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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Tierney at it Again

The "School Zone" blog from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes today that John Tierney's newest column is again about Milwaukee's voucher program. You may remember Tierney from these very pages last week.

Today, the hard work has already been done for me, on Tierney's column. The "School Zone" quotes and paraphrases extensively:
Tierney cites research that concluded that the voucher program was having a positive effect on Milwaukee Public Schools, and he quotes MPS school board president Ken Johnson--who supports vouchers--saying that school choice had helped lead to a system in which people at individual MPS schools select new teachers, which reduced "the dance of the lemons" in which bad teachers transferred from school to school.

Tierney writes, "While critics complain that there still isn't definitive evidence that voucher students are doing better overall in their new schools, the results so far in Milwaukee and other cities are more than enough to declare vouchers a success."

He points out that spending per student on voucher students is much less than on MPS students and quotes Denise Pitchford, principal of CEO Leadership Academy, a high school in the program, saying that she accepted lower pay to work at the school than she was previously making in MPS. "It represented less money but a better opportunity," Pitchford said. Tierney used that phrase to summarize the whole voucher program.
Then Media Matters for America debunks a big chunk of the Tierney's argument:
New York Times columnist John Tierney, in his March 7 column (subscription required), misrepresented the findings of a study conducted by Harvard researcher Rajashri Chakrabarti on school vouchers in Milwaukee, claiming that Chakrabarti's study showed "that as the voucher program expanded in Milwaukee, there was a marked improvement in test scores at the public schools most threatened by the program." In fact, Chakrabarti's 2005 study, which compared school voucher programs in Milwaukee and Florida, questioned whether the Milwaukee voucher program actually had an effect on public schools. [. . .]

Chakrabarti's study, however, found that the Milwaukee program was deficient to voucher programs in Florida, and that "the results in Milwaukee are mixed" in terms of improving performance in nearby public schools. Chakrabarti concluded:
The Milwaukee program, on the other hand, is a "voucher shock" program with a sudden government announcement that all low income public school students would be eligible for vouchers. In the context of an equilibrium theory of public school and household behavior, this paper argues that the Florida-type program should bring about an unambiguous improvement in public school performance and this improvement should exceed the improvement (if any) in the Milwaukee-type program.
And then Greg Anrig at TPM Café finishes the debunking by citing a number of things that readers of this blog will already be familiar with. These include Tierney's canard that voucher schools are easier to close (Anrig must read me, since he notes that the "schools closed in Milwaukee [. . .] were the result of outside intervention or financial malfeasance, not parents voting by their feet"). And with the lack of real results reporting that comes with the new compromise bill, expect more outside intervention and less "market" action by parents, who should be doing the real work of choice.

Once again, non-Milwaukeean Tierney ignores what is actually going on in Milwaukee--including looking at the Journal Sentinel's own even handed reporting on the voucher program--in favor of retyped press releases and pablum from Ken Johnson, who seems more interested in making vouchers succeed than in doing his job on the school board.

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