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  • School Choice: What Parents Want

    The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) is a comprehensive school choice program that serves some of the lowest performing students in the nation.  Now two decades old, MPCP has allowed mostly poor and black parents to choose any school—public or private, religious or secular—for their children to attend.

    The most recent evaluation report of MPCP shows parents of voucher students continue to report high levels of satisfaction with their children’s education, a common finding in the school choice literature.  MPCP has had minimal effect, however, on test scores.  When researchers followed the progress of elementary and middle school students over a three year period, they found that voucher students perform at about the same level on academic tests as non-voucher students in Milwaukee.

    What are the implications of these findings? First, the bleak scenarios predicted by some voucher opponents, who imagined the best students abandoning the public schools and leaving poor students even worse off, have clearly not come to pass.  In fact, a previous report found that test scores of Milwaukee public school students actually improve slightly as the number of competing private schools goes up.  As with the recent evaluation of the Edgewood Voucher Program in Texas, no plausible interpretation of the data suggests that public school students have been set back.  Vouchers do not harm public schools—not in Milwaukee, not in Edgewood, and not anywhere else.

    The second implication is that test scores are only one factor parents consider in evaluating schools. Many parents in urban areas like Milwaukee also seek a safe environment that fosters a culture of learning. The MPCP evaluation report, for example, says that parents “draw upon student attitudes and behaviors regarding school, and not test scores, to assess educational progress.”

    Some voucher skeptics—Matt Yglesias is good example—think MPCP is a failure because parents have not demanded higher test scores.  Disturbed that parents could be satisfied without seeing academic improvement, Yglesias and others think parents are not acting as rational consumers.

    In reality, parents probably understand the limitations of social policy better than most academics and policymakers.  Rather than obsessing over elusive test score gains, parents seem to have a more nuanced and child-specific set of criteria—they want schools that are safe, that cultivate a positive attitude about learning, and that best fit their children’s abilities and interests.  Only school choice programs like MCPS can satisfy these diverse preferences and expectations.  Policymakers should not think of school choice as just another tool for satisfying central planners.

    Posted in Education [slideshow_deploy]

    9 Responses to School Choice: What Parents Want

    1. Billie says:

      let's not forget what's also wanted is government's influence and teacher's personal perceptions BANNED.

    2. Chris, Springfield, says:

      This article is very much on point in that the purpose of school choice is to introduce competition, which provides incentive for all schools to improve where they're weak to better compete. If the primary education is the same from school to school, the consumer, aka parent, may choose one school over another based on safety, extracurricular activities, availability of mentoring or whatever else might be important to that consumer. If demand is high at certain schools and not so much at others, those others have incentive to offer the product that consumers are demanding. I wish we had followed the same path on healthcare.

    3. Aaron, Grayslake, IL says:

      Although these findings are laudable, we should be cautious of introducing free-market strategies into an industry that was not meant to function as a free-market system. The goal of education is not to create a natural system of winners and losers, but to ensure that every student leaves their educational experience with a set of knowledge and skills that prepare them for the rest of their lives.

      I'm a little skeptical of the "first implication" of this post. It's a reasonable inference that motivated families will flock to vouchers schools and unmotivated families will not. It takes a lot of work to apply for a voucher, research the possible options, and make an informed decision. Motivated families will do the work, and unmotivated families will not (leaving their children in public schools).

      What parents really want is good schools. That's what they want. They don't just want to pick from a plethora of equally terrible schools….they want decent schools that educate their children. The current NCLB legislation is narrowing curriculum and punishing schools for not meeting impossible levels of "proficiency." School choice is a great thing, but not when you have to choose from toilet bowl A and toilet bowl B.

    4. Lloyd Scallan - New says:

      Don't you think it's time stop blaming the "system" and start laying the real blame where is belongs. With the parents, the teachers, and the students themselvies.

      How can the parents know how to improve the education of their childern when

      many have not completed substantial education programs, just passed along,

      up to the next grade and teacher without proving they learned anything.

      Teachers are protected by unions. Sure, a few are in teaching because it

      is their advocation. But the bad ones, keep their jobs because of unions.

      A mule cannot run in the Kentucky Derby and expect to win. Of course this is a racist and not "politicaly correct" metaphor, but we must face facts. All students do not have the mental capacities to learn, or hav the desire to learn. Some will excel. Some can't regardless of how much money we throw or how safe the school's environment.

    5. Ben C. Ann Arbor, MI says:

      The book Freakonomics is a good read on this subject. Its all about the data and is the information real or simply distorted to fit the premise? When the above studies include all aspects of education including the IQ of students, family unit status, number of siblings, and emotional development to name a few I will then accept the conclusions. "Conventional wisdom" is something to avoid.

    6. Tim Az says:

      I agree parents much prefer their children to attend schools that are not forced to engage in social indoctrination for federal dollars. That most of the time is counter to the parents core beliefs. Government run schools main purpose these days is to create group thinkers not individual thought processors rooted in the principles that America was founded upon. That could be potentially offensive to the collective’s social agenda.

    7. John Clancy, Wyandotte, MI says:

      We miss a central point in structuring our educational system if we think only of the mind, of learning math and science, of taking tests for evaluation, of viewing the child as a complex animal whose life is earthbound.

      The child is body, mind, and spirit (soul). Aristotle, Plato, and the great thinkers down through the ages would view the child this way. This view of the child to be educated is consistent with God-given rights and responsibilities: if the child is born in a free society, her right to pursue happiness, her uniqueness should be nurtured accordingly.

      There is an inconsistency in a society that claims to be free yet puts an economic pressure that virtually forces parents to put their children in a monolithic government school system. There is also a fundamental inconsistency in officially recognizing God as the ultimately source of our freedom and a system of education that ignores God in the formation of the child.

      Parents are the first educators; not the State. If we want to remain free, we need to let parents freely choose schools that nurture the child as they see fit.

    8. Pingback: Club Troppo » Do school test scores matter?

    9. Pingback: National School Choice Week: How School Choice Benefits Students

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