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School Choice and the Question of Accountability

School Choice and the Question of Accountability: The Milwaukee Experience

Emily Van Dunk
Anneliese M. Dickman
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    School Choice and the Question of Accountability
    Book Description:

    This timely book refocuses the debate about school choice programs with a nonpartisan assessment of the nation's largest and longest-running private school voucher program-the high profile Milwaukee experiment-and finds that the system undercuts the promise of school choice.

    The authors argue that the Milwaukee experiment has not resulted in the one element necessary for school choice to be effective: an accountability system in which good schools thrive and poor schools close. They show that most ingredients of a robust market are missing. Well-informed consumers (parents) are not the norm. State fiscal incentives are counterproductive, and competition among public and choice schools is difficult to discern. They conclude that school choice could succeed if certain conditions were met, and they offer guidelines to strengthen accountability and repair the voucher system.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12797-3
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. CHAPTER ONE The Limitations of Parental Accountability
    (pp. 1-21)

    Supporters of publicly funded private school choice are on a crusade to change education in the United States. They are struggling against a public school system that has a monopoly on education, assigning children to schools and controlling the money. Theoretically, because public schools dominate the provision of education, they have no incentive to improve. Abysmal proficiency levels and increasing dropout rates are met with a shrug and a sigh from some public school bureaucrats, who continue to request larger salaries and greater benefits despite declining student performance. Champions of school choice argue that what is needed to improve education...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Parental Choice, Parental Power, and Accountability
    (pp. 22-45)

    Milwaukee’s private school choice program has no formal method of making schools accountable. There is no systematic reporting of test scores or any other outcome measurements, no accreditation system like those found among colleges or private elementary and secondary schools, no burdensome government requirements for teacher credentials or program uniformity. Instead, the Milwaukee program relies on the free market system of supply and demand, in which the consumers of education choose which schools thrive and which ones perish. In this case, the consumers are children and their parents. In theory, parents are the only people with the power to hold...

  6. CHAPTER THREE The Response of Public Schools to Competition
    (pp. 46-73)

    To this point we have been examining whether private voucher schools are held accountable by the actions of parents. One of the most debated issues surrounding school choice, however, is its impact on public schools. Because the vast majority of U.S. students, including those in Milwaukee, attend public school, one of the most significant issues raised by school choice is whether the actions of parents have competitive effects on public schools.

    Under the market theory adding competition to the public education monopoly should provide an incentive for public schools to improve in order to gain or retain market share. In...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR What Parents Know: An Examination of Informed Consumers
    (pp. 74-95)

    Until now we have been focusing on accountability by probing the responsiveness of both voucher and public schools to parents. In each case we have found this response to be deficient. We turn our attention in chapters 4 and 5 toward understanding whether parents are able to send a clear message to schools by the act of choosing a school. We examine first the existence of informed consumers.

    In traditional, assignment-based public school systems school choice proponents believe parents have little incentive to gather information about schools because they do not select the schools their children attend; educators and elected...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Shopping for Schools
    (pp. 96-120)

    At the heart of the choice movement is a belief that by letting parents select their schools, we empower parents to become consumers of education. As with any big ticket item, it is hypothesized that parents will shop around for schools for their children and will select schools based on the criteria they deem important. Schools will succeed or fail based on their responsiveness to parents’ desires.

    Yet we know that most parents are uninformed about their children’s schools. The previous chapter demonstrated that most parents do not possess information on specific school characteristics and over a third cannot provide...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Do the Dollars Follow the Child?
    (pp. 121-146)

    The market theory of competition in education hinges on the assumption that all schools will be subject to the effects of the marketplace. During legislative debates about the MPCP, school choice proponents argued that the dollars would follow the child from a bad school to a better school, thereby rewarding success while penalizing poor performance. As explained by Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson’s chief of staff, John Matthews, in theMilwaukee Journalfor January 15, 1995, “The state’s resources are paid to parents, and the parents choose where that money flows from there.”

    In this chapter, we approach the issue of...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Choice School Accountability: A Consensus of Views
    (pp. 147-177)

    In the previous chapters of this book, we presented systematic evidence that the competitive theory of accountability for private choice schools is not working in the real world of Milwaukee. Milwaukee’s choice program is not structured to induce either voucher schools or public schools to respond to parents’ demands; parents struggle to communicate their desires to these schools because they lack the needed information to make informed schooling decisions; and the state legislature has insulated schools from the financial effects of competition, further diminishing parents in their attempt to hold schools accountable. Unfortunately, when parents’ decisions lack weight, schools have...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Unleashing the Power of School Choice Through Accountability
    (pp. 178-190)

    As we were writing the conclusion to this book, a parent called seeking information about voucher schools. Because of our work at the Public Policy Forum in collecting information about voucher schools, we receive calls from parents every week. Parents are referred to the Forum by such institutions as MPS, by local elected officials, by people familiar with our research, and as a result of the directory of voucher schools we distribute annually to local libraries. The Forum never intended to be a day-to-day source of information about voucher schools. Yet it became rapidly evident that the basic information we...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 191-206)
  13. References
    (pp. 207-216)
  14. Index
    (pp. 217-223)