The first full-force examination since 1995 of Milwaukee’s groundbreaking school voucher program has found that students attending private schools through the program aren’t doing much better or worse than students in Milwaukee Public Schools.
The researchers gave a sample of voucher students the same tests given to public school students in Wisconsin and compared the results to those of a scientifically matched group of MPS students. Overall, they found, fourth-grade voucher students scored “somewhat lower” than MPS students but eighth-grade voucher students scored “somewhat higher.”
At all grades, both MPS and voucher students had overall test scores well below the 50th percentile nationally, and generally around the 33rd percentile, meaning they were generally scoring lower than two-thirds of students.
Results for individual voucher schools were not released as part of the study, despite calls from several legislators and others to see the private school results.
The study was conducted by the School Choice Demonstration Project, part of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. The main researchers included John Witte, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who conducted studies of the Milwaukee voucher program in its early years from 1990 to 1995, before the Legislature dropped the requirement for such studies.