The Great Lakes Center reports on recent studies that indicate school voucher choice programs may perform no better than public schools, according to a longitudinal study from Casey Cobb. The studies focused on the nation’s largest urban voucher program, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, and were produced by the School Choice Demonstration Project based out of the University of Arkansas.
None of the three reports, Cobb concludes, provide substantial support for the voucher program. To some extent, this is because of specific methodological or analytical shortcomings. But it’s also because the data and the reports simply fail to demonstrate that voucher schools are associated with improved outcomes.
The reports themselves showed some benefits to the voucher choice program, such as MPCP students outperforming Milwaukee Public School students in terms of reading during the fifth year of the program, and higher graduation, college enrollment and college retention rates amongst MPCP students. The reports were recently hailed as showing a clear positive finding that the Choice program boosted graduation rates and made the argument that as educational attainment is linked to positive life outcomes such as higher earning and less risk of incarceration, then the program could be considered a tentative success.
However, Cobb argues with this conclusion based on the belief that the studies over generalized their findings and were actually far from reaching a comprehensive conclusion that MPCP provided better outcomes than MPS.
A third report compared the test results of MPCP students with a sample of students from MPS and found no clear pattern.
“The results are not particularly useful beyond providing a snapshot of how MPCP students and a comparison group of low-income MPS students perform on a battery of state exams,” Cobb wrote in his review of Report #32, Milwaukee Longitudinal School Choice Evaluation: Annual School Testing Summary Report 2010-11.