Thursday, January 22, 2004

What We're Up Against 

Here are two headlines, from different newspapers, about the same story:

MILWAUKEE STUDY: Oversight lacking at voucher schools

Reinforce choice, researchers say

We public school teachers have, for more than a decade now, repeatedly asked that voucher schools be subjected to the same scrutiny and held to the same standards as our public schools. What newspaper is it that believes the study agrees with us (regardless of the content--which will go unread by many, anyway--judge by the headline). Is it our hometown paper? No, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is running the second headline.

The paper that echoes Milwaukee teachers' sentiment is, believe it or not, The St. Paul Pioneer Press. Yes, we have to go out of state to find reporters on our side.

To be fair, Sarah Carr, the author of the Milwaukee story--and, it must be pointed out, not the author of the headline; the reporters do not write their own heads--does delve into what the authors of a new study (Emily Van Dunk and Anneliese M. Dickman, School Choice and the Question of Accountability) have to say about accountablity. From her article:
The authors call for creation of an independent organization that would ensure greater accountability. The entity, which Van Dunk and Dickman envision as a public-private partnership between the schools and the state, would disseminate information about the schools to parents. Schools that failed to adhere to the reporting guidelines laid down by the agency would lose taxpayer money--after a probationary period.
We also get some good info on other problems with voucher schools. Again, from the Milwaukee paper:
They found that parents had to clear numerous hurdles to gather information about some choice schools. Even the entrances to a few schools were difficult to find, they report.

"We didn't expect them to be wary of parents," said Van Dunk in an interview. "That was a little surprising, that when it was an actual parent on the doorstep, some of the schools didn't want to be forthcoming with information."

Moreover, the book concludes that the response of public schools to competition from voucher schools does not follow "market theories."
But the St. Paul paper does a much better job at providing good background information, delving into current legislative proposals to deal with the issue and contacting State Superintendent Burmaster's office. The Milwaukee story merely notes that the usual "partisans on both sides of the debate responded Wednesday primarily by reiterating their embedded positions on the issue." In fact, reading in the Pioneer Press, we find
• Voucher parents are often forced to rely on incomplete data in assessing schools, and rely on cues such as the school's appearance, opinions of friends or family, or school location.

• Private schools competing with public ones have not improved Milwaukee Public Schools; performance on standardized tests is lower in areas where there is a competing private school.

• Public school teachers say they have seen few changes, mostly marketing or extracurricular changes to attract students, not curricular ones.
You should follow the links above and read both articles in full.

In the end, of course, one study and one set of articles will not make a difference in the sea of information surrounding vouchers here in Milwaukee. But it is important to note the tone and bias of our Milwaukee media, which is a big part of what we're up against.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Town Hall Meeeting Open Thread 

Teachers and anyone else who attended the superintendent's "Town Hall" meeting tonight, leave your reactions and responses by clicking on "Comments" below.

Also let us know what you thought of the media coverage--we here at TSO can't watch every channel at once!

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