NEPC Review: A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, May 2016) and The Participant Effects of Private School Vouchers across the Globe: A Meta-Analytic and Systematic Review (University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform, May 2016)
Two reports claim to offer empirical support for the efficacy of voucher programs that allow parents to use taxpayer dollars to send their children to private schools. One report (A Win-Win Solution) is the latest in a series from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. The Friedman report reviews studies purporting to show positive impacts from voucher programs in the US. The other report (The Participant Effects of Private School Vouchers across the Globe) is from the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. The authors of the Arkansas report conducted a limited meta-analysis of US and international studies of voucher programs. The two reports share a positive view of the impacts of vouchers, and both focus on randomized studies of those effects. Both reports are marred by a number of serious problems and errors, including misrepresentations of the research literature, a failure to acknowledge the limitations of their approaches, not addressing the shortcomings of the theoretical underpinnings of vouchers, and the use of methods that bias the selections of the studies they utilize. The Friedman report is a rudimentary “vote-counting “analysis of an extremely narrow set of 18 studies using a biased counting system. The Arkansas meta-analysis aspires to be “global,” but despite identifying over 9,000 potential studies for the analysis, ultimately uses only 19, almost half of which were conducted by the Arkansas authors or their associates. Moreover, the “global” meta-analysis only encompasses three countries (one of which is consistently misspelled). Together, their manifold serious flaws undercut the trustworthiness and usefulness of these reports.