When a recent survey by Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy found declining support for vouchers among Indiana residents, Cato’s Andrew Coulson went on the attack. He said that the CEEP could not be trusted because they were funded by the vast public school conspiracy and accused the Center of deliberately manipulating the wording of the survey question to produce anti-voucher results. Coulson’s indictment of CEEP was damning, though not at all based on truth. As Jonathan Plucker, CEEP’s director points out:
Coulson’s My View made two major errors. Although CEEP is part of the Indiana University School of Education, the center is not biased against vouchers because, as Coulson asserts, they would put the school — and therefore CEEP — out of business. To the contrary, the center is financially independent of the School of Education: We pay all of our costs, including our lease, salaries and materials. IU and the School of Education provide CEEP with a world-class support network, but IU administrators are strong supporters of the center’s intellectual independence and would never attempt to influence our analyses or suggest positions for the center to advocate. Indeed, CEEP has a national reputation as a nonpartisan research center, and we (and the university) guard this reputation closely.
In addition, Coulson states that CEEP’s selection of questions for our annual poll of public attitudes toward education is somehow biased against vouchers. As he has since acknowledged, this could not be further from the truth.
Late each summer, CEEP staff circulate draft lists of questions to a range of education stakeholders, including state policymakers in both parties, both advocates for and critics of public schools, and policy researchers from around the state. The staff who work on the poll hold a broad range of political views and attitudes toward education. CEEP works with the highly regarded marketing and polling firm, Stone Research Services, to ensure that the poll results are reliable and accurate. The poll is financed completely by CEEP, with no outside support (and, therefore, no potential for outside influence).
The result is a set of questions and corresponding results that are widely respected. Policymakers of both parties, who hold diverse attitudes about public education, have used various poll results as evidence of public attitudes toward education. Indeed, the 2005 voucher questions Coulson criticizes were used by policymakers to support the need for vouchers during the 2006 legislative session.
It has been a rough several months for voucher pushers like Mr. Coulson: Two recent studies conducted by the federal Department of Education found that public school students outperform their peers in private and charter schools, a report by the pro-voucher Friedman Foundation and Coulson’s own Cato Institute found that the DC voucher program has produced no positive results for DC public schools, and another survey by the education honor society Phi Delta Kappa found that public support for vouchers continues to fall.
Faced with more and more evidence against privatization, voucher pushers have been forced to find creative rebuttals. And, like Mr. Coulson, they often prefer not to let facts get in the way of their ideology.