2011-06-02 "Wal-Mart 'scholars' at the University of Arkansas prove, once again (again!), that the Walton family's voucher and pro-'choice' ideologies are beautiful good and true..." by George N. Schmidt
The University of Arkansas "Education Reform" department, funded by the Walton family which owns Wal-Mart, continues the tradition that many of its professors established before they became an academic department at a major state university: publishing "preliminary" studies showing that the right wing agenda is true. Whereas once upon a time some of the Wal-Mart professors did their work as part of an entity called the Manhattan Institute, thanks to a major grant from the Walton Family Foundation, they now get to publish the same kind of materials as scholars with the backing of a major university.
Here is what happened.
A few years ago, the Walton family made the largest single donation in history to a public university. As part of the donation to the University of Arkansas, the Waltons got the university to establish a "Department of School Reform" inside the university's education school. That department was then headed by Jay Greene, who until then had been in charge of a right wing think tank called the "Manhattan Institute." Each of the seven full professors in Greene's department is a full professor in an "endowed chair." University of Arkansas officials assured the handful of skeptics that the professors of education reform would adhere to the highest standards of professional review for any studies.
Critics and skeptics suggested that the "School Reform" professors were likely to continue Jay Greene's habit of issuing "preliminary reports" and "preliminary studies". These enable their authors to do two things: avoid peer review and scientific verification for their claims, and spread their reports widely through the Op Ed and reporting departments of many newspapers and other news organizations.
In the latest example of ideology trumping facts and science, Greene's department issued a challenge to a recent study by the Wisconsin Department of Education showing, once again, that the Milwaukee school voucher program is a failure, even for the main audience it claims to be serving by offering what conservatives call "choice." The Walton family has long been against public schools (and most other public services) based on the claim that the private sector and capitalist competition are always superior in every respect to public activities.
But a study of the recent "University of Arkansas" (Walton) study shows that, once again, the claims on behalf of vouchers were a case of ideology trumping facts and science. One component of the University of Arkansas program is called "the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP)", housed at the University of Arkansas Department of School Reform.
On June 2, 2011, a group of scholars issued a report critical of the University of Arkansas claims. According to a review published by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado at Boulder School of Education, once again the voucher proponents at the University of Arkansas are simply asserting their conclusions.
Voucher Report Uncritically Restates the Researchers’ Own Findings. The press release summarizing the report is reprinted below:
2011-06-02 "Univ. of Arkansas project’s analysis of Milwaukee voucher plan accurately summarizes its earlier, unpublished findings, but continues to ignore broader research that challenges them"
BOULDER, CO (June 2, 2011)—The Comprehensive Longitudinal Evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program: Summary of Fourth Year Reports, published by the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) at the University of Arkansas, is of limited value because it simply relies on the project’s previous reports and ignores broader voucher research.
The report was reviewed for the Think Twice think tank review project by Clive Belfield of Queens College, City University of New York. The review is published by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado at Boulder School of Education.
The new report summarizes the SCDP’s earlier research on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the nation’s oldest and largest taxpayer-funded private school voucher program. Participation in the program is currently income-restricted and open only to Milwaukee Public School District families, although Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has proposed removing the income cap and expanding the program to additional districts in the state.
Since 2006, the SCDP has produced 27 reports on the Milwaukee program. The findings of the new summary report, authored by Patrick Wolf, “should be viewed with caution but interest,” Belfield writes. “The report’s method is simple: it uncritically re-states findings from studies performed by persons affiliated with the SCDP and does so in isolation from any other research,” according to Belfield. “The author is of course free to summarize the SCDP’s own research, but it is worth noting that none of it has been published in peer-reviewed journals and it is far from a comprehensive explanation of the MPCP.”
“The summary is faithful to those other studies,” Belfield observes, “but readers would do better to read the other studies directly and they would certainly be better off reading those other studies along with the extensive research and reviews that this new study neglects to engage with.”
Belfield notes that the report leaves out virtually all outside research on vouchers and school choice, and, as a consequence, it omits information necessary to accurately consider the value of its findings.
For example, the report does not discuss constraints that keep some families from making choices or outside evidence of increased segregation following the implementation of school choice programs. It asserts that the Milwaukee program saves taxpayers money without noting that this claim has been called into question because it rests on some questionable assumptions about what students would do if the voucher option weren’t available. Similarly, it repeats the claim that the performance of Milwaukee Public School students has improved as a result of competition for private schools that receive tax-payer funded vouchers, without addressing serious challenges to that claim. And it exaggerates the importance of a weakly supported finding that students enrolled in the voucher plan may be more likely to graduate from high school and progress on to college.
Find Clive Belfield’s review on the NEPC website at: [http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-milwaukee-choice-4]
Find The Comprehensive Longitudinal Evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program: Summary of Fourth Year Reports by Patrick J. Wolf on the web at: [http://www.uaedreform.org/SCDP/Milwaukee_Eval/Report_28.pdf]
The Think Twice think tank review project (http://thinktankreview.org), a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policy makers, and the press with timely, academically sound, reviews of selected think tank publications. The project is made possible in part by the generous support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.
The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence. For more information on NEPC, please visit [http://nepc.colorado.edu].
This review is also found on the GLC website at [http://www.greatlakescenter.org/]
CONTACT: Clive Belfield
(718) 997-5448 Clive.Belfield@qc.cuny.edu William Mathis, NEPC