Sunday, September 25th, 2016

Average should not be good enough

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Average should not be good enough

Parents need options

Waukesha Freeman 2/21/13 Page A6 Opinion

options

Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed state budget will include a substantial expansion of private school choice in Wisconsin. Waukesha is among the school districts that could be affected by this change.

A recent analysis by the MacIver Institute found that the Waukesha School District earned a C. The analysis was based on the scoring system used by the state Department of Public Instruction.

The good news, according to MacIver, was that none of the schools in the district was failing. Unfortunately, none of the schools was exceeding, either.

Making the analysis more complicated, the DPI’s scoring system was inconsistent. For example, Whittier Elementary (just to pick on one school) received a boost in the scores because of attendance. At the same time, Whittier received a lower score elsewhere on the DPI scorecard due to attendance.

Then there was the grade inflation built into the system by using a measure called “on-track and postsecondary readiness.” This measurement was applied to all levels of education, regardless of the appropriateness of the criteria for the measurement.

As a result, Whittier Elementary, which earned a D (including an F in student achievement), still earned a B for the “ontrack” grade. If a parent just looked at that grade and assumed the other criteria contributed to that score, they may assume the school is performing at a much higher level than it actually is.

Still, at least the DPI scoring and the MacIver Institute’s analysis of it give parents some tools when considering their educational options. And parents do have options, even in the public schools.

Wisconsin already has an open enrollment period that allows parents to move their children to other school districts. Within the Waukesha School District, students have the options of different public charter schools, and they can even choose online education.

Parents with the means to do so have always had the ability to send their kids to private schools.

So choice as a concept is already here. What the governor is proposing is helping those parents that don’t have the means to send their kids to private schools. Walker’s budget would give the same private school option to them available to other parents.

Unfortunately, some in the Legislature don’t see it that way. They see private schools as taking resources away from public schools. To them, it’s OK if we have school choice in Milwaukee. Milwaukee has so many problems that the parents there need school choice.

These legislators think the rest of the state educational system is just fine, or just needs more money.

But as we’re learning in district after district thanks to the recent scoring system, not all of the state’s schools are just fine. Those schools that are just average or better are not helping every student.

We can point to studies that show private school choice has improved graduation rates for students participating in the program. We can rely on personal testimonials that school choice has helped students across Wisconsin, including in Waukesha.

We can even use the story of Kimberly Nerone, the subject of another MacIver Institute story. A school choice opponent, she forced her local public school to pay for the private school education of her special needs child. Hypocritically, she now opposes public funding for the private education of other special needs children.

But we need to point out that in average districts with average schools like Waukesha, there are students whose educational needs are not being met. And even in those districts that are excelling, it’s cold comfort to those parents whose kids aren’t thriving that other kids around them are succeeding.

It’s time we worried less about the brick and mortar of school buildings and worried more about the individual students in those buildings. Are they learning or not?

And no parent should be told that the district is “just fine” for their kid. Put that decision back in the hands of parents where it belongs.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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