By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – The leader of a school choice advocacy group is questioning whether a story in the state’s largest newspaper deliberately chose not to include key information on academic testing or whether it was a sin of omission.
Last week, the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau released a report comparing testing results of Milwaukee Parental Choice Program students and Milwaukee Public Schools students. As reported – apparently exclusively – by Wisconsin Reporter, the study noted statistics showing Choice students outperformed their MPS counterparts in most testing areas.
The Legislative Audit Bureau showed statistically significant improvements by Choice students compared with MPS students in seventh- and 10th-grade reading. Researchers at the University of Arkansas School Choice Demonstration Project, which provided the Choice results to the Audit Bureau, “found that eighth-grade choice pupils scored higher than MPS pupils on the reading section, and seventh-grade choice pupils scored higher than MPS pupils on the mathematics section.”
Those achievement findings aren’t mentioned until the 12th of 16 paragraphs in a story published last week in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The original blog post written by the same reporter earlier in the day doesn’t mention the math and reading comparisons at all.
The Journal Sentinel article instead focused on the Audit Bureau’s problem with some methodology used by researchers, with the story declaring the results inconclusive. The Audit Bureau, which conducts research for the Legislature, said its main gripe with the results was that in the 2010-2011 school year, Choice schools began administering the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination to all its students, rather than only the students taking part in the study.
The Audit Bureau concluded this may have resulted in higher test scores for the Choice students in the final year of the study – information which Wisconsin Reporter also included in its article.
School Choice Wisconsin, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit organization advocating for school choice programs, issued a release Wednesday pointing out the newspaper blog’s omission and defending Choice schools’ record.
“The reporter claims that the editors pulled that information due to size. However it was done, it just happened to be the most important aspect of the article,” School Choice Wisconsin President Jim Bender wrote in an email to Wisconsin Reporter regarding the original Milwaukee Journal blog.
The Journal Sentinel’s initial blog post attracted 110 comments from readers, as opposed to nine comments in the final version of their story. Here are some of the posts, based on omitted information in the blog:
- “I’m not a teacher and don’t know any. I have no problem with the voucher school concept.”
- “The way I interpret the results is that MPS and voucher schools have not been shown to have significantly different achievement results. The voucher school idea was supposed to encourage parental choice of better performing schools. However, it appears neither system has good or acceptable results. I do question why voucher schools are allowed to be staffed with non college educated teachers, with no teacher training. Perhaps if they were required to have staff with similar educational qualifications, the achievement results would be better.”
Even after the updated version ran, commenters were still posting on the original blog.
- “Don’t worry, eventually, there will be so many kids siphoned out of MPS, that only the nonperformers will be left in MPS, then you will see that the vouchers are performing better simply because MPS will have nothing to work with, and their results will be horrid; I’m surprised it’s not that way now after five years – that just goes to show how dedicated MPS teachers are – 25% of their students are the special needs category, they accept the students who are kicked out of voucher schools, and still perform as well as the vouchers.”
Contact Ryan Ekvall at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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