Marquette Warrior: More: Media Bias on School Choice

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

More: Media Bias on School Choice

An e-mail, sent to a variety interested observers by George Mitchell, an expert on and strong supporter of school choice:
On page 5 of the WPRI [Wisconsin Policy Research Institute] report the following appears:
“A story in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently noted that ‘parents might have more choices in publicly funded education in Milwaukee than anywhere else in the United States.’”
The referenced story discusses a study on how low-income parents choose schools in Milwaukee, Denver, and Washington DC. That study’s findings pertain directly to the issues raised by WPRI. Namely, to what extent do parents in Milwaukee make discerning decisions?

I have attached a copy of the study. Its findings and methodology differ starkly from those of the WPRI study.

Unless I am too numbed by this whole affair, I find no discussion in the WPRI report that addresses these differences. That is perplexing. With a recent study (from a highly credible source) having addressed essentially the same issues as WPRI, one would expect WPRI to examine that study and comment on similarities and differences. Questions that arise include:
  1. How do the studies differ in terms of gathering information about Milwaukee parents?
  2. How does the studies differ in terms of conclusions about how those parents choose schools?
  3. Given those differences, what suggests that more confidence should be placed in the WPRI method and findings?
I encourage you to skim the attached study. It differs in so many ways from the WPRI report that I feel a summary from me would not do it justice. WPRI must disagree with its findings, but WPRI’s report is silent on that matter. If I have missed something in the WPRI report, it means that the reference is very brief and thus does not address the obvious questions raised above.

A separate question is why the Journal Sentinel did not raise these questions in reporting on the WPRI study.

Setting aside the paper’s demonstrated failure in connection with this story, the failure of WPRI to pursue the questions raised above stands out as yet another glaring inadequacy in its report. I thank Mike Ford for bringing this to my attention.

This, of course, is a follow-up on an issue we have covered here, in which the Journal-Sentinel enthusiastically jumped on and covered prominently reported a study from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute casting doubt on the ability of school choice to improve the quality of Milwaukee’s public schools.

We critiqued the study, and commented on the failure of the Journal-Sentinel to report better studies showing positive gains from school choice in Milwaukee.

Mitchell followed up with his own critique posted here.

The study sends mixed messages about the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. First, it shows considerable integrity when an organization that strongly favors school choice publishes a study that goes against school choice. Honest policy analysis says to go where the data take you.

But on the other hand, it simply wasn’t a very good study.

But how about the local media? The Journal-Sentinel gave high visibility to the WPRI study, but didn’t even bother to report a study from a New York Federal Reserve Bank economist who found that choice has indeed improved Milwaukee’s schools. This latter study has been accepted for publication by a top ranked peer-reviewed economics journal.

Likewise, as yet there is nothing in the paper about the study Mitchell references above. The conclusion, based on extensive research into parential decision-making, including a sample of parently in Milwaukee:
On balance, the research indicates that while there are some differences related to income, race and ethnicity, parental education, and the kind of school the family selects, overall these low- to moderate-income parents seem fully capable of making the decision. They feel well informed; they appear satisfied with their choices; and they go about the process in very much the same way as middle- and upper-income families choosing schools—or other consumer goods.
Are we soon going to see this in the local paper (or on local radio and TV)?

And if not, why not?

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