University of Arkansas study finds Milwaukee voucher students go to college at higher rate

5 Mar

Perhaps, the best testimonial about parental choice comes from an editorial which describes the emotions of one parent. In the NY Daily News editorial, My Baby is Learning this was the description of the protest in support of charter schools:

Those words were spoken by a mother who had brought her child for the first day of classes at Harlem Success Academy 2 Charter School – and faced loud protesters with her youngster.

The demonstrators were part of a movement that portrays charter schools as an elitist threat to public education. They are not. They are publicly funded schools that admit neighborhood kids by lottery. Their students far outperform children in traditional public schools.

Charters have proliferated in Harlem, and thousands of parents have children on waiting lists – a trend that has driven activists, including state Sen. Bill Perkins, into shamefully charging that charters are creating a separate and “unequal” system.

But parents, the vast majority of them minorities, know better. Like the woman who confronted the protesters, they’re flocking to charters as a way out of failing local schools. And the bottom line for them is crystal-clear: Their babies are learning. 

The only way to overcome the great class divide is to give all children a first class education.

The only perfect choice is school choice.

The Center for Education Reform defines School Choice

The term “school choice” means giving parents the power and opportunity to choose the school their child will attend. Traditionally, children are assigned to a public school according to where they live. People of means already have school choice, because they can afford to move to an area according to the schools available (i.e. where the quality of public schools is high), or they can choose to enroll their child in a private school. Parents without such means, until recently, generally had no choice of school, and had to send their child to the school assigned to them by the district, regardless of the school’s quality or appropriateness for their child.

School choice means better educational opportunity, because it uses the dynamics of consumer opportunity and provider competition to drive service quality. This principle is found anywhere you look, from cars to colleges and universities, but it’s largely absent in our public school system and the poor results are evident, especially in the centers of American culture – our cities. School choice programs foster parental involvement and high expectations by giving parents the option to educate their children as they see fit. It re-asserts the rights of the parent and the best interests of child over the convenience of the system, infuses accountability and quality into the system, and provides educational opportunity where none existed before.

Many school choice issues are also discussed in the school choice section.

School Choices has information about School Vouchers

Issues and Arguments

     School vouchers, also known as scholarships, redirect the flow of education funding, channeling it directly to individual families rather than to school districts. This allows families to select the public or private schools of their choice and have all or part of the tuition paid. Scholarships are advocated on the grounds that parental choice and competition between public and private schools will improve education for all children. Vouchers can be funded and administered by the government, by private organizations, or by some combination of both.
This page brings together some of the most important sources of evidence on the outcomes of existing scholarship programs. It includes studies of both privately- and publicly-funded programs, as well as the results of a key court case. (A more comprehensive discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of both private and government-funded scholarships can be found in the book
Market Education: The Unknown History.)

     Government-run voucher programs are very controversial, and they have been criticized from two very different angles. The first body of criticism alleges that competitive markets are not well suited to the field of education, and that any school reform based on privatization, competition, and parental choice is doomed to failure. A summary of these arguments, with responses, can be found by clicking here.
The second body of criticism states that government-funded scholarships would not create a genuinely free educational market, but instead would perpetuate dependence on government funding and regulation to the continued detriment of families. These arguments, along with responses are described here.

Charter schools and vouchers are possible options in the theory of “school choice.”

Andrew Rotherham has an excellent article in Time, The 5 Biggest Myths About School Vouchers

1. Vouchers skim the best students from public schools. Although many voucher proponents want universal vouchers, today, the programs are targeted to specific populations, for instance low-income students or students with disabilities. So while vouchers don’t generally serve the absolute poorest of the poor, they do not skim off the most affluent or easiest-to-educate students either….

2. Students who receive vouchers do better academically than their public school peers. That depends on the measure. Overall the test scores of students who use vouchers are largely indistinguishable from students who stay behind in public schools. On the other hand, parent satisfaction is generally greater among parents whose children received vouchers. And while it’s too soon to tell for sure, there is some evidence that other outcomes, for instance graduation rates, may be better for students who receive vouchers. ….

3. Vouchers drain money from the public schools. It seems obvious that taking money from the public schools and sending it to private schools would leave public schools with less money. But in the through the looking glass world of school finance, things rarely are what they seem. In Milwaukee for instance, Robert Costrell of the School Choice Demonstration Project analyzed the financial outcomes of the voucher program and found that it is saving money in Wisconsin. And, in Washington, D.C. there was an infusion of federal funds into the city’s public schools in exchange for the passage of the voucher program.

4. Vouchers make all schools get better because they have to compete for students. It seems logical to assume that forcing schools to vie for students will improve quality. But schools are not economic entities like a store and respond differently to competition — for instance by going to court or to lobby state legislators. There have been vouchers for years in Cleveland and Milwaukee yet the schools there are still generally poor quality. In Washington almost a third of the city’s students were using various choice options (mostly charter schools) before the public schools began to make real changes. But, we’re still learning. Researchers at the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research have found evidence that competition improved schools in Florida.

5. Private, parochial, or even public charter schools are better than regular public schools. Parents should worry a lot less about the legal status of a particular school than whether it’s the right school for their child. A good fit depends on a host of factors including a strong academic program, successful outcomes, a clear curriculum, areas of emphasis like arts or technology, and even lifestyle factors such as limiting time spent in transit or a year-round schedule. Just because a school is private doesn’t mean it is better overall or better for your child and even in places where the public schools are struggling overall there are often hidden gems. ….

Milwaukee Public Schools have been a laboratory for school vouchers. The demographics at the time the voucher program started were:

58.4% African American

20% Hispanic

13.3% White0.8% Native American

4.5% Asian

0.8% Native American05):

Special Education 16.1%

English Language Learners 4.8%


Attendance rate* = 88.3% Suspension rate* = 25.5%

Graduation rate* = 64% (est.)

The University of Arkansas has released a study of the Milwaukee voucher program.

Here is the press release from the University of Arkansas:

School Voucher Use Increased College Attendance, Research Findings Show

Arkansas-led team completes five-year Milwaukee evaluation

Monday, February 27, 2012

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A school voucher program in Milwaukee increased the chances of students graduating from high school and going on to college, according to the School Choice Demonstration Project based at the University of Arkansas.

Researchers will wrap up five years of evaluations of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program on Monday, Feb. 27, with two panel presentations and discussion of the demonstration project’s findings in Milwaukee.

The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program was the first school voucher program of its kind when it started in 1990. In 2006, Wisconsin policymakers mandated that the School Choice Demonstration Project lead a five-year evaluation of the Milwaukee program.

“Our clearest positive finding is that the Choice Program boosts the rates at which students graduate from high school, enroll in a four-year college, and persist in college,” said John Witte, professor of political science and public affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Since educational attainment is linked to positive life outcomes such as higher lifetime earnings and lower rates of incarceration, this is a very encouraging result of the program.”

Witte worked on the evaluations with Patrick Wolf, holder of the Twenty-First Century Chair in School Choice at the University of Arkansas and director of the School Choice Demonstration Project, and a team of researchers. The evaluations covered numerous aspects of the program, including academic achievement, parental satisfaction and cost-savings.

“Our final set of reports on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program represent the last word on the first private school choice program targeted to low-income inner-city students in the U.S. – a pioneering program that operated for 22 years and paved the way for 25 voucher and tax-credit scholarship programs that have come in its wake,” Wolf stated in the summary of final reports. “Our findings include several ‘no significant difference’ results but also some evidence that participation in MPCP or enrollment in an independent public charter school has produced better student outcomes than those experienced by similar students in Milwaukee Public schools.”

Release of the demonstration project’s final report and accompanying discussion will take place between 8 and 11:30 a.m. Monday, Feb. 27, at the Italian Community Center, 631 E. Chicago St., Milwaukee. The reports may also be accessed online at the School Choice Demonstration Project website. In addition to researchers’ reports, today’s event will include comments from several leading figures in Wisconsin education, including Bob Peterson of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, Brother Bob Smith of Messmer Schools, Jim Bender of School Choice Wisconsin, and Mark Blitz of the University of Wisconsin -Madison.

The evaluation concluded that, when similar students in the voucher program and in Milwaukee Public Schools were compared, the achievement growth of students in the voucher program was higher in reading but similar in math. When a snapshot of students in the voucher program who took the state accountability test was compared to a snapshot of the performance of Milwaukee Public School students with similar income disadvantages, the students in the voucher program performed at higher levels in the upper grades in reading and science but at lower levels in math at all grade levels examined and in reading and science in fourth grade.

The researchers also were able to estimate that 7.5 to 14.6 percent of students in the voucher program have a disability. Even the low end of that range is more than four times higher than the disability rate previously reported by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction based merely on the number of voucher students who received special accommodations while testing.


Patrick Wolf, Twenty-First Century Chair in School Choice
College of Education and Health Professions

John F. Witte, professor of political science
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Heidi Stambuck, director of communications
College of Education and Health Professions

There is no magic bullet or “Holy Grail” in education. There is only what works to produce academic achievement in each population of children. That is why school choice is so important.

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

5 Responses to “University of Arkansas study finds Milwaukee voucher students go to college at higher rate”


  1. Given school choice, many students thrive « drwilda - August 23, 2012

    […] School Choices has information about School Vouchers                                   …              […]

  2. Review of the Brookings study on vouchers by National Education Policy Center « drwilda - September 14, 2012

    […] University of Arkansas study finds Milwaukee voucher students go to college at higher rate                                                                                              … […]

  3. Study: D.C. voucher program ‘Opportunity Scholarship Program’ shows economic benefit « drwilda - February 5, 2013

    […] University of Arkansas study finds Milwaukee voucher students go to college at higher rate                                                 … […]

  4. Fordham Foundation study: Parents favor school choice | drwilda - August 28, 2013

    […] University of Arkansas study finds Milwaukee voucher students go to college at higher rate… […]

  5. University of Arkansas study: The School Choice Voucher: A “Get Out of Jail” Card? | drwilda - March 10, 2016

    […] University of Arkansas study finds Milwaukee voucher students go to college at higher rate… […]

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