While the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is nominally a nonpartisan agency, the agency’s leadership selectively adheres to that designation. For example, when it comes to school choice, DPI superintendents frequently have used their bully pulpit, the courts, and administrative rules to denigrate the 30-year-old law and hamper its implementation.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the rest of the state media have been partners — sometimes knowingly, other times obliviously — in one of DPI’s more egregious maneuvers. Specifically, for years the agency has released data on state test scores in a way that intentionally obscures the performance of students in choice programs.
On Friday a Jefferson County Circuit Court meted out a measure of official justice in response to this unlawful practice. Judge Bennett Brantmeier issued a summary judgment in a lawsuit brought by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) on behalf of School Choice Wisconsin, Empower Wisconsin, and WILL’s research director.
I wrote recently about the Journal Sentinel’s longstanding blackout of information that compares favorably students in choice programs with those in traditional public schools. DPI abetted that practice by the nontransparent release of data that Judge Brantmeier found illegal.
A WILL press release on the legal victory notes that the unlawful DPI practices “did not allow for accurate comparisons between low-income students in the Parental Choice Program with low-income students in public schools. When the data was released in full, it revealed students in Wisconsin’s three Parental Choice programs are outperforming low-income public school peers on the ACT, Aspire, and Forward exams.” (In fact, as I wrote, the low-income choice students outperformed all students, regardless of income.)
School Choice Wisconsin President Jim Bender captured the importance of Friday’s ruling: “The statutes require DPI to be an honest broker when releasing academic data on the Parental Choice Programs. This court victory shows that DPI was being selective in their release of data to drive a biased narrative and that they are prohibited from doing so in the future. A great win for transparency.”
The question now is how will the Journal Sentinel and others in the media report on the decision and the underlying data that DPI has sought to obscure. Forty-eight hours after the court ruling the paper had not reported it online.