Friday, January 12, 2007

Milwaukee Parents Like School Choice

Via Lakeshore Laments, an article in the Journal-Sentinel about a new study on school choice in Milwaukee.
As Milwaukee Public Schools launches its premier period for enrolling students for next school year, University of Colorado researchers are issuing a report that says low-income parents in Milwaukee are happy with the range of choices they have for their children. The report also says those parents select schools in ways that aren’t much different from higher-income parents elsewhere.

The researchers based their findings on surveys conducted about a year ago with 300 parents in Milwaukee, 300 in Washington, D.C., and 200 in Denver. Milwaukee and Washington are on the cutting edge of school choice in the United States, each with wide arrays of options for parents, including numerous charter schools and private schools that take part in publicly funded voucher programs for low-income families.

“This report’s general finding is that low-income urban parents report feeling more well informed than was anticipated,” the researchers said in the report, being released today. “They are extremely satisfied with their choices, and most do not believe that they lacked any important information when they made their choice.”

The optimistic conclusions about school choice - in the broadest sense of the term - do not include an assessment of whether parents were actually making good choices in terms of schools where academic achievement is strong or where their children specifically would thrive.

The existence of that range of choices has made efforts to get students into classrooms seats - whether in MPS, charter schools or vouchers schools - one of the major shaping forces of education in the city. In all three streams of education, students mean dollars for individual schools, and missing enrollment goals can cause serious consequences. The result is that almost every school is more actively recruiting students.

The conclusions that low-income parents in Milwaukee are happy with the choice process come from Paul Teske, Jody Fitzpatrick and Gabriel Kaplan, three researchers at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center. Their report was issued by the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The researchers say 68% of the parents surveyed are very satisfied with their school choices and another 20% are somewhat satisfied, an 88% total. In Milwaukee, they say, the comparable figure was 94%, with 77% very satisfied.

“In addition, Milwaukee parents are significantly more likely to say they ‘did not lack any important information,’” they write.

The researchers write, “Low-income parents seem to value very much the same things in schools as do higher-income parents. Academic quality, by various measures, is the number one factor.” However, the study notes, many parents did not check things such as test scores at the schools they were considering and, in the case of private schools in Milwaukee’s voucher program, test scores are not required to be made public.

“The survey data indicate that parents work hard at getting the information they need,” the report says. However, parents generally consider only a limited number of options for their children. About half consider two schools and apply to just one.
The most frequent — and most fundamental — line of attack by school choice opponents says that parents really aren’t capable of making decisions about their own children’s education.

That educationist bureaucrats — who have their own strong vested interests — would do a better job than parents has always been implausible. Increasingly, it has been shown to be contrary to the evidence.

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