School Choice Report Card Earns Poor Grades

Review concludes think tank’s ranking of states’ choice policies offers little useful information

Contact: Teri Battaglieri, (248) 444-7071;
Wendy Chi, (734) 678-5196;

EAST LANSING, Mich. (April 29, 2008)—Choice and Education across the States, a new report from the Heartland Institute, gives letter grades to states based on the extensiveness of their school choice systems. A review of the report for the Think Twice project concludes that it offers little or no useful information for policy makers.

Wendy Chi, a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado at Boulder, reviewed the report, which was written by Michael Van Winkle and released on April 17th by Heartland, whose stated mission is to “promote free-market solutions” that include “parental choice in education.”

The report, according to Chi, does little more than offer policy makers the argument that states should increase school choice, dressed up with a letter grade for each state.

Chi did praise the report for its clearly stated grading system, whereby states with more school choice options and fewer restrictions in choice programs got higher grades. But she criticized the report on several grounds. She noted that the basis for awarding grades was merely the “values and beliefs of the Heartland author.”

Chi finds that the report’s grading criteria “make no attempt to determine how states are employing the different types of school choice, nor do they attempt to assess the quality or results of those choice programs.” As a result, “a state with little demand for school choice would be awarded a better grade by the Heartland standard if it adopted poorly functioning, underfunded, ill-received choice programs that resulted in lower student performance.”

Finally, Chi criticizes the report’s assertion that an increase in school choice will strengthen accountability and improve student achievement. She explains that the author’s belief is not supported by empirical research. More generally, she notes that the report offers very little in the way of objective data to support its advocacy. Many of its claims are “unsupported assertions, offered without citations,” she writes.

In the end, the state legislators who are the intended audience for the Heartland report are likely to learn little of substance from it, other than the extent that the state offers school choice. As a result, she concludes, “it would seem the report is of use only as an advocacy document.”

Find the complete review by Wendy Chi as well as a link to the Heartland Institute’s report at:

About the Think Tank Review Project
The Think Twice project provides the public, policy makers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected think tank publications. It is a collaboration of the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University and the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and is funded by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.


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.

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