Voucher Critics Smear Unwelcome Research Findings

Published June 1, 1998

“Interest groups have learned that they can successfully check research contrary to their goals by producing their own studies, no matter how lousy, to sow confusion among policymakers, journalists, and the attentive public about what to believe.”Jay P. Greene, “Rescuing Education Research, Education Week, April 29, 1998

Although competing research claims about the effects of school choice do create confusion among policymakers, a thoughtful review of “The Real Evidence” by former Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent Howard L. Fuller documents how the teacher unions try to discredit unwelcome research findings simply by leveling pseudo-scientific criticism at the studies. Surprisingly, the unsubstantiated union rhetoric has been repeated virtually verbatim by U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley.

For example, the National Education Association claimed in April 1997 that research by Jay P. Greene, Paul E. Peterson, and Jiangtao Du showing positive results from the Milwaukee voucher program had been “widely criticized for flaws so serious that the results are meaningless.” In fact, there were only three criticisms: one from the American Federation of Teachers, one from a professor who admitted not being an expert in statistics, and one from a professor who apparently had not read the study.

In a 1997 Internet report, the AFT claimed that the work of Greene et al. had been “demolished” by a “barrage of criticism.” Again, there were only three criticisms: one from the professor who was not an expert in statistics, and two others who raised issues that were addressed in later versions of the work by Greene and his colleagues.

“The NEA and AFT simply fail to substantiate claims of ‘demolished’ research or a ‘barrage’ of academic criticism,” concludes Fuller. “The only ‘barrage’ appears to have come from them and, more recently, Secretary Riley.”

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].