Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Milwaukee School Choice Study: No Difference!

Can anyone really be happy with this result from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program :
Students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program scored at similar levels as their peers not participating in the school choice program, according to a study released Wednesday.
Patrick J. Wolf, University of Arkansas professor of education reform and holder of an endowed chair in school choice. "… at this point the voucher students are showing average rates of achievement gain similar to their public school peers."
Where's the innovation? Where's the competitive pressure to improve student scores? Where are the politicians questioning the logic of pulling taxpayer dollars away from the majority of students in the public school systems?
Dozens of private schools have left the school choice program over the past few years, either because they violated state regulations or failed to attract enough students. The research team concluded that the private schools driven from the program had much lower student test scores than the schools still participating in the choice program.
I wonder how the parents of those failed schools feel about picking the wrong choice school for the child? Did those tossed out low test scores get included in this evaluation? Or what would happen is a school just up and left one day, a deeply unsettling possibility. It's not a problem with public schools.

Highlighting another huge problem, the report laments that many poor choice parents are exposed to choice school advertising and hyperbole, and lack the ability to do extensive research or access peer groups for recommendations. As private businesses, they can tell a prospective parent anything they want. In the reports own words:
In Milwaukee … instead of applying through a program administrator, interested families engage individual schools that are participating in the MPCP. As is often the case, MPCP schools actually recruit families to their schools, inform them of the MPCP, and assist them with applying.
In Milwaukee it appears that participating schools more actively recruit eligible families. Given the circumstances of the school choice environment in Milwaukee, the process does not lend itself to exploring multiple school options particularly for MPCP families. As Teske and his team point out, this can be very appealing to and consistent with the preferences of the lowest income parents, who may not have access to well-informed peer networks, engage in less extensive data gathering, and end up basing their choices more on school familiarity and proximity than measures of academic quality. However, a lack of knowledge about all possible options can lead to poor school choice decisions.6
Another big talking point is that choice schools accomplish the same grades as the more expensive per student costs of public students. Really? Of course, charters don't have the infrastructure or private tuitions to balance off the lower priced choice students. Think about it, this is an alternate system that accomplishes the same thing. Why don't we make it even more complicated by having two or three more alternate systems running parallel to the public schools.

One more thing that should be mentioned, according to the report:
The research team found that school choice in Milwaukee has neither worsened nor improved the levels of racial segregation.

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