Whose Choice? An Introduction
by Dennis J. Willard & Doug Oplinger - September 13, 2000
In an effort to determine the effectiveness of charter schools and vouchers, education researchers are mired in arguments about "normal curve equivalents" and "methodological limitations."
Meanwhile, as reporters for the Akron Beacon Journal, we visited schools, combed through records and did some simple data analyses to raise serious and potentially damaging questions about the Buckeye State’s aggressive effort to out pace the country in school reform.
In our four-day investigative report, called "Whose Choice?" we expose charter schools where children are physically endangered. We detail clearly the state’s failure to assure academic and financial accountability. We show that voters are losing control, their public schools are hurt, and Catholic schools are receiving favored treatment.
The series, published Dec. 12-15, 1999, in the Akron Beacon Journal, offers a startling, well documented history of money and political influence that is behind the school reform movement.
In the five weeks following publication, the paper conservatively logged more than 250 phone calls, letters and emails. Most responses lauded the courage of the paper in questioning some of the state’s most powerful politicians and lawyers.
There was a call for an investigation by the Ohio Inspector General, the creation of an 11-member coalition of statewide organizations calling for a moratorium on new charter schools and the closing of two charter schools.
Among the major findings were:
As a part of the series, we explored the dynamics of democracy in the school choice debate. All sides have resorted to name calling, eliminating hopes of an atmosphere for constructive discussion.
One newspaper editorial writer aptly summarized the debate over school choice: "We’re at war here."
The entire series, by reporters Dennis J. Willard and Doug
Oplinger, can be found at:
Oplinger and Willard have been investigating school issues in Ohio since 1995 and have published a number of articles resulting in substantive public policy changes. Willard is the newspaper’s statehouse bureau chief. Oplinger was an editor in two Pulitzer Prizes won by the staff of the Akron Beacon Journal and now is doing investigative reporting for the paper.