In a highly misleading article, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this week misrepresented a new study from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI). The paper’s coverage has generated considerable attention in Wisconsin and nationally.
The first half of a lengthy, page one article leaves readers with the distinct impression that the WPRI study deals with the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP). This impression is reinforced by the story’s headline:
Choice may not improve schools, study says
Report on MPS comes from longtime supporter of plan
In fact, however, the WPRI study has absolutely nothing to do with the MPCP, the country’s oldest program providing vouchers that parents may use to enroll their children in private schools. Nor does the study deal with another major choice program in Milwaukee involving independent public charter schools. The fact that two major choice programs are excluded from the study is mentioned only once in the Journal Sentinel story, and then not until the twelfth paragraph.
The Journal Sentinel article does not address how a study that excludes major choice programs can reach definitive conclusions about the impact of choice.
What, then, does the study encompass? It attempts to determine how many parents of students in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) make good choices in selecting public schools. Using a highly subjective and debatable methodology, the study concludes that most MPS parents do not make discerning choices. Significantly, deep into the Journal Sentinel article, readers learn that in reaching this conclusion the “report did not analyze actual data from MPS or interviews or surveys with MPS parents.”
In summary, while the WPRI report purports to address the impact of school choice in Milwaukee, it excludes two of the major education options available to Milwaukee parents. Further, it relies on no data from MPS or MPS parents.
An initial review of the study suggests that it contains notable factual errors. A more deliberate review of the report is forthcoming. It will address factual errors and analyze the study’s controversial methodology.