Curriculum Beats Scores, Survey Finds

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The continuing debate over the value of school voucher programs in Milwaukee and Cleveland has focused heavily on comparisons of standardized-test scores.

But a survey released last week suggests that parents in those cities are less interested in student achievement than they are in what is being taught and who is teaching it.

"School achievement is important to parents, but it's only one piece of the puzzle," said Emily Van Dunk, the research coordinator for the Public Policy Forum, the nonprofit, Milwaukee-based group that produced the survey.

The organization surveyed a representative sample of 270 parents, teachers, and administrators in public and private schools in Milwaukee and Cleveland. Those systems are the site of pioneering, state-established programs that give a limited number of poor parents publicly financed vouchers to pay or defray the cost of their children's tuition at private schools.

Rather than ask parents to choose from among multiple-choice responses, the investigators simply asked parents what information they would like to have when selecting a school for their children.

More than half of the parents--59 percent--said they would want to know about the school's curriculum and instructional methods. Forty-five percent cited information on teachers. Only 15 percent of parents named standardized-test scores.

Other responses cited more frequently than test scores included: school characteristics, such as class size and the socioeconomic makeup of the student enrollment; general student outcomes, such as whether their children will be ready to advance to the next grade or attend college; and the school's safety record and discipline policies.

Guidelines Planned

Underwritten by the Joyce Foundation of Chicago and the Faye McBeath Foundation of Milwaukee, the survey is the first of a two-part study. The researchers will use the responses to frame questions for a second survey on the subject that will involve 800 Ohio and Wisconsin residents. The result, the researchers say, will be a set of accountability guidelines that policymakers can use in evaluating school choice programs.

Information on obtaining copies of the survey report is available from the Public Policy Forum, 633 W. Wisconsin Ave., Suite 406, Milwaukee, WI 53203-1918; (414) 276-8240.

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