Critique: UA school voucher study 'garbage in garbage out' | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Critique: UA school voucher study 'garbage in garbage out'

Posted By on Wed, Jan 4, 2017 at 12:09 PM

The Walton fortune underwrites the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas and the department, coincidentally, cranks out work in support of the Walton agenda of charter schools, school vouchers and other so-called "reforms."

Another higher education research outfit, the National Education Policy Center at the Umiversity of Colorado, often produces work in contrast to UA findings, most recently a critique of a UA finding that a Texas school voucher program could produce a reduction in the crime rate.

Here's a link to the UA study on the so-called education savings account proposal in Texas. It would allow parents to take tax money to the private schools of their choice.  Using data from students in a Milwaukee voucher program, the UA researchers forecast that the first full beneficiaries of four years of private school vouchers in Texas would produce precisely 749 fewer felonies and misdemeanors by the time they turned 22 and that savings to the state from lower crime would accumulate over time to $194 million by 2035.

Here's the NEPC's blistering response.

It faults UA for relying on earlier findings by the same UA researchers that it says were discredited in 2016 by Clive Belford of the City College of New York. That earlier UA work claimed that certain recipients of Milwaukee vouchers were less likely to commit crimes.

Belford said the UA work hadn't demonstrated causation between the schools and crime rates and had not even established "meaningful and consistent correlation." The critique continued:

Instead of engaging with Professor Belfield’s critique of their Milwaukee report, the Arkansas authors used the unconvincing results of that study, plugged in crime numbers from Texas, and estimated that if that state’s legislators were to create a type of voucher program called “Education Savings Accounts” they would (19 years from now) have, in the aggregate, saved their state almost two-hundred million dollars.

“This is a textbook example of garbage-in, garbage-out,” said Professor Kevin Welner of the University of Colorado Boulder, who directs the National Education Policy Center. “A figure derived from a study that does not allow for causal inference cannot then be brought back from the dead and magically support a causal inference in another study six months later. This sort of zombie causation could not possibly be of use to lawmakers looking for trustworthy information.”
The Policy Center, a nonprofit, says its financial supporters include  two teachers unions (long targets of the Waltons) — the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Also contributors are the Ford Foundation, the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice and the Atlantic Philanthropies.

I expect an expansion of a small voucher program already in place for special education students in Arkansas — and being heavily promoted by Walton Foundation affiliates — to be on the legislative agenda this year in Arkansas. It will be interesting to see if crime reduction is among the talking points.

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