Reports Lack Compelling Evidence of Voucher Benefits, Says New Review

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Key New NEPC Review Takeaway: Claims of voucher program effectiveness not warranted.

The degree to which students benefit from voucher programs, which allow parents to use taxpayer dollars to send their children to private schools, has been debated for years. Most studies have found only modest benefits, at best. Two new reports claim to offer empirical support for the effectiveness of vouchers.

University of Illinois professor Christopher Lubienski reviewed A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice and The Participant Effects of Private School Vouchers across the Globe: A Meta-Analytic and Systematic Review for the Think Twice Think Tank Review Project at the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education.

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 U.S. 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 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.

The two reports focus on randomized studies of the effects of vouchers on education outcomes and both conclude that vouchers have positive impacts. However, both reports are marred by a number of serious problems and errors, including not addressing the shortcomings of the theoretical underpinnings of vouchers, methods that bias the selections of studies to review, misrepresentations of the body of evidence represented in the research literature, and failure to acknowledge the limitations of their approaches.

Professor Lubienski concludes that the manifold serious flaws of each report undercut the trustworthiness of their conclusions and negate any utility for policymakers.

Find Christopher Lubienski’s review at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-meta-analysis

Find A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice, by Greg Forster, published by the Friedman Foundation, at:
http://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/A-Win-Win-Solution-The-Empirical-Evidence-on-School-Choice.pdf

Find The Participant Effects of Private School Vouchers across the Globe: A Meta-Analytic and Systematic Review, by M. Danish Shakeel, Kaitlin P. Anderson, and Patrick J. Wolf, published by the University of Arkansas, at:
http://www.uaedreform.org/downloads/2016/05/the-participant-effects-of-private-school-vouchers-across-the-globe-a-meta-analytic-and-systematic-review-2.pdf

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) Think Twice Think Tank Review Project (http://thinktankreview.org) provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

he National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

Find Documents:
Press Release: http://nepc.info/node/8103
NEPC Review: nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-meta-analysis
Reports Reviewed: edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/A-Win-Win-Solution-The-Empirical-Evidence-on-School-Choice.pdf; uaedreform.org/downloads/2016/05/the-participant-effects-of-private-school-vouchers-across-the-globe-a-meta-analytic-and-systematic-review-2.pdf

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William J. Mathis

Christopher Lubienski
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
(217) 643-8311
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