Pseudo Studies and Push Polls

Teachers unions turn to “facts” as they desperately cling to their monopolistic, anti-privatization narrative.

Last Thursday the “non-partisan” Center for Tax and Budget Accountability rolled out a report that slammed vouchers, claiming that there is “no statistical evidence proving that students who use vouchers perform better than their public school counterparts.” The “study,” as reported by WRTV in Indianapolis, included Indiana’s program with three long-running and popular school choice programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington, D.C.

Turns out the “study” is about as “non-partisan” as a Colts fan who has ten grand riding on the home team. Its many flaws are documented meticulously by Cato Institute policy analyst Jason Bedrick. For example, CTBA tries to make its case using statistics from 2008-2009 rather than later – and less friendly – data. It also does something blatantly dishonest by stating that Indiana’s scholarship tax credit law has had a negative fiscal impact on the state. CTBA deceptively focuses exclusively on a reduction in revenue to the schools without acknowledging a corresponding reduction in expenses. As Bedrick notes, “The average scholarship is worth barely $1,000, so every student who switches out of a district school to accept a scholarship saves the state a lot of money. In a forthcoming report for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, using highly conservative assumptions, I calculated that the Indiana School Scholarship Tax Credit saved the state approximately $23.2 million in 2014-15.” And this example is just the tip of a rather massive iceberg.

At the end of the WRTV piece, there is a tag line: “RTV6’s Eric Cox reported that CTBA claims to be a bipartisan research group.” The reporter said that he couldn’t find anyone at the press conference to counter CTBA’s allegations. Perhaps a quick phone call to the Friedman Foundation – located in Indianapolis – would have given balance to the story. Also, if the station had bothered to dig a few inches below the surface, it would have learned that the CTBA board is packed with – no surprise – union leaders, including Illinois Federation of Teachers president Daniel Montgomery, as well as its Director of Governmental Relations, Jim Reed and Illinois AFL-CIO president Michael Carrigan.

A similarly scurrilous bit of advocacy dressed up in scientific clothes – this one fortunately lacking media coverage – appeared on the National Education Association website. “Where’s the Accountability? Ignoring Poor Track Record, Lawmakers Push Voucher Expansion” makes claims similar to CTBA’s. Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association president Bob Peterson states, “Since the voucher program in Wisconsin started in 1990, over $1.4 billion of public taxpayer dollars have gone to private schools. At the same time, we’ve seen massive cuts to public education statewide.” So what? If half the kids leave a public school system and half the money leaves too (actually, voucher money never equals the actual cost per student), there is still the same amount of money per student left in the public schools. NEA president Lily Eskelsen García adds to the money libel, “Buzzwords such as ‘choice’ and ‘freedom’ are used only to mask what vouchers actually are – a shameful, unacceptable waste of taxpayer dollars.”

The union leaders would do well to read a study which examines the fiscal impact of 10 of the 21 school voucher programs nationwide. Jeff Spalding, director of fiscal policy at the Friedman Foundation, found a savings in participating states of $1.7 billion from 1991-2011. If choice were universal, and not limited to the 300,000 or so students who participate at this point (about one half of one percent of all students), the $1.7 billion savings would skyrocket.

Then there is a memo put out by “Third Way,” allegedly a centrist outfit whose raison d’être is providing solutions neither left nor right, but moderate. Really? There is nothing at all moderate about, “Should a New No Child Left Behind Include Vouchers?” In fact, the writers quite immoderately inform us that vouchers aren’t successful, escape accountability, wreak havoc on school district budgets, etc.

The Third Way information is bunkum. In a recent report, Friedman Foundation senior fellow Greg Forster looked at not one or two, but 12 empirical studies that “examine academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the ‘gold standard’ of social science. Of these, 11 find that choice improves student outcomes—six that all students benefit and five that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found a negative impact.” And at the same time, the taxpayers are shelling out fewer education dollars.

Regarding accountability, vouchers create a situation whereby schools are accountable to parents, at least the lucky ones who get to choose the school their child goes to. Currently in most places, parents are forced to send their kid to the public school down the street that’s accountable to no one. Monopolies never have to be successful because they’re, well, monopolies.

The “wreaking havoc” argument is just plain silly. As Bedrick writes,

Third Way laments that school choice could ‘destabilize district financial planning.’ It is telling that they don’t point to a single example. Even more telling, their concern assumes that there would be a mass exodus from the public schools if families were given the option to leave and take the funds dedicated to their child with them. As David Boaz once observed, ‘Every argument against choice made by the education establishment reveals the contempt that establishment has for its own product.’

And finally we have yet another anti-choice broadside on the NEA website. The teachers union is giddy that “Voters Rank Top Problems Facing Education. Lack of School Choice Isn’t One of Them.” First, they really don’t deal with privatization at all and their questions are so loaded that a Polling 101 student could see right through them. For example, the main question on charters reads,

As you may know, the vast majority of charter schools are taxpayer-funded schools that are privately managed by for-profit companies or non-profit organizations. They operate independently of the public school system and are not required to follow some of the laws and regulations that public schools are required to follow. From what you’ve heard, do you favor or oppose charter schools?

A bit of a leading question, no? Even with the biased wording, responders were still favorably inclined to charter schools by a 52-38 margin, and 10 percent were agnostic. This same poll found that just 10 percent believed that lack of school choice was the biggest educational concern in the country. Given the way the questions were worded, I’m surprised that even 10 percent said that lack of choice was the #1 problem. Additionally, it should come as no surprise that the Center for Popular Democracy, one of the groups that conducted the survey has American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten on its board of directors.

In a much more honest poll – using objective, non-leading questions – Education Next found in 2014 that the public favors universal vouchers by a 50-39 margin and charter schools 54-28.

The teachers union monopoly and its favored one-size-fits-all education model are running out of gas and desperation is setting in. Their anti-choice push polls and bogus studies are as real as a Potemkin village and the American public is on to them. Choice is here. It’s successful. It’s growing. Deal with it.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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