers were the only game in town, it was very difficult to hold newspapers accountable for editorials that were factually inaccurate. They might have run letters, like the one Pat Wolf submitted, but they wouldn’t even have to do that if they didn’t want to.
With the inter-webs we not only have Pat Wolf’s letter in the AJC, we can also circulate it by posting it on blogs, like I just did. And we can add additional material, for which there would have been no space in the letters section. So let me add that here is a complete list of random-assignment studies of the effects of vouchers on students who use them. Here is a summary of the effect of vouchers on the public school system. And here is random-assignment research on the effect of charter schools on participants. And if she thinks choice destroys democracy, here is a review of that literature showing that she is mistaken about that as well.
If Maureen Downey and the Atlanta Journal Constitution want to say that evidence shows “zero impact” from vouchers, then they have to explain away all of this evidence. And if they don’t want to justify their claims in the pages of their paper, we can hold them accountable on the web.
(edited for typos)