Thursday, February 21, 2013

School Vouchers had a “tiny insignificant impact” on College Enrollment

The “Trust Us, There’s a Pro-Voucher Result Hiding in Here Somewhere” Award, a National Education Policy Center (NEPC) 2012 Bunkum Award for truly dreadful educational research, has been given to Matthew M. Chingos, Paul E. Peterson and The Brookings Institution. Their report, The Effects of School Vouchers on College Enrollment: Experimental Evidence from New York City, searches far and wide for any possible evidence of the benefits of school vouchers.

This report’s raison d’être was to make the case that an old (now expired) New York City voucher policy, providing $1,400 per year for up to three years to subsidize attendance at private elementary schools, made a positive impact. Although the authors generally came up empty and had to acknowledge that the vouchers had a “tiny insignificant impact,” they then went on to trumpet a cherry-picked result from one type of result for one subgroup: college attendance of African Americans.

In truth, contrary to the claims that vouchers had a positive effect on college attendance of African Americans, there were no statistical differences between ethnic groups. The data do suggest the possibility that the vouchers had a differential and positive impact for African Americans. But that’s not at all how the researchers presented their results.

“Had Chingos and Peterson framed the finding from African Americans as an encouraging exploratory hypothesis deserving of further testing, I would not have been alarmed by the report,” explained the NEPC reviewer. “But the study’s results absolutely do not merit headlines such as ‘Vouchers promote college attendance for African Americans.’”

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