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ERIC Number: ED531967
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2010-Apr
Pages: 48
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: N/A
Family Voices on Parental School Choice in Milwaukee: What Can We Learn from Low-Income Families? SCDP Milwaukee Evaluation Report #19
Stewart, Thomas; Lucas-McLean, Juanita; Jensen, Laura I.; Fetzko, Christina; Ho, Bonnie; Segovia, Sylvia
School Choice Demonstration Project
This report, designed as one component of the comprehensive evaluation of the Milwaukee school system being conducted by the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP), is based on focus group conversations with low-income families whose children attend Milwaukee public and private schools. The report seeks to elucidate the demand side of school choice from the perspective of the end users. More specifically, it describes the experiences of low-income families and uses their insights to better understand the strengths and limitations of their attempts to exercise parental school choice. Among its distinguishing characteristics, Milwaukee has the first publicly funded means-tested voucher program in the United States. Coupled with traditional public schools and a robust charter school community, Milwaukee provides an unprecedented set of school options to its residents. Equally as important, Milwaukee provides those interested in urban education reform with a unique opportunity to learn from a city at a relatively advanced phase of school reform. The findings presented here are based on discussions with an equal number of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) families. Fifty-seven participants--41 parents and 16 high school students--were selected from households that were members of the longitudinal panels that participated in the 2007-08 MPCP Parent Survey and the MPS Matched Sample Parent Survey. The project team used focus group discussions and electronic polling devices to capture parent and student responses to a variety of questions about their experiences. Parents were grouped based on whether their children were currently attending elementary/middle or high schools. Parents representing high school students were encouraged to bring those children to the event, and the high school students were grouped with their peers from MPS or MPCP. Participants were presented a variety of focus group and closed-ended polling questions that covered two general topics: (1) How do families choose, and (2) What are the families' most significant experiences with schools? More specifically, the discussions centered on: (1) the role of gender, (2) school governance and management, (3) measuring student progress and success, and (4) their greatest non-educational challenges. In addition, the authors allotted a few minutes for participants to share their opinions about matters that were not captured under these four topic areas. Following is a summary of the key findings: (1) MPS and MPCP families apparently do not factor gender into their school selection decision-making. However, high school parents and students were more likely to report school-based experiences that suggest that boys and girls have quite different experiences. Also, half the MPS high school students reported that they made the school selection, compared to MPCP families who are more likely to make the decision as a family unit; (2) Parents and students highly valued strong relationships with school faculty and the administration. Parents appreciated an open door policy and effective communication with teachers. Student treatment in school discipline was criticized by parents for being ineffective solutions to problems. Students also expressed frustration with the faculty's lack of support and inadequate response to their concerns; (3) Both MPS and MPCP families seem to use similar methods to measure student progress. Parents strongly recommended online tools to keep track of their children's progress, illustrating for the second time in focus groups the increasingly important role of technology in education. Families often determine academic progress using student school attendance, homework workload and completing assignments as the most reliable measures. Neither group of parents referenced standardized tests as a source of information or feedback about their child's progress; and (4) Both groups of families identified the lack of financial resources as their greatest non-educational challenge. MPS parents were more likely to describe the bind they faced with limited financial resources and how it affected their children's extracurricular and educational opportunities. MPS high school students were more likely to express concern about their future, specifically higher education, because of their families' present financial circumstances. Appended are: (1) Research Methods; (2) Polling Questions Asked of MPCP and MPS Parents; (3) Focus Group Questions; and (4) Milwaukee Focus Group Team Chart Example. (Contains 1 exhibit and 101 footnotes.)
School Choice Demonstration Project. Department of Education Reform, University of Arkansas, 201 Graduate Education Building, Fayetteville, AR 72701. Tel: 479-575-3172; Fax: 479-575-3196; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Evaluative; Tests/Questionnaires
Education Level: High Schools
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: University of Arkansas, School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP)
Identifiers - Location: Wisconsin