The Truth About Choice in the Public Schools
By George Lightbourn
Recently, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI) released a report entitled, Fixing Milwaukee Public Schools: The Limits of Parent-Driven Reform. Unfortunately, the headline in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel read, “Choice May Not Improve Schools.” That headline not only misrepresented the study, it energized those who are dying to go back to the days when parents were forced to send their children to whichever MPS school the educrats thought best.
So that there is no misunderstanding, WPRI is unhesitant in supporting school choice. School choice is working and should be improved and expanded. School choice is good for Milwaukee’s children.
Here are the simple facts about the WPRI study:
- The study addressed only public school choice; the ability of parents to choose from among schools within MPS. The author did not address private school choice.
- The study found that not enough MPS parents are taking advantage of public school choice, and only a small minority are making academically-driven decisions when selecting a school for their children. Only when large numbers of parents choose a school on the basis of academic factors will they maximize market pressures within MPS. We do not know why more parents do not rely on academic information. It could be that the needed information is not easily accessible or understandable, or that parents simply lack sufficient initiative.
- The public must continue to press for reform of MPS schools. We must push for higher standards, better teachers, better principals, etc. While the market pressures of public school choice will undoubtedly spur some MPS schools to improve, we cannot expect these pressures to “fix” all that ails MPS. Additional, unrelenting demand for change must come from parents, the Milwaukee business community, and policymakers in Madison.
Finally, while this discussion of the systemic impact of public school choice is important, it cannot overshadow the bald fact that the right of parents to choose a school for their children is essential. No parent should be forced to send their child to a school that they find deficient. The days of educational indentured servitude are over and should never return.
-October 29, 2007