By Thomas Ultican / Tultican
Late in March (2018), the Center for American Progress (CAP) released a report on vouchers. CAP, a neoliberal leaning think tank, sums up Their report with this quote, “How bad are school vouchers for students? Far worse than most people imagine.”
After reading the report, I distributed it through my twitter feed. I am not a big fan of CAP, but felt the report was valuable except for their continued support for the charter school choice agenda. I guess they are only half as bad as DeVos.
The next day Corey A. DeAngelis, a policy analyst at the Cato Center for Educational Freedom, replied to my tweet with a link to his post refuting the CAP study.
DeAngelis’ bio on the Cato website says,
“Corey A. DeAngelis is a Policy Analyst at the Cato Center for Educational Freedom. He is also a Distinguished Doctoral Fellow and Ph.D. candidate in Education Policy at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and a Policy Advisor and Contributing Editor for the Heartland Institute.”
Before we get into Corey’s post, let us review some background material.
Is It a Conservative Theory or a Religious Conversion?
In 2012 Jane Mayer published “The Kochs vs. Cato” in the New Yorker. It was a story about a lawsuit the Koch brothers had filed reasserting control over the Cato Institute. It is a fascinating story in which Mayer shares this:
“Cato was co-founded by Edward Crane and Charles Koch, in the nineteen-seventies, with Koch’s money; the lawsuit notes that the original corporate name was the Charles Koch Foundation, Inc. Crane once recounted to me, ‘Charles said what would it take to keep me in the libertarian movement. He was very impressed. I said, My bank account is empty. He said, How much do you need? I’d been impressed with Brookings and A.E.I., and told him it would be good to have a libertarian think tank. Charles said, I’ll give it to you.’ Koch steered millions to the think tank.”
The website Conservative Transparency adds,
“Cato is well known for advocating limited government and deregulation, especially the privatization of Social Security. Cato has for the most part stuck to libertarian principles, advocating for the elimination of many federal agencies while also supporting the decriminalization of marijuana and opposing bans on gay marriage.”
For many years, one of the stars supported by the Cato Institute was Milton Friedman, the 1976 Nobel Prize winner for economics and the father of vouchers. How he won the Nobel Prize is difficult to comprehend. In 1995, Friedman wrote a policy brief for Cato on the fortieth anniversary of his famous 1955 essay proposing vouchers, “The Role of Government in Education.”
In the 1995 policy brief, Friedman claims:
“Our elementary and secondary educational system needs to be radically restructured. Such a reconstruction can be achieved only by privatizing a major segment of the educational system–i.e., by enabling a private, for-profit industry to develop that will provide a wide variety of learning opportunities and offer effective competition to public schools.”
When calling for radical change to a successful public education system, good reason is required. The often repeated lie, “public education is failing.” is an illusion. It was never failing and is the foundation of American democracy and liberty. Destroying public-education is an act of treason.
“The most feasible way to bring about a gradual yet substantial transfer from government to private enterprise is to enact in each state a voucher system that enables parents to choose freely the schools their children attend.”
This ideology is a religiously held belief positing that private enterprise is always more efficient and cost-effective than a government enterprise. However, privatized police forces, privatized prisons, privatized armies and privatized fire departments are clearly problematic.
“With minor exceptions, no one has succeeded in getting a voucher system adopted, thanks primarily to the political power of the school establishment, more recently reinforced by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, together the strongest political lobbying body in the United States.”
This is pure propaganda. The military industrial complex, big pharma, banking and trial lawyers all dwarfed the power of teachers’ unions in 1995. Teachers were highly respected and this was a way to attack teachers’ indirectly. Furthermore, libertarian ideology loathes unionism.
“The quality of schooling is far worse today than it was in 1955.”
This is a bizarre lie. To sell vouchers, a used-ideology salesman will say anything.
“About 90 percent of our kids now go to so-called public schools, which are really not public at all but simply private fiefs primarily of the administrators and the union officials.”
He must have known this is not true. Democratically elected school boards running schools give parents real voice and power over schools; a voice and power that is completely lost in a privatized system.
“Hardly any activity in the United States is technically more backward. We essentially teach children in the same way that we did 200 years ago: one teacher in front of a bunch of kids in a closed room.”
To get this straight, the father of vouchers believes teaching methods in America have not changed since 1795. Why did anyone ever listen to this blathering fool?
“I believe that the only way to make a major improvement in our educational system is through privatization to the point at which a substantial fraction of all educational services is rendered to individuals by private enterprises.”
This economist from the University of Chicago thinks we should ignore Mann, Dewey, and history. His religious belief in free markets dictates destroying public-education in America and privatizing it.
My thesis is that the theoretical foundation for privatizing school and all aspects of American society is based on a fanatical faith in unfettered market economies. A peek at Friedman’s acolyte Corey A. DeAngelis’s twitter page reinforces this thesis.
Ignoring Outcomes to Promote an Ideology
Corey comes from an upside-down world. He opens his CAP refutation with “It looks like we have another terrible case of cherry-picking the evidence.” Maybe someone from the University of Arkansas and the Cato Institute naturally assumes everyone is “cherry-picking.”
The CAP study reports:
“This analysis builds on a large body of voucher program evaluations in Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., all of which show that students attending participating private schools perform significantly worse than their peers in public schools! especially in math. A recent, rigorous evaluation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program from the U.S. Department of Education reaffirms these findings, reporting that D.C. students attending voucher schools performed significantly worse than they would have in their original public school.”
Because Corey is from the Walton family supported University of Arkansas graduate school, his attack on the Ohio voucher study took some research jujitsu. The Ohio study was conducted under the auspicious of the Fordham Institute and paid for by the Walton Family Foundation. Corey wrote:
“The Ohio program used a cutoff variable – the performance of the child’s public school – to determine program eligibility. However, the researchers used student observations that were not right around the cut point and even removed the observations that were closest to the discontinuity.”
Sounds like this study used unjustifiable techniques to purposely obtain bad results with vouchers. It is doubtful that Fordham was trying to discredit vouchers.
He says, “The Indiana study was also non-experimental, as it compared voucher students to those remaining in traditional public schools.”
It is almost impossible to put together an experimental design when studying vouchers. The last Washington DC study by the Department of Education seems to be the only fully experimental voucher study ever done and it is not likely to be repeated.
An odd statement by DeAngelis,
“The CAP review heavily relies on the most recent experimental evaluation of the D.C. voucher program. It just so happens to be one of the only two voucher experiments in the world to find negative effects on student test scores.”
The D.C. study is very powerful evidence that students attending voucher schools lagged the performance of their peers on testing. Louisiana, Indiana and Ohio saw similar results. The results carry extra significance because these new research results are the first truly large scaled studies of vouchers ever.
Some Voucher History and “Cherry-Picking”
Milwaukee’s first voucher program in America was established in 1990. Alex Molnar, Research Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder shared this history:
“The pro-voucher coalition has always had a diverse cast of characters representing a volatile combination of interests. The author of the 1990 voucher bill, Annette “Polly” Williams, an African-American Democratic member of the Wisconsin Assembly, saw her voucher plan as a way of supporting African-American community schools and weakening the hold that white-dominated institutions had over the education of black children. To Michael Joyce, the president of Milwaukee’s right-wing Bradley Foundation, the voucher program represented a step toward the sort of unrestricted, free market plan first envisioned by economist Milton Friedman. Polly Williams gave the program legitimacy as an effort to empower poor (primarily African-American) parents, and Michael Joyce provided millions of dollars to help keep the program visible and the public-policy pot boiling. Wisconsin’s conservative Republican governor, Tommy Thompson, and Milwaukee’s “New Democrat” mayor, John Norquist, provided a bipartisan cheerleading squad. For Gov. Thompson, vouchers fit nicely in the general privatization and deregulatory trajectory he has charted for Wisconsin’s public institutions. For Mayor Norquist, the voucher program offers a chance to stem white flight–if students attending Milwaukee’s overwhelmingly white Roman Catholic school system become eligible for taxpayer-financed vouchers. And for the Catholic Church, vouchers are a potentially vital fiscal lifeline.”
The legislation authorizing vouchers mandated a yearly study of their effects. Between 1991 and 1995 studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison by political science professor John Witte, failed to find achievement advantage for students attending voucher schools. The voucher program was losing support and in 1996 the Wall Street Journal published an editorial, “School Choice Data Rescued From Bad Science,” By Jay P. Greene and Paul E. Peterson. They claimed:
“The unions tout a study by John Witte of the University of Wisconsin that purports to find no educational benefits from vouchers. But Mr. Witte’s study is so methodologically flawed as to be worthless.”
“We have just completed a new, carefully designed analysis that finds that vouchers make a big difference.”
Jay P. Greene is now at the University of Arkansas. Paul E. Peterson is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and Senior Editor of Education Next, a conservative pro-voucher journal. These two “researchers” and their organizations have a reputation for supporting vouchers.
A second reanalysis of the Witte data conducted by Cecilia Rouse of Princeton University purported to show an academic advantage for Milwaukee voucher students in math but not reading. A follow-up study by Rouse found that low-income students attending Milwaukee public schools served by a state class-size reduction and enrichment program significantly outperformed voucher students in reading and scored as well in math.
In 2009, Greg Forster, a senior fellow with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, published a paper called “A Win-Win Solution” in Education Next where Paul E. Peterson is Senior Editor. The premise of the paper is: not only do voucher students outperform public school students on standardized testing but public schools improve because of the competition.
It is a bit hard to believe the spur of competition would overcome the negative effects of removing students and money from a public school. In his review of the “Win-Win Solution,” Professor Christopher Lubienski of the University of Illinois stated, “In truth, existing research provides little reliable information about the competitive effects of vouchers, and this report does little to help answer the question.”
Lubienski notes that the report is based on seventeen previous studies and outlines many objections regarding assumptions and conclusions by the author. He also points out some misrepresentations of work done by other researchers who were not part of the pro-voucher group at the Friedman Foundation. His analysis concluded with:
“Further, all but three of the 17 reports were from this group or by authors who are affiliated with other pro-voucher organizations such as the Hoover Institute or Harvard‟s Program on Educational Policy and Governance. The three remaining studies, authored by scholars at Stanford, Princeton, and Wisconsin-Madison, are the most rigorous (that is, more likely to use student-level data) and find the most modest effects for choice.”
“It is worth noting that this finding comes from an organization that bills itself as “the nation‟s leading voucher advocates” … Because of its announced agenda on this issue, publications such as this would benefit greatly from undergoing a blinded peer review prior to publication, which would likely identify problems with data, methods and interpretations. Such peer review is typical in university-based research in order to instill some objective measure of quality. The arcane (but key) details in these types of research reports can often require a fair degree of trust from readers who lack technical methodological expertise.”
Libertarianism is a Mistake
An Austrian named Friedrich Hayek wrote a libertarian manifesto called “The Road to Serfdom.” This book was a bit of a sensation and in 1950 brought him to the University of Chicago. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher both praised Hayek. He was opposed to centralized government, programs like Social Security and became a large influence on the young scholars at the University of Chicago, including Milton Friedman. It is the bad philosophy of this economic theorist that is guiding billionaires, like the Koch brothers, and leading to the destruction of public education in America and throughout the world.
Basically, libertarianism says, “I got mine. You get yours.”; a philosophy that barely acknowledges the concepts of social good or humanism. To save public education, we must defeat this self-centered and fanatical ideology whose adherents not so long ago were considered extremists on the fringes of American society.