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The Misleading and Dishonest Arguments of Education Choice Opponents: Outcomes Data

TCCRI's paper published this year, Outstanding Opportunities: The Case for Education Choice in the Lone Star State, contains several sections that either debunk arguments made by choice opponents or highlight how choice opponents misrepresent information. Below is several excerpts from the Report to that effect.


[T]here is so much data on education choice programs that proponents and opponents all have information they can cite to support their arguments or rebut those of others. In Texas, the best example of this is Raise Your Hand Texas, a non-profit education advocacy organization which generally opposes any education reform that challenges the traditional public school model.[i] In a page titled “Here is Where We Stand on School Vouchers,” Raise Your Hand Texas cites studies to establish that (1) “School vouchers don’t improve student outcomes,” (2) “Voucher Programs Have History of Ballooning State Costs,” (3) “School vouchers leave Texans behind,” which is a euphemistic way of refuting the strawman argument that choice is a panacea, and (4) “School vouchers lack accountability for public funds.” Some of these sections contain no citation to any fact or data, but the ones that do cherry-pick studies and data to support their assertions.

Luckily, we know what the research actually says about the 608,000 students participating in the 76 private school choice programs across 32 states (and Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico). As of March 2022, 175 different studies have looked at these programs to answer all manner of inquiry, including test score results for program participants, test scores for non-participating students in public schools, educational attainment, parent satisfaction, promotion of civic values and practices, success in racial and ethnic integration, and, of course, fiscal effects of choice programs.

A comprehensive analysis of all of these studies is published annually by Ed Choice in “The 123s of School Choice: What the Research Says About Private School Choice Programs in America.” The following chart illustrates just how much the library of data on choice program outcomes has grown:

What do the 175 empirical studies say about choice programs on the highlighted outcomes? Let us go through them, topic by topic.

Choice Program Participant Test Scores

17 empirical studies have examined whether students who receive and use choice programs to attend private school achieve higher test scores than students who apply for, but ultimately do not use choice programs. Within those seventeen studies, 11 showed positive effects on the scores of participants, while only three showed negative effects. Here is the breakdown of each study and the outcome(s) it observed:

Not only does Ed Choice provide a comprehensive analysis of what the data say, they are open and transparent when a study does not provide results supportive of choice programs. They also provide context. Even though studies with poor results are the outliers, Ed Choice takes the time to explain why a program may not have worked:

In the case of Louisiana, for example, the program was designed in a way that seemed to generate strong disincentives for private schools to participate. We know this because most private schools in Louisiana chose not to participate in the program. Only one-third of Louisiana private schools signed up, and there is compelling evidence that these were lower-quality private schools. For instance, researchers discovered that schools with higher tuition levels and growing enrollment were less likely to sign up. Another study showed private schools that signed up for the program experienced sharp enrollment declines during years prior to entering in the program relative to non-participating private schools.

Given the fact that the Louisiana is clearly an outlier in the larger data set, this explanation is both reasonable and plausible.

The real story, however, is the eleven studies showing positive effects on student outcomes based on test scores. Eight of these studies show improvement in specific student populations. Seven of the studies showed improvements on the whole when looking at the entire student population. And there was overlap in four studies that showed both improvements in the general population and in targeted populations.

How Choice Opponents Misrepresent This Data

Contrast Ed Choice’s transparency in citing all results, good and bad, with an organization like Raise Your Hand Texas, which generally opposes all forms of education choice. The following image is from Raise Your Hand Texas’s website, in the “policy” section called “Where We Stand on Vouchers”:

Immediately apparent is that Raise Your Hand Texas presents only the three outlier studies that have poor results. The organization makes no effort to discuss those results in any kind of meaningful way. Worse, they simply pretend as though the entire body of data and information that runs counter to their narrative—eleven studies showing strong positive outcomes—does not exist. It can only be viewed as a willful deception in service of their position against choice.

You can read this entire section and the full paper here.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Note that citations have been omitted from this post but are present in the full report linked above.


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