It’s your choice: make yourself heard

The Golden Dome of Notre Dame was the setting for this week’s conference on the outcomes of school choice in Indiana. Researchers from coast to coast (Stanford to Duke) presented their findings on various aspects of school choice and how these findings describe the “Indiana School Choice Ecosystem.” Researchers looked at various research and its corresponding programs and policies to share a picture of the impact of school choice not just here in Indiana, but also throughout the United States.

Since I really hope you’ll take a couple minutes to read this, I won’t (and until all the research is publicly shared, I can’t) share all the details of the studies. However, the researchers seemed to agree: Indiana has the model for school choice. For those who want a system that opens the door for any student from a means-tested group (low-economic status) or from those who want all students to be measured against the same testing tool (ISTEP is administered in all voucher schools), Indiana has the choice options that are desired by opposing sides of the pro-school choice environment. Although the data in the past year are clouded by a wide-open door for involvement in choice scholarships, choice scholarships and overall choice legislation is making a difference for Hoosier students.

The research will be ongoing on the success of school choice. Part of the ongoing research will be the determination of what makes success. Test scores are the typical way of measuring success and making comparisons between programs. Test scores, specifically ISTEP, provide one resource for all students to be compared with. I agree that test scores are one way to measure success and compare schools. However, nowhere in a good educational system will one set of criteria determine the success or growth of a child. Good teachers use a wide variety of data to determine progress, formative and summative assessments. At some point, Indiana will need to create a set of criteria that looks with broad strokes at the success of students.

Parents know what they want, and they’re the consumers making the school decisions. In one of the pieces of research, parents were surveyed to name how they determine their child’s success in school. Not one of the surveys listed test scores as the way in which they determined success, even though it was given as an option for answers to the question. Rather, parents determined success by student motivation, student grades, student attitudes, student behaviors, feedback from teachers, and student study habits. Seems parents are looking for long-term characteristics of success, not the snapshot picture of a standardized test (standardized being a very questionable term when it comes to the past two years of ISTEP testing).

It might be wise for evaluators of our Indiana schools to make sure their interests match the interests of those who are paying their salaries. It’s also the continued good practice of our Lutheran schools to listen carefully to the interests of the parents sending their children to our schools. While professionals in the field of education must continue to assess recent research to determine changes and implementation in curriculum and practice, it’s important for strong communication to occur between home and school. It’s one of the reasons that surveying is so important in the National Lutheran School Accreditation process.

I’ll share more from the research in the months to come (e.g., the fact that Indiana’s choice programs are the second-most regulated in the country). But in the days to come, our state legislators need to hear from you on the value of school choice. Plenty of naysayers are approaching (bombarding?) our elected leaders about how public schools are being pilfered of needed dollars to support nonpublic schools and that ISTEP scores demonstrate that nonpublic schools aren’t being successful. Legislators needs to hear the good stories: the improvements that have occurred for choice students in work habits, behavior, and achievement. Phone call, email or letter, let your voice be heard.