Voucher report recycles limited information, has little value for policy making, new review finds
EAST LANSING, Mich. (June 2, 2011) – The latest in a series of reports about school vouchers published by the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) at the University of Arkansas is of limited value because it relies on the project's previous reports and ignores broader research, according to a review released today.
The review, written by Clive Belfield of Queens College, City University of New York, was produced by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice. It is part of the NEPC's Think Twice think tank review project.
The SCDP report summarizes its own earlier research on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), the nation's oldest and largest taxpayer-funded private school voucher program. Participation in the program is currently income-restricted and open only to Milwaukee Public School District families, although Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has proposed removing the income cap and expanding the program to additional districts in the state.
Since 2006, the SCDP has produced 27 reports on the Milwaukee program. The findings of the new summary SCDP report, authored by Patrick Wolf, "should be viewed with caution but interest," Belfield writes.
"The report's method is simple: it uncritically re-states findings from studies performed by persons affiliated with the SCDP and does so in isolation from any other research," Belfield writes. "The author is of course free to summarize the SCDP's own research, but it is worth noting that none of it has been published in peer-reviewed journals and it is far from a comprehensive explanation of the MPCP."
"The summary is faithful to those other studies," Belfield observes, "but readers would do better to read the other studies directly, and they would certainly be better off reading those other studies along with the extensive research and reviews that this new study neglects to engage with."
Belfield notes that the report leaves out virtually all outside research on vouchers and school choice, and, as a consequence, it omits information necessary to accurately consider the value of its findings. For example, the report does not discuss constraints that keep some families from making choices or outside evidence of increased segregation following the implementation of school choice programs.
It asserts that the Milwaukee program saves taxpayers money without noting that this claim has been called into question because it rests on some questionable assumptions about what students would do if the voucher option weren't available.
Similarly, it repeats the claim that the performance of Milwaukee Public School students has improved as a result of competition for private schools that receive taxpayer-funded vouchers, without addressing serious challenges to that claim.
And it exaggerates the importance of a weakly supported finding that students enrolled in the voucher plan may be more likely to graduate from high school and progress on to college.
Find Clive Belfield's review and other Think Twice reviews of the Milwaukee voucher program at:
The Think Twice think tank review project, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policy makers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.
The review is also available on the National Education Policy Center website at:
The mission of the Great Lakes Center is to improve public education for all students in the Great Lakes region through the support and dissemination of high quality, academically sound research on education policy and practices.