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?

Much Ado About Nothing

December 8, 2009

Education Week has an article suggesting that Education Sector’s recently released report on Charter Management Organizations may have been massaged to please big donors.  The author of the original draft of the report, Tom Toch, had his name removed, so the report was released without an author.  It’s unclear whether Tom was dropped as the author because he didn’t have time to review the final manuscript (having left Ed Sector for another job), because of a dispute over payment for the report, and/or because he disagreed with the revised content.

Whatever the reason for dropping Tom Toch as author, the attempt by Marc Dean Millot to turn this into a cover-up seems like a reach.  Millot leaked an earlier draft of Toch’s report on Alexander Russo’s blog. 

I’ve looked at the earlier draft and the final report and, frankly, I don’t think the basic message was changed very much between the two.  Both list a series of challenges that Charter Management Organizations have faced and steps that should be taken to overcome them.  Bother versions are just thought-pieces, not analyses of data.  Either version could have been influenced by the political pressures that regularly creep into DC think tank writing, so there is no reason to privilege the earlier draft as pure and the later as corrupted when it could just as easily be the other way around.  Or perhaps both versions are politically tainted.  Or perhaps neither are.

Read it for yourself and decide, but there is little sign of a conspiracy here.

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