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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Are Voucher Students Getting a Better Education?

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The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) was launched to make private schools more affordable for low-income parents, especially low-income minority parents. The theory was that private schools are better than public schools, and that the competition for students provided by voucher schools would raise student achievement across the city. That was then. How’s it playing out now?

According to the second year of a five-year study conducted by the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas:

  • Choice schools are no better than public schools: “There is no statistically significant average difference between MPCP and MPS students in growth in math or reading achievement… this result appears robust to controls for grade, race, gender and, most importantly, prior academic achievement”
  • The race gap is present in voucher schools and public schools: “African-American and Hispanic students score lower on average than their white counterparts”
  • Choice schools’ lack of accountability makes analysis difficult: “Unlike MPS (and other public school systems), no administrative or institutional sources exist as a single repository of demographic information for MPCP students”
  • Choice schools aren’t reporting the number of students who require special education services: “We have very little administrative data from MPCP schools on the number of exceptional education students”

The state does require voucher schools to begin reporting test data—not to the state, however, but to the School Choice Demonstration Project. Yet the project did not release that data in its report.

So what if you wanted to check out the performance of a specific voucher school before enrolling your child? “You’d have to contact the school or their accrediting agency,” said Patrick Gasper, communications officer for the Department of Public Instruction. “These are private institutions and the state has very limited authority over them.”

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