School Choice Researchers Unite in Ed Week

Pictured (L to R): Rick Hess, Jay Greene, Greg Forster, Mike Petrilli and Matt Ladner

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Today, Education Week carries a joint editorial signed by nine scholars and analysists. We came together to agree that Mom and apple pie are good, Nazis and Commies are bad, and the empirical research supports the expansion of school choice:

Choice’s track record so far is promising and provides support for continuing expansion of school choice policies…Among voucher programs, random-assignment studies generally find modest improvements in reading or math scores, or both. Achievement gains are typically small in each year, but cumulative over time. Graduation rates have been studied less often, but the available evidence indicates a substantial positive impact. None of these studies has found a negative impact…Other research questions regarding voucher program participants have included student safety, parent satisfaction, racial integration, services for students with disabilities, and outcomes related to civic participation and values. Results from these studies are consistently positive…

In addition to effects on participating students, another major topic of research has been the impact of school choice on academic outcomes in the public school system…Among voucher programs, these studies consistently find that vouchers are associated with improved test scores in the affected public schools. The size of the effect in these studies varies from modest to large. No study has found a negative impact.

We have diverse viewpoints on many issues, but we share a common commitment to helping inform public decisions with such evidence as science is legitimately able to provide. We do not offer false certainty about a future none of us knows. But the early evidence is promising, and the grounds for concern have been shown to be largely baseless. The case for expanding our ongoing national experiment with school choice is strong.

This may well be the most important part:

The most important limitation on all of this evidence is that it only studies the programs we now have; it does not study the programs that we could have some day. Existing school choice programs are severely limited, providing educational options only to a targeted population of students, and those available options are highly constrained.

These limitations need to be taken seriously if policymakers wish to consider how these studies might inform their deliberations. The impact of current school choice programs does not exhaust the potential of school choice.

On the other hand, the goal of school choice should be not simply to move students from existing public schools into existing private schools, but to facilitate the emergence of new school entrants; i.e., entrepreneurs creating more effective solutions to educational challenges. This requires better-designed choice policies and the alignment of many other factors—such as human capital, private funding, and consumer-information sources—that extend beyond public policy. Public policy by itself will not fulfill the full potential of school choice.

Although I also feel particularly strongly about this:

Finally, we fear that political pressure is leading people on both sides of the issue to demand things from “science” that science is not, by its nature, able to provide. The temptation of technocracy—the idea that scientists can provide authoritative answers to public questions—is dangerous to democracy and science itself. Public debates should be based on norms, logic, and evidence drawn from beyond just the scientific sphere.


Kenneth Campbell is the president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, in Washington.

Paul Diperna is the research director for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, in Indianapolis.

Robert C. Enlow is the president and chief executive officer of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

Greg Forster is a senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

Jay P. Greene is the department head and holder of the 21st-century endowed chair in education reform at the University of Arkansas, at Fayetteville, and a fellow in education policy at the George W. Bush Institute, in Dallas.

Frederick M. Hess is a resident scholar and the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, in Washington, as well as a blogger for Education Week.

Matthew Ladner is a senior adviser for policy and research at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, in Tallahassee, Fla.

Michael J. Petrilli is the executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, in Washington.

Patrick J. Wolf is a professor and holder of the 21st-century endowed chair in school choice at the University of Arkansas, at Fayetteville.

Our color-coordinated mechanical lion battle chariots that join together into a giant robot are still under construction.

Defender of the empirical research universe!

19 Responses to School Choice Researchers Unite in Ed Week

  1. Joy Pullmann says:

    Do you mind explaining the idea of “technocracy” a bit more fully sometime–perhaps with an example or two? I vaguely grasp the idea but couldn’t apply it myself.

  2. Greg Forster says:

    Jay and I have written about this here, here, and here, among other places. I’d summarize technocracy as the idea that problems should be solved by asking an anointed class of experts how to solve them, then using political power to force that solution on people.

    • Joy Pullmann says:

      Thank you very much!

    • Joy Pullmann says:

      Oh, yes. We’ve discussed that. I know your aim wasn’t to get into that thought fully with the article you quote here, but to me, the word “technocracy” doesn’t call forth that set of ideas until I hear more about them. I think it might be an important topic to expand in the public eye, as I doubt for most people the concept is very clear in just a few words.

  3. George Mitchell says:

    Please provide a link for the Ed Week piece. Thank you.

    Regarding the documented research evidence, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s lead education reporter dismisses it as coming from people who “favor” choice. She instead relies on flawed data from the state’s education bureaucracy, headed by an individual who believes the expansion of choice is “immoral.”

    Perhaps Greg and Friedman could re-issue his study by “Anonymous” (on blank paper) and send it to the Journal Sentinel.

    • Greg Forster says:

      The link has been added. I realized that I forgot to include the link exactly 0.001 seconds after I clicked “publish.” I added the link right away, but people who recieve the post by RSS feed will have gotten the linkless version. Sorry!

      I have often been tempted to denounce school choice so my empirical research finding that it has positive academic effects would be taken more seriously. It works for Cecelia Rouse and Martin Carnoy.

      • George Mitchell says:



        Good one on Rouse and Conroy. Truth is, that strategy might work.

      • George Mitchell says:

        I sent the Ed Week essay and accompanying list of research to George Stanley, managing editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Also sent it to some reporters there. Within two minutes Stanley responded to say I was using “bully tactics.”

        A year ago I did a blog post critiquing a Journal Sentinel report on a highly flawed “study” of test scores in public schools and schools in the Milwaukee choice program. The aggrieved reporter emailed to say there was nothing wrong with the study or the story and that I was trying to “bully” her.

        From having worked in three different newsrooms, I can attest to a common feature of journalism: reporters and editors find it very hard to admit a serious mistake. They’ll do the occasional correction of typos and small stuff, but rarely bring themselves to ‘fess up when it comes to getting a story plain wrong. In the case of the Journal Sentinel, this detracts from much of the solid enterprise reporting it has done in other areas.

      • George Mitchell says:

        The Milwaukee newspaper has, again, bungled a report on school choice research.

  4. […] Greg Forster suggests at least some of the “nine scholars and analysts” fit the bill as a team of superheroes (some of my Education Policy Center friends had to explain to me the whole Voltron thing). It may […]

    • Greg Forster says:

      Calling the Voltron pilots “superheroes”? Mixing up Voltron and the Justice League? Sorry, Ed, two strikes and you’re out. Your pop culture nerd card is hereby revoked.

      • Sorry Ed, I’m with Greg, though I’m pretty sure you would not want us to explain the finer points of the Voltron analogy.
        Greg, you seen the new Voltron, Voltron Force? I refuse to let my kids watch it, though I’m almost ready to let 8 yo watch the original Golion.

  5. allen says:

    What brought a smile to my face was “we fear that political pressure is leading people on both sides of the issue to demand things from “science” that science is not, by its nature, able to provide.”

    What people on one side of the issue are attempting to do is to assume the credibility of science without regard to what, if any, science there is to guide policy. Their view is informed not by observations or experimentation but by fear and conceit.

    The solution is to not follow their example and – discarding the warming embrace of smugness – have faith in the ability of those who have to make the decision to discriminate between “sciencey” and science.

    The reason I smiled was that the authors are committing the same sin, imputing stupidity to the general public, as the opponents of choice. Yet history is replete with examples of a free people, given time to consider a question, coming to the honorable and just conclusion.

  6. […] Full Article- follow the link below School Choice Researchers Unite in Ed Week « Jay P. Greene's Blog h116(); #family movie -THE LAMP- one family's loss shows them how to turn to Faith instead of magic […]

  7. GGW says:

    1. I prefer “sciencey.” It’s much less taxing. This frees up brain capacity for me to dominate both the Oscar pool and the Final 4 pool. I count on this gambling income, in order to better home school my children. Which I would do if they weren’t such a pain in the butt. Thank heavens for nannies.

    2. I agree with your point about the current constrained forms of school choice. For example, I’m convinced that NCLB tutoring vouchers could have worked. But in my city, the Blob defeated it.

    Is there any outfit which works for mayors/governors on “choice architecture”? If not, I’m available.

  8. Great work guys! Sharing with my colleagues here at the Illinois Policy Institute.

  9. Joy Pullmann says:

    Dr. Forster,
    One more thing on technocracy I thought you might be interested in reading. I just finished the Winter edition of The CIty. It has an article by R.J. Snell, “Cormac McCarthy & Sloth” that discusses thoroughly the impulse to control the world through “science” and other related means. You can read the whole thing online here.

  10. Stuart Buck says:

    Speaking of journalists, here’s one time when I found a clear mistake in the Detroit Free Press, which never issued a correction (at least not that I ever found):

  11. […] Greg Forster suggests at least some of the “nine scholars and analysts” fit the bill as a team of superheroes (some of my Education Policy Center friends had to explain to me the whole Voltron thing). It may […]

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