Wisconsin's School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) recently finished a 5-year study of the effectiveness of Milwaukee's voucher program.
After five years, the SCDP team found:
Statistically significant gains for voucher users in reading compared to matched Milwaukee Public School (MPS) pupils (with the important caveat that the introduction of program wide WKCE testing in the final year of the evaluation could be responsible for some of the gains);
- Statistically similar impacts on math test scores for matched MPS and MPCP users;
- A modest positive impact on public school tests scores as more private schools participated in the MPCP;
- Statewide taxpayer savings, though not in Milwaukee;
- Higher graduation rates for voucher users compared to MPS;
- Higher rates of four-year college enrollment for voucher users;
- Evidence that closed schools in both MPS and the MPCP were the lower performers;
- High levels of parental satisfaction;
- No impact on housing prices or racial integration;
- High rates of school switching;
- Wide variation in achievement levels between schools.
So what are the practical lessons from the SCDP for other communities considering vouchers? Don’t expect the introduction of a voucher program to sizably increase test scores across the board for voucher users, or students in public schools. It’s safe to expect no negative impact on test scores, but any gains will likely be substantively small. So if the primary consideration in a community is raising test scores, a voucher program like Milwaukee’s may not be wise.
However, if you are a community struggling with high school graduation rates, particularly for low-income pupils (like Madison and Green Bay), a Milwaukee style voucher program could be a viable strategy to raise attainment.
I think this evidence justifies expanding the voucher program state wide. I'd love to see that happen.