Survey is ammunition, not illumination

University of Illinois education professor Christopher Lubienski said he winced when he saw a recent Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice survey that purported to find suspiciously strong support among Indiana voters for private school vouchers.

Christopher Lubienski

Christopher Lubienski

Lubienski, who studies both school choice and research methodology, suspected the survey results would be reported uncritically — and sure enough, they were.

“The Friedman Foundation is an advocacy organization,” he said in a phone interview this week. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but they have a position. I think it’s not appropriate to represent them as some kind of objective research organization. They’re not; they’re pushing an agenda.

“Researchers are looking for illumination,” he said. “And the Friedman Foundation is looking for ammunition.”

The Friedman Foundation survey found that an extraordinary seven in 10 Hoosier registered voters favor vouchers, in which the government pays private and religious school tuition for qualified students. Other surveys find voucher support to be half that strong. The foundation also found strong support for charter schools and for education savings accounts, a new and convoluted approach to providing public funding for private school tuition.

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Voucher survey findings: Consider the source

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice is out with a new public opinion survey featuring the surprising finding that seven in 10 Indiana registered voters favor school vouchers, which provide taxpayer-funded tuition payments for parents who send their children to private schools.

The survey finds vouchers are popular across the board – even with many Indiana Democrats and with supporters of Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, an outspoken voucher opponent.

If this sounds suspicious, it should. Surveys by other organizations never seem to find anywhere close to that kind of support for vouchers. The recent Hoosier Survey by Ball State University’s Bowen Center for Public Affairs, for example, found only 39 percent support for vouchers for private or charter schools. Nationally, the 2015 Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa Poll found only 31 percent support for vouchers.

So as for Friedman Foundation survey, consider the where it’s coming from. The foundation is an advocacy organization whose mission is to bring about the late economist Milton Friedman’s vision of privatizing education through universal state voucher programs that are open to all students.

The Indianapolis-based foundation has been conducting these state opinion surveys for a long time, and somehow they never fail to find strong support for vouchers. Researchers Jon Lorence and Gary Miron analyzed 10 of the Friedman Foundation surveys several years ago and concluded they were plagued with questionable sampling techniques, biased questions and other problems.

“Contrary to the authors’ claims, the data provide little evidence that state public officials will increase their electability by supporting school choice policies,” they wrote in a review for the pro-public education National Education Policy Center. Continue reading

More evidence Indiana vouchers are about teaching religion

Parents are using Indiana school vouchers and tax-credit scholarships to provide their children with religious education at taxpayer expense. That’s the finding that jumps out from a recent survey of private school parents by three pro-voucher Indiana organizations.

The survey found that more than half of parents who used vouchers to transfer their kids to private schools did so in part because they didn’t like the fact that public schools don’t teach religion. And more than two-thirds chose their current school for its religious instruction or environment.

That’s not the only motive parents listed. Survey participants were invited to check multiple reasons, and many did. The most common: Three in five disliked the “academic quality” of their public school; nearly 80 percent chose their current school for “academics.”

The Friedman Foundation, which conducted the survey with School Choice Indiana and the Indiana Non-Public Education Association, seized on that result. “Survey: Voucher parents chose private schools for better academics,” says the headline on its press release about the results.

But academic quality means different things to different people. (I guarantee it has very different meaning for me than for some of my close friends).  Continue reading