Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Education Policy Research Unit (EPRU) at ASU
Education and the Public Interest Center (EPIC) at CU-Boulder


Review concludes that the conclusions reached by Friedman Foundation series on
voucher program benefits "are not trustworthy."

Contact: Sherman Dorn, (813) 205-6143; (email) []
Kevin Welner, (303) 492-8370; (email) []

TEMPE, Ariz and BOULDER, Colo. (Jan. 9, 2008) -- A series of five reports
released from early 2006 through late 2007 asserts that dropout rates could be
reduced with the implementation of private-school voucher programs. A new review
of those reports, however, finds that they "cherry-pick" research authority and
ignore an abundance of relevant research on high school graduation.

The five reports, each specific to a given state -- Missouri, Indiana, Texas,
South Carolina, and North Carolina -- are written in a parallel structure, with
only "the details of the arguments chang[ing] in a formulaic manner for each
state in question," according to Professor Sherman Dorn of the University of
South Florida, who reviewed the reports for the Think Tank Review Project. All
these reports were written by researcher Brian Gottlob and published by the
Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation.

Among their more serious flaws, Dorn finds that all five reports:

* inadequately use existing research on dropping out and school competition;

* present a superficial calculation of the costs of dropping out;

* improperly rely on a single, imperfect 1998 article as the entire basis
for their calculations on the purported impact of voucher programs on improving
graduation rates; and

* ignore possible alternative approaches for raising graduation rates,
instead focusing exclusively on private school voucher programs. Dorn writes:
"Without a comparative analysis of alternative proposals to increase high school
graduation, the reports are of little practical use to policymakers who have no
means by which to gauge the value of vouchers versus other alternatives."

On their argument for vouchers as a remedy to reduce dropout rates, Dorn found
that the reports "cherry-pick" a 1998 article to support the association while
ignoring other, contradictory research. Moreover, these reports lack appropriate
transparency in their calculations that apply that earlier article's formula to
each state's dropout data. Absent the necessary statistical details, "the
reports' conclusions about the benefits of school voucher programs are not
trustworthy," Dorn says.

At the same time, he adds, "the reports make no mention of the extensive
literature exploring graduation, dropping out, and the factors that shape
educational attainment." As a result, "each report obscures other program
options that policy-makers could consider." These other options include
preschool programs and intervention in elementary and high school grades.

In addition, the reports offer only an oversimplified analysis of the costs of
dropping out, both to individuals and to society. In doing so, Dorn explains,
they ignore the "extensive, published debate among economists" who have found
that understanding the impact of dropping out is much more complex. Dropping out
is a real problem, he notes, and it deserves serious rather than superficial

Finally, Dorn finds carelessness ranging from misleading graphs to misspelling
the author of the 1998 article relied on for calculating the alleged benefits of
vouchers in reducing dropout rates.

Dorn notes that the way the reports present data has the effect of exaggerating
the dropout problems in each state. In one egregious instance, the report on
South Carolina uses a misleading bar graph where the lengths of the bars do not
correspond to the numbers reported. This report wrongly implies that there are
more dropouts in the state than college graduates. The reports' sloppy
presentation does nothing to advance public understanding of dropping out.

Dorn also notes that the dropout rates should be cause for concern using any
reasonable approach for the calculations, but the Friedman Foundation reports
are not credible.

Dorn concludes by advising state policy makers who are interested in increasing
graduation to bypass these reports and instead seek out "the available,
well-researched scholarship on the topic," much of which he identifies in the

Find Sherman Dorn's review on the web at:

About the Think Tank Review Project

The Think Tank Review Project ([]), a collaborative
project of the ASU Education Policy Research Unit (EPRU) and CU-Boulder's
Education and the Public Interest Center (EPIC), provides the public, policy
makers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected think
tank publications. The project is made possible by funding from the Great Lakes
Center for Education Research and Practice.

Kevin Welner, the project co-director, explains that the project is needed
because, "despite their garnering of media attention and their influence with
many policy makers, reports released by private think tanks vary tremendously in
their quality. Many think tank reports are little more than ideological
argumentation dressed up as research. Many others include flaws that would
likely have been identified and addressed through the peer review process. We
believe that the media, policy makers, and the public will greatly benefit from
having qualified social scientists provide reviews of these documents in a
timely fashion." He adds, "we don't consider our reviews to be the final word,
nor is our goal to stop think tanks' contributions to a public dialogue. That
dialogue is, in fact, what we value the most. The best ideas come about through
rigorous critique and debate."


Sherman Dorn, Associate Professor of Education
University of South Florida
(813) 205-6143

Kevin Welner, Professor and Director
Education and the Public Interest Center
University of Colorado at Boulder
(303) 492-8370

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