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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Nooooooo, really?

by folkbum

I could have saved WPRI all kinds of time and effort:
A study being released today suggests that school choice isn't a powerful tool for driving educational improvement in Milwaukee Public Schools. [. . .] The overall conclusion: Only 10% of MPS parents make school choices by a process that involves considering at least two schools and that brings academic performance data from a school into the choice.

"Given this number, it seems unlikely that MPS schools are feeling the pressure of a genuine educational marketplace," wrote the report's author, researcher David Dodenhoff.

Dodenhoff also concluded that parental involvement in MPS schools is low--he estimated that 34% of MPS parents could be considered "highly involved" in their children's schools.
Every quarter when I sit around during parent-teacher conferences amazed at how empty the building seems, I come to the same conclusion without needing a fancy study.

It always seemed disingenuous--if not outright mendacious--for "choice" proponents to tell us that giving parents the ability to opt more easily out of the public schools would improve the public schools' performance. Part of what has happened* is that many students whose parents are most likely to push them to achieve have left the district, leaving us with students whose parents are more likely to come to school to beat up other kids, if they come at all. Anyone who said that reducing the proportion of students with highly involved parents would make MPS better was either lying to themselves or to us.

MPS has been pushed--if not by vouchers specifically, then by desperation and need generally--to offer hundreds of different, often innovative programs for parents to choose from. But so what if the challenges that plague us as a city (not as a school district) don't get addressed? I don't care if I'm in an innovative school or in a traditonal one, this much is true: If just a few more of my students in any given class could have the kind of parental backing that is so important to student success, the culture and climate of my classes and the school could change in a positive direction.

The voucher program made that less likely, and look at where it has left Milwaukee.

* A significant other part of what has happened is that parents who would have chosen--and often did choose--religious schools anyway regardless of the availability of vouchers are now doing so with taxpayer money.

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