Voucher ‘Lies and Distortions’ Stymie Choice for Poor

Published June 1, 2001

A campaign of misinformation about school vouchers is keeping the benefits of parental choice out of the hands of low-income families, while middle-income and upper-income families continue to take such benefits for granted simply by changing their residence, according to a new report issued by the Office of Research at the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The un-American result, the report concludes, may be to jeopardize the ability of millions of children to prosper in a free society.

Organized opponents of tax-supported school vouchers purposely issue inaccurate statements about parental choice in order to contaminate discussion of this important public policy issue, contend the report’s authors, Howard Fuller and Kaleem Caire. Fuller is a former superintendent of the Milwaukee Public Schools and currently a Distinguished Professor of Education at Marquette. Caire, who was chief education consultant on minority student achievement at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, is executive director of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.

The report, “Lies and Distortions: The Campaign Against School Vouchers,” describes the three elements of the misinformation campaign against school vouchers: the “Big Lie Strategy” of organized voucher opponents, media reporting of claims that vouchers pose a threat to basic American institutions, and poor reporting and editorial decisions.

For example, American Federation of Teachers president Sandra Feldman earlier this year claimed suburban private schools would not take Milwaukee voucher students. In fact, the law allows only private schools in the city to take voucher students.

Among many other “Big Lies” documented by Fuller and Caire is former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt’s 1999 claim that “suburban white kids” were benefiting from Milwaukee vouchers instead of African-Americans. In fact, suburban students aren’t eligible for vouchers, and 80 percent of voucher recipients are minority.

“We encourage the print and broadcast media to cast a public spotlight on perpetrators of misinformation about school choice,” say Fuller and Caire. “The news media should hold participants on all sides of the debate accountable for their statements.”

Research Shows Promise of Vouchers

Fuller and Caire point out that a “growing body of credible research suggests expanded school choice may hold real promise for addressing the unacceptable” achievement gap between low-income students, mostly of color, and other students. Coincidentally, Jay Greene, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, was in Milwaukee on April 19, just after the Marquette University report was issued, describing achievement gap research to educators at the National Catholic Educational Association Annual Convention.

Seven studies have been conducted of five different school voucher programs. All have shown positive effects, according to Greene, and “parents in these programs love them.” The effect of vouchers is to narrow the achievement gap by about one- quarter–“a remarkable accomplishment, a large effect,” according to Greene. By comparison, reducing class sizes from 25 students to 18 narrows the gap by about one-fifth.

A September 15, 2000 New York Times article by reporter Kate Zernike cast doubt on this compelling voucher research. Zernike quotes David Myers of Mathematica Policy Research, which gathered data for Harvard University voucher researcher Paul Peterson, as saying “one needs to be very cautious in setting policy based on the overall modest impacts on test scores.” Zernike used Myers’ statement to accuse Peterson of “overstating” his research.

But in their “Lies and Distortions” report, Fuller and Caire point out the inaccuracies in Zernike’s story . . . and also note The New York Times has refused to publish a letter from the voucher researchers defending their work and rebutting suggestions of impropriety.

“This campaign of misinformation contributes to denying low-income parents and their children the options that most American families take for granted,” conclude Fuller and Caire. “In this instance, the ‘consequences of deception’ are measured by millions of children whose ability to prosper in a free society may be jeopardized.”

For more information . . .

The 45-page report by Howard Fuller and Kaleem Caire, “Lies and Distortions: The Campaign Against School Vouchers,” is available from the Office of Research, Institute for the Transformation of Learning, 2025 North Summit Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53202, phone 414/765-0691.

You can also download The report in Adobe Acrobat’s PDF format from http://www.schoolchoiceinfo.org. Point your Web browser to http://www.schoolchoiceinfo.org/servlets/SendArticle/122/lies2.pdf.