Monday, December 15, 2014

Accountability and School Choice: Let's Begin

Because accountability - for both private schools participating in one of Wisconsin's three school choice programs will be an issue in the coming legislative session - we at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty released the first of what we expect to be a series of reports on the issue.

The first report is descriptive and is called, not surprisingly, "Let's Begin by Understanding Where We Are." The report describes and comments upon state accountability measures applicable in the choice and public sectors. It concludes that it is simply not possible to claim that the state holds public schools to a greater measure of accountability than private schools participating in the choice program or vice versa. (We do note, however, that accountability measures for schools in the choice program appear to be more immediate and the consequences more onerous.)

We do not claim that the accountability measures imposed on the schools in the choice program are "too strict." We did note that, "whatever one might think of the adequacy of these standards," the DPI's interpretation of them seems to be, in certain respects, more aggressive than state law provides. These issues relate not to the standard themselves, but to requirements that a single standard be chosen at the beginning of the school year and that DPI policy seems to rule out the exercise of statutorily mandated discretion in it s enforcements.

But we take no position in this report as to what the accountability standards should be. Our report was descriptive and comparative, not normative.

There is a reason for that and it goes back to the title of the report. We do not expect the standards to remain the same. We anticipate a robust debate about what they should be in which we expect to participate. But, as that debate begins, we thought it important to draw attention to what the standards are and to address, in part, the common argument that public schools are held accountable in a way that choice schools are not.

The recent story regarding the Ceria M. Travis Academy illustrates this. I - and WILL - are not familiar with the school and, for that reason, take no position on its recent difficulties. But however poorly the Travis Academy may be faring, it is hardly the only failing school in the city of Milwaukee. It is being held accountable. Are failing MPS schools - and there are plenty - facing the same consequences?

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin.

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