College & Workforce Readiness

Vouchers Linked to Graduation in Milwaukee

By Caroline Hendrie — October 08, 2004 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Students using state-financed vouchers to attend private schools in Milwaukee graduate from high school at a far higher rate than young people in the city’s public schools, according to a study released last week by a group that supports the high-profile choice program.

Researcher Jay P. Greene found that an estimated 64 percent of the 9th graders who used the tuition vouchers at private high schools graduated four years later. Using the same “cohort method” for the class of 2003, the latest data available, he found a 36 percent graduation rate in the city’s public high schools.

“Graduation Rates for Choice and Public School Students in Milwaukee,” is available online from (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

“I think this helps confirm earlier, high-quality research that suggests that the program offers significant academic benefits to students in Milwaukee,” said Mr. Greene, a senior research fellow at the New York City-based Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

His study was sponsored by School Choice Wisconsin, a Milwaukee-based group that supports the 14-year-old voucher program, which provides funding for some 14,000 students from low-income families to attend secular and religious private schools in the city.

Underscoring the continuing disagreement on how to calculate graduation rates among researchers nationally, Milwaukee public school leaders last week took issue with Mr. Greene’s approach. State officials peg the district’s graduation rate at 61 percent using a different method, said district Superintendent William G. Andrekopoulos, and that’s the percentage that the district considers most reliable.

“We stick with the state’s definition of the graduation rates as the official one we endorse and the one we benchmark against as we are reforming our high schools,” he said.

Still, Mr. Andrekopoulos said the 103,000-student district is intent on reducing its high number of dropouts. A push to restructure district high schools is being underwritten, in part, by the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Mr. Greene acknowledged that his figures are estimates, but he argued that they present a far more accurate picture than the data relied upon by the district. A study that carefully tracked selected individual students over time could produce more precise results, and it would be helpful if the state would sponsor such research, he said.

“But this is trying to fill the vacuum in information we have about the program right now,” he said. “We cannot let the best be the enemy of the good.”

Gaps Hold Up

The study found that the wide gap in graduation rates held up even when the comparison group for the voucher recipients was students at six Milwaukee public high schools with academic entrance requirements. Among those selective public schools, the study found a graduation rate of just 41 percent.

Earning a Diploma

The private high schools that accept students participating in Milwaukee’s voucher program graduate more students in four years than the city’s public schools, a new study finds.

Choice Public

Graduation rate

64% 36%
9th graders in 1999-2000 262 9,226
Graduates in 2002-03 167 3,329
Number of Schools 10 37

Schools accepting voucher students are not allowed to impose academic admissions criteria, and must hold lotteries if they do not have space for all applicants from the voucher program.

Comparing voucher recipients with their peers in selective public schools addresses the question of whether the higher graduation rate among the private school students “can be explained in part or in full by differences in the advantages and disadvantages that choice and public school students bring to their education,” Mr. Greene argues in the study.

Another expert on graduation rates, Chicago researcher John Q. Easton, said drawing comparisons with selective public schools was a reasonable response to the possibility that students using vouchers “are more highly motivated and have parents who are particularly involved and concerned with their education,” as Mr. Greene puts it in the study.

Still, Mr. Easton, the director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research, said the 41 percent graduation rate for students in selective public schools struck him as so surprisingly low that “it almost called out for a school-by-school listing.”

Mr. Greene’s study included 37 Milwaukee public high schools for which data were available, including some that received charters to operate quasi-independently of the district and “partnership schools” that operate under contracts with the district to serve children deemed at risk of school failure. The data on voucher recipients came from 10 private high schools.


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.
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.
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.
Privacy & Security Webinar
Navigating Modern Data Protection & Privacy in Education
Explore the modern landscape of data loss prevention in education and learn actionable strategies to protect sensitive data.
Content provided by  Symantec & Carahsoft

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

College & Workforce Readiness What the Pool of College Applicants Looked Like After Affirmative Action Ban
Questions remain for future research on the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on race-based admissions.
4 min read
Students toss their caps into the air during the Morgantown High School graduation in Morgantown, W. Va., on May, 25, 2024.
Students toss their caps into the air during the Morgantown High School graduation in Morgantown, W. Va., on May 25. There is new data analysis of 6 million U.S.-based college applicants over five years to more than 800 institutions.
William Wotring/The Dominion-Post via AP
College & Workforce Readiness What the Research Says The State of Career and Technical Education, in Charts
New federal data shows more than 8 in 10 high school graduates completed at least one course in a career-education field in 2019.
2 min read
Young girl working on an electrical panel in a classroom setting.
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion Can Mastery-Based Learning Replace Seat Time?
Developing better assessments and getting buy-in from practitioners will be key to replacing seat time as a proxy for mastery.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness From Our Research Center Are Real-World Problem-Solving Skills Essential for Students?
Ensuring students' career readiness is a top priority for districts.
2 min read
Photograph of culturally diverse students and Black female teacher discussing mathematics problem at a whiteboard