Accountability

Project on Milwaukee Vouchers Shares Baseline Findings

By Catherine Gewertz — February 27, 2008 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Includes updates and/or revisions.

A major research effort that aims to measure the effects of the Milwaukee voucher program this week released a baseline portrait of the program, its students, and a comparable group of students in the city’s public schools.

The one-year snapshot of 2006-07 found little difference in state test scores between students who use the tuition subsidies to attend private schools and those who attend public schools.

The finding is one of many released Feb. 25 by the School Choice Demonstration Project, based at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Others include an analysis of the fiscal impact of the voucher program, statistical profiles of the two sets of schools, and measures of parents’ and students’ satisfaction with them.

Researchers cautioned that the data are “merely descriptive” and cannot explain the voucher program’s effect, if any, on student achievement. So far, they said, the data offer a numerical and descriptive sketch of the program in the study’s initial year.

During the five years of the study, the researchers plan to issue 36 reports in 10 areas, including the financing of public education, school-level racial integration, and the way parents choose schools.

The researchers hope to shed light on whether the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program benefits students, as its advocates argued it would when it was founded 18 years ago. With 18,000 children using state-funded tuition vouchers to attend about 120 private schools, including religious schools, it is the largest and oldest such program in the country.

‘Eyes Wide Open’

“We’re going in with our eyes wide open,” principal investigator Patrick J. Wolf said in an interview. “We know that controversy continues to surround this program. We’re not looking to push vouchers. We are not looking to kill vouchers. We’re looking to bring extensive and reliable new information to the public and policymakers about the total range of effects that this program is having.”

Co-investigators on the project are Jay P. Greene, who is the head of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville’s department of education reform, where Mr. Wolf is a professor, and John F. Witte, a professor of political science and public policy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Six national foundations fund the project.

The researchers have chosen a matched-student design that they believe will enable them to measure the program’s effects. They will compare 2,700 voucher recipients with 2,700 demographically similar peers in Milwaukee public schools.

In addition to collecting test-score data, they will study schools on-site, and plumb students’ and parents’ experiences in voucher, charter, and regular public schools through surveys and focus groups.

One portion of the report released this week shows that on Wisconsin’s state mathematics, reading, and science tests, 4th graders in voucher program schools scored 8 to 13 points lower than socioeconomically similar students in Milwaukee public schools. Eighth graders scored 6 to 9 points higher than their public school peers. Too few 10th graders in voucher schools took the state tests to allow a comparison.

Another part of the study showed that parents whose children attend voucher schools have lower incomes, but higher levels of education, than those whose children go to public schools.

Until recently, students in Wisconsin private schools did not have to take state tests. But a 2005-06 change in state law required voucher schools to administer them to a representative panel of 2,727 students. That change, Mr. Wolf said, helps enable the “apples to apples comparison” of academic achievement.

A version of this article appeared in the March 05, 2008 edition of Education Week

Events

School Climate & Safety K-12 Essentials Forum Strengthen Students’ Connections to School
Join this free event to learn how schools are creating the space for students to form strong bonds with each other and trusted adults.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
Future-Proofing Your School's Tech Ecosystem: Strategies for Asset Tracking, Sustainability, and Budget Optimization
Gain actionable insights into effective asset management, budget optimization, and sustainable IT practices.
Content provided by Follett Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Accountability Sponsor
Demystifying Accreditation and Accountability
Accreditation and accountability are two distinct processes with different goals, yet the distinction between them is sometimes lost among educators.
Content provided by Cognia
Various actions for strategic thinking and improvement planning process cycle
Photo provided by Cognia®
Accountability What the Research Says More than 1 in 4 Schools Targeted for Improvement, Survey Finds
The new federal findings show schools also continue to struggle with absenteeism.
2 min read
Vector illustration of diverse children, students climbing up on a top of a stack of staggered books.
iStock/Getty
Accountability Opinion What’s Wrong With Online Credit Recovery? This Teacher Will Tell You
The “whatever it takes” approach to increasing graduation rates ends up deflating the value of a diploma.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Accountability Why a Judge Stopped Texas from Issuing A-F School Ratings
Districts argued the new metric would make it appear as if schools have worsened—even though outcomes have actually improved in many cases.
2 min read
Laura BakerEducation Week via Canva  (1)
Canva