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October 9 2013

Politico Story, Not Parental Choice, Doesn’t Do Much

Vicki E. Alger

Never mind that there have been more gold-standard scientific studies documenting the benefits of vouchers for students, public schools, and state budgets than there have been on other education related issues such as class size. Forget the fundamental fairness of allowing all children—regardless of their parents’ income or address being free to attend the schools that work best for them.

Politico wants you to believe that “Vouchers don’t do much for students,” they’re expensive, and unpopular.

The Cato Institute’s Jason Bedrick helps set the record straight in Education Next.

On the question of whether school choice results in superior learning, Politico makes the wrong comparisons. …The most accurate comparison is a randomized controlled trial (RCT), the gold standard of social science. As James Pethokoukis and Michael McShane pointed out over at the AEIdeas blog, Politico fails to mention that 11 of 12 RCTs found that choice improves student outcomes. The last study found no statistically significant difference while no study found any harm.

Many of the gains were small, though statistically significant, and often the gains were only for certain subgroups (generally low-income blacks) who had the least schooling options at the outset. However, based on the available evidence, even the most pessimistic reading of the data must conclude that school choice does no harm, on average. Even then, in addition to more satisfied parents, school choice is a great boon to taxpayers as it produces similar (or better) results at a much lower cost. …

The United States spends more than $600 billion per year on public education at the state, federal, and local levels. Moreover, Politico focuses only on the cost of school choice, not the savings. Six empirical studies on the fiscal impact of school choice found that such programs save money for taxpayers. … The Washington D.C. and Milwaukee school voucher programs each spend about half as much on voucher students as public school students. …

Politico also ignored the Harvard University/Education Next poll, which uses multiple question wordings to get a more accurate picture of what the public believes. Harvard found:

  • 54% of parents favor giving all families a “wider choice” to “enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition” compared with 21% opposed.
  • 46% of parents favor giving low-income families a “wider choice”  to “enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition” compared with 21% opposed.
  • When not given a neutral option, 50% of parents favor giving low-income families a “wider choice”  to “enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition” compared with 50% opposed.
  • When the question omits the words “a wider choice” and only asks about using “government funds to pay the tuition of low-income students who choose to attend private schools,” 44% of parents are in favor with 32% opposed.

It’s stories like Politico’s that don’t do much for students because they distort voucher programs' real track record of success.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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