Study finds results of Milwaukee Public Schools and voucher school students are similar

posted Jan 3, 2012, 7:37 AM by Bill Duncan

Wisconsin's Milwaukee program is the oldest and most studied in the country - and it's very large as a proportion of the total number of public school students - so these results are particularly important.

From the Journal-Sentinel article linked above:

"The primary finding in all of these comparisons is that there is no overall statistically significant difference between MPCP (voucher) and MPS student achievement growth in either math or reading one year after they were carefully matched to each other."

A second study, which looked at broader, but not scientifically matched groups of MPS and voucher students, found that the percentages of fourth-graders in voucher schools who met the state's definition of proficiency in reading and math were lower than percentages for low-income MPS fourth-graders. For eighth-graders, the proficiency rates were about the same.

On the other hand, one of the studies being released uses a formula that factors in the number of school choices available to MPS students to conclude that, by a small margin, MPS results are better now than they otherwise would be because of the presence of voucher schools.

The researchers couched their findings in warnings that they were making no conclusions about the causes of differences between MPS and voucher students and only were describing what results showed.

To summarize several of the studies, they show that the voucher system is educating children at less cost than MPS, that parental satisfaction with both MPS and voucher schools is quite high, that Milwaukee continues to bear the brunt of the cost of the voucher program while the rest of the state actually saves money because of it - and that academic results aren't much different.

At a time when MPS also is under intense pressure because of its overall level of academic success, the finding that voucher students weren't really doing any better is probably not good news for advocates of a program that was envisioned in 1990 by backers as a powerful way to raise overall education results. Milwaukee was the first city in the United States with such a program.

Since 1998, when the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that it was constitutional to include religious schools, the voucher program has grown into the largest and most significant such effort in the nation. The program allows low-income students who live in Milwaukee to attend the private school of their choice within the city limits. This year, the schools receive up to $6,607 per student, and the state expects to spend $128.8 million on vouchers.