Op Ed

Choice Schools Must Share Data

Voucher advocates like Scott Jensen were wrong; parents need to know achievement data.

By - Dec 21st, 2016 03:20 pm
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Scott Jensen, senior adviser for the American Federation for Children, said choice schools would like to provide more special education services but don’t have enough money.

Scott Jensen, senior adviser for the American Federation for Children, said choice schools would like to provide more special education services but don’t have enough money.

During our many years working for the non-partisan Public Policy Forum, each of us often advised new hires and interns on the virtues of patience. Working from only facts, and refraining from advocating for specific legislative solutions, usually meant waiting years to see the policy changes that we knew would result in better outcomes for families and taxpayers come to fruition.

This patience was rewarded recently when we read in the Journal Sentinel that former state Rep. Scott Jensen felt it has come time for private schools in the school choice system to share student performance and other data with the public. He was quoted as saying, “We’ve only now, sadly, begun to get to that level where that sort of information is available to parents. That sort of thing should have been done long ago.”

This is quite a change from what Jensen was saying in 2004, when we published the results of our research in a book (“School Choice and the Question of Accountability: The Milwaukee Experience,” Yale University Press, 2003) calling for schools to share data with parents in order to empower them to make informed schooling decisions for their children. We demonstrated that school choice and market competition could not, and would not, improve education in Milwaukee unless the program’s design included a requirement that schools share performance and other data. The Washington Post’s editorial board’s take on our findings: “So little information is made available to Milwaukee parents that the market mechanism has never worked.”

When legislation was proposed that session to introduce some accountability to the program, local news outlets reported that Jensen felt the bills were “outright hostile to the choice schools in many ways” and were “weighing them down with measures they have fought off for years.” And he was partially right — he and other school choice advocates had been fighting off, for years, any attempts to help parents make good choices by providing them with necessary data about school performance.

According to the Department of Public Instruction, in the 2003-2004 school year, 13,268 students, including 1,099 4-year-old kindergarteners, used $75.2 million in taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend 107 private schools in Milwaukee. Today, 33,781 students use $248.1 million in state taxpayer funds to attend 261 private schools across the state. None of these schools was or is required, as a condition of taxpayer support, to release schoolwide performance data to the public or to prospective families.

Presumably, at least some of the 1,319 high school seniors using vouchers this year were among those 1,099 K-4 students in 2003-2004. Throughout their entire schooling career, the parents of these seniors have made important schooling decisions without adequate information. For those students and parents, unfortunately, patience was not a virtue.

Anneliese Dickman and Emily Van Dun, former research directors of the Public Policy Forum.

Categories: Education, Politics

5 thoughts on “Op Ed: Choice Schools Must Share Data”

  1. Ron says:

    Our ranking in Education is around 16th in the world of developed Nations. Why aren’t we looking at the best practices of Finland ranked #1 in the world and integrating some of their highly successful student learning techniques into our system? Morale for teachers is very low, which effects their performance. Educators are considered the enemy by a growing number of vocal and active citizens. Why? Trump was supported by a large group of citizens who have lost their jobs and are displaced from the workforce. Why aren’t they demanding improved education at all levels?

  2. Ernest Martinson says:

    One choice to remedy the lack of accountability is to end all taxpayer support to both public and private schools.

  3. Tim says:

    You think attracting skilled, good paying jobs is hard now? Why would anyone want to open a business in a place without a publicly financed education system?

    If you stop subsidizing education, the people & workforce will get dumber. That is a fact. Now… who does that benefit? It benefits anyone that only wants to hire low skilled workers and pay them peanuts. It benefits people that pay a lot in taxes now for themselves or businesses… they are somehow hoping to get their bill reduced.

    Why are Republicans trying to kill Wisconsin’s future?

  4. Debbie Perry says:

    Our Founding Fathers in their wisdom said taxes should be used to fund public schools equally. They also said, government should stay out of religion. Trumps nomination for Secretary of Education has been known to say that her faith guides her in her support for Charters and Vouchers for private schools. Those schools do not have the same accountability as public schools. Anyone with any common sense can see that is a double standard. Why are taxpayers paying for Charters and Vouchers for private schools? That is discrimination against our country’s most vulnerable population… children. Have Charters and Vouchers for private schools, but do not expect taxpayers to pay for them. In is against our Constitution.

  5. Teresa Mull says:

    The authors write parents of some 1,319 students “have made important schooling decisions without adequate information,” arguing voucher proponents are wrong to advocate for school choice without insisting on intense data mining.

    But parents continued to take advantage of vouchers without the data the authors say is so important. Parents are not ignorant nor uncaring. They saw what happened in these schools and how their children were affected by them. Isn’t their child’s experience a “data” metric? And what has data collection done to improve public schools? We see test scores and they drop every year. Teachers are measured on their effectiveness, yet the worst ones remain employed because rules are in place that make it extremely difficult to fire them.

    Data is important, but how schools perform should be judged ultimately by parents and the children who attend them, not some method of measurement that doesn’t make any difference in the long run.

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