Greg goes Three-Peat on Jay Mathews

June 27, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I think Greg has three-peated on his bet with Jay Mathews regarding school choice expansion. Here is my count, with a few of these not being totally done deals yet (but close enough):

Alabama new tax credit program

Arizona ESA expansion

Indiana voucher program expansion

Indiana tax credit program expansion

Iowa tax credit expansion

South Carolina new tax credit program

Utah voucher program funding increase and formula funding

Wisconsin voucher program expansion

New program discussions are still ongoing in North Carolina and Ohio.  Even before knowing how these turn out, 2013 already represents a very solid year for the movement with two new states added to the choice family and some significant improvements to existing programs.

UPDATE: Paul Diperna wrote me to note that Alabama passed both a refundable and a scholarship credit- meaning two new programs. Extra style points for Greg.


Swedish Education Irony Alert!

April 4, 2012

Meet the two coolest things ever made in Sweden.

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In the new issue of NR, the invaluable Kevin Williamson profiles Massachussetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren. He writes that in a book they co-wrote, Warren and her daughter “offer an array of policy prescriptions ranging from the mild (decoupling public-school assignments from geography) to the Swedish (subsidizing stay-at-home parents)…”

Oops! It’s actually “decoupling public-school assignments from geography” that’s the Swedish idea here. Sweden has had a national system of universal school vouchers since 1993. They’ve even developed economically sustainable for-profit school companies. It’s so successful that about a year ago the Social Democratic Party, which I’m tempted to describe as Sweden’s socialist party but will instead describe as its more socialist party, decided not to try to kick the for-profit schools out of the system.

Williamson does have a number of good words for Warren, including this nugget, which ed reformers will particularly enjoy reading:

Warren taught public school briefly and then quit rather than go through the obligatory, despair-inducing credentialing rigmarole (a fact that speaks better of her than almost anything else you’ll learn).


More on Milwaukee School Choice Research Results

March 5, 2012

I wrote last week about the release of the final research results from Milwaukee’s school choice program.  On Sunday the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel devoted its entire editorial page to a discussion of those results.  Check out the succinct summary of the findings by Patrick Wolf and John Witte.

Also be sure to check out the response from the head of the teachers union, Bob Peterson.  His rebuttal consists of noting that many students switch sectors, moving from choice to traditional public schools as well as in the opposite direction.  He thinks that this undermines the validity of Wolf and Witte’s graduation rate analysis, but he fails to understand that the researchers used an intention to treat approach that attributes outcomes to students’ original selection of sector regardless of their switching.  And on the special education claim he simply reiterates the Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) faulty effort to equate the percentage of students who are entitled to accommodations on the state test with the percentage of students who have disabilities.

For more on how DPI under-stated the rate of disabilities in the Milwaukee choice program by between 400% and 900%, check out the new article Wolf, Fleming, and Witte just published in Education Next.  It’s not only an excellent piece of research detective work on how DPI arrived at such an erroneous claim, but it is also a useful warning to anyone who thinks that government issued claims provide the authoritative answer on research questions.  Government agencies, like DPI, can lie and distort as much or more than any special interest group.  They just do it with your tax dollars and in your name.


New Milwaukee Choice Results

February 27, 2012

My colleague at the University of Arkansas, Patrick Wolf, along with John Witte at the University of Wisconsin and a team of researchers have released their final round of reports on the Milwaukee school choice program.  You can read the press release here and find the full set of reports here.

They find that access to a private school with a voucher in Milwaukee significantly increases the probability that students will graduate from high school:

“Our clearest positive finding is that the Choice Program boosts the rates at which students graduate from high school, enroll in a four-year college, and persist in college,” said John Witte, professor of political science and public affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Since educational attainment is linked to positive life outcomes such as higher lifetime earnings and lower rates of incarceration, this is a very encouraging result of the program.”

They also find that “when similar students in the voucher program and in Milwaukee Public Schools were compared, the achievement growth of students in the voucher program was higher in reading but similar in math.”  Unfortunately, the testing conditions changed during the study because the private school testing went from being low stakes to high stakes, making it difficult to draw strong conclusions about the effects of the program on test scores.

In addition, it should be remembered that the design of the Milwaukee study is a matched comparison, which is less rigorous than random-assignment.  The more convincing random-assignment analyses are significant and positive in 9 of the 10 that have been conducted, with the tenth having null effects.  You can find a summary and links to all of them here.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the new Milwaukee results is the report on special education rates in the choice program.  As it turns out, Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction grossly under-stated the percentage of students in the choice program who have disabilities.  Some reporters and policymakers act as if the Department of Public Instruction’s reports are reliable and insightful because they are a government agency, while the reports of university professors are distorted and misleading.  Read this report on special education rates and I think you’ll learn a lot about how politically biased government agencies like the Department of Public Instruction can be.


Why Do Reporters Get it Wrong?

January 13, 2012

It’s really frustrating, but some reporters continue to mis-represent the scholarly literature on the effects of private school choice programs.  We devoted an entire chapter in Education Myths to debunking “The Inconclusive Research Myth.”  But like an un-dead vampire that won’t die even after you’ve driven a stake through it’s heart, reporters keep repeating as fact things like the following:

Studies have generally found no clear advantage in academic achievement for students attending private
schools with vouchers.

That statement was the conclusion of the famously unreliable and partisan Center on Education Policy.  And reporter Tom Toch embraced it as an accurate summary of voucher research in his recent article in the Kappan.  What do we have to do to stop reporters from repeating this falsehood?

This blog post from Adam Emerson at the newly launched Fordham blog, Choice Words, is a great start.  Here’s a taste:

School voucher critics generally approach their job reviewing the research on school choice with unfair assumptions, and otherwise insightful commentators risk recycling old canards. This is true with Thomas Toch’s critique of vouchers in the newest edition of Kappan, which concludes that voucher programs haven’t shown enough impact to justify their position in a large-scale reform effort. Questions of scale can lead to legitimate debate, but we’ll get nowhere until we acknowledge what’s in the literature.

And Adam doesn’t even reference all of the gold standard (random assignment) research showing positive effects for students who participate in voucher programs, not to mention all of the rigorous studies finding that entire school systems improve in response to vouchers.

So why do people like Tom Toch, who’s not stupid or mean, fail to acknowledge this wealth of evidence showing benefits from voucher programs and just focus on crappy and mistaken summaries from hacks at CEP?


Verdict in the WSJ: “School Vouchers Work”

May 3, 2011

Wall Street Journal columnist, Jason Riley has a must-read piece in the WSJ today.  The piece features the work of my University of Arkansas colleague, Patrick Wolf, JPGB’s very own Greg Forster, as well as a reference to the competitive effects study that Ryan Marsh and I conducted in Milwaukee.  There are too many highlights, but here is a (big) taste:

‘Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement,” said the White House in a statement on March 29. “The Administration strongly opposes expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and opening it to new students.” But less than three weeks later, President Obama signed a budget deal with Republicans that includes a renewal and expansion of the popular D.C. program, which finances tuition vouchers for low-income kids to attend private schools.

School reformers cheered the administration’s about-face though fully aware that it was motivated by political expediency rather than any acknowledgment that vouchers work.

When Mr. Obama first moved to phase out the D.C. voucher program in 2009, his Education Department was in possession of a federal study showing that voucher recipients, who number more than 3,300, made gains in reading scores and didn’t decline in math. The administration claims that the reading gains were not large enough to be significant. Yet even smaller positive effects were championed by the administration as justification for expanding Head Start….

The positive effects of the D.C. voucher program are not unique. A recent study of Milwaukee’s older and larger voucher program found that 94% of students who stayed in the program throughout high school graduated, versus just 75% of students in Milwaukee’s traditional public schools. And contrary to the claim that vouchers hurt public schools, the report found that students at Milwaukee public schools “are performing at somewhat higher levels as a result of competitive pressure from the school voucher program.” Thus can vouchers benefit even the children that don’t receive them.

Research gathered by Greg Forster of the Foundation for Educational Choice also calls into question the White House assertion that vouchers are ineffective. In a paper released in March, he says that “every empirical study ever conducted in Milwaukee, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Maine and Vermont finds that voucher programs in those places improved public schools.” Mr. Forster surveyed 10 empirical studies that use “random assignment, the gold standard of social science,” to assure that the groups being compared are as similar as possible. “Nine [of the 10] studies find that vouchers improve student outcomes, six that all students benefit and three that some benefit and some are not affected,” he writes. “One study finds no visible impact. None of these studies finds a negative impact.”

Such results might influence the thinking of an objective observer primarily interested in doing right by the nation’s poor children. But they are unlikely to sway a politician focused on getting re-elected with the help of teachers unions.

“I think Obama and Duncan really care about school reform,” says Terry Moe, who teaches at Stanford and is the author of a timely new book, “Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America’s Public Schools.” “On the other hand they have to be sensitive to their Democratic coalition, which includes teachers unions. And one way they do that is by opposing school vouchers.”

The reality is that Mr. Obama’s opposition to school vouchers has to do with Democratic politics, not the available evidence on whether they improve outcomes for disadvantaged kids. They do—and he knows it.


Douglas County Offers Vouchers to Students

March 16, 2011

The school board in Douglas County, Colorado voted unanimously to offer vouchers worth $4,575 to as many as 500 students who were not previously enrolled in private school.  The measure would save the district between $402,500 and $2.2 million and would greatly expand options for those families, including religious and secular private schools.

The teacher unions and their allies will almost certainly try to tie the program up in court and run their own board candidates in the hopes of rolling back the policy.  But with choice and other ed reforms being pushed all over the country and with the ability of unions to automatically deduct dues from payrolls being eliminated in a number of states, the ability of the unions to fight every battle in every location is limited.

The most effective political strategy for adopting ed reform is to “flood the zone.”  Propose a lot of ideas in a lot of places and the unions find it nearly impossible to block every one.  That’s what Jeb did in Florida and now reformers are adopting that strategy nationwide, enhancing its effectiveness.


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