How the course of Wisconsin school choice and vouchers changed on June 10, 1998

Alan Borsuk:

It’s a much different world for pretty much every school and school district in Wisconsin, both public and private. A few aspects of that, in thumbnail form:

Without vouchers, a lot of current private schools would have closed or would never have opened.

Competition for enrollment in Milwaukee and Racine — and increasingly elsewhere — is intense. Kids equal vitality and money for every school. After all these years, too little is known about how and why parents pick schools, but choice is, in general, popular, and just about every school pushes hard to get students in the door.
The rules of the voucher programs have changed a lot over the years. The good news is that there are fewer really terrible private schools than there used to be and more is posted publicly about the private schools’ performance than there used to be. Income caps on participating families have changed so that a much larger number of kids qualify for vouchers.

Choice is almost everywhere. Even within public systems such as MPS, there are a lot of options for schooling. It is a choice world for parents.

The voucher-public divide remains a polarizing, partisan source of division and disunity in education advocacy.

And most important, in my book: Overall academic outcomes in Milwaukee or Racine have not really improved and are deeply concerning. (The statewide picture is less troubling.)

In every stream of schools, there are good schools — and ones where students chronically do poorly. Overall, only about one in five Milwaukee kids rates as proficient or better in reading, and that is true for both MPS and voucher schools. Charter schools are somewhat better.

Yet, the traditional education establishment continues to resist essential improvements, such as the Foundations of Reading elementary teacher content knowledge requirements.

Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

Wisconsin Reading Coalition:

Main takeaways from the 2017 NAEP 4th grade reading exam:

Wisconsin’s score was 220, below the national average of 222

Wisconsin score statistically declined from 2015

Wisconsin scores have been statistically flat since 1992

Wisconsin ranked 34th nationally, compared to 25th in 2015

All Wisconsin racial, economic status, and disability status sub-groups perform below the national average for that sub-group