To the Editor:
Since parents in Milwaukee, where I serve as the director of assessment and accountability for the city’s public schools, have perhaps the widest array of choices for schools in the country, both within and outside the public school system, I read the April 19, 2006, Commentary by Paul Teske, Patrick Wolf, and Paul Hill with great interest (“Poor Parents Can Be Good Choosers”).
Though my work does confirm some of the barriers the authors describe as confronting parents when making school choices, I was dismayed to see the following assertion in their essay:
“The second barrier is possible misinformation. Opponents often send the message that ‘these options are not real, don’t trust them,’ or ‘they say the options are free, but someday you will have to pay the money back.’ School districts also hide the existence of options required by the federal No Child Left Behind law.”
While misinformation is a plausible barrier to informed choices, the blanket assertion that school districts “hide the existence of options” mandated under the federal law is both untrue and offensive. I’ve had conversations with colleagues throughout the country about their struggles to notify parents of meaningful options in a way that is both parent-friendly and meets legal requirements. The Milwaukee public school system has even been a model for districts on this issue.
Do some districts fail to comply with parental-notification requirements? Probably. But is there evidence that they hide options from parents? Perhaps, but if so, then the sentence, at the very least, could have read, “Some school districts hide the existence of options as evidenced by … ” or “Our data reveal that X number of school districts have not informed parents.” As written, it leaves readers to infer that the authors meant to say that public school districts in general deliberately engage in deceptive practices in order to misinform parents.
Since this Commentary was purportedly based on the authors’ “new research” in school choice, I expected better.
Director of Assessment and Accountability
Milwaukee Public Schools
A version of this article appeared in the May 10, 2006 edition of Education Week as Districts Don’t Set Out to Deceive Parents on Choice