In an article entitled, "Vouchers aren't the Answer," writer for the Express Lisa Kaiser was quick to use test scores released by DPI to conclude that the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program was not the answer. Answer to what? We're not sure.
Kaiser made a mistake by rushing out her article and not considering other factors. Two weeks ago, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published test results from the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE) showing that students in MPS scored higher than students in Milwaukee's voucher program. To a unionist, this is welcoming news. The teachers union would like nothing more than to see choice schools - their competition - go away permanently.
"Not surprising to those who have been paying attention, Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) did better than schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), otherwise known as the voucher program."
However, test results released later that day - by a 6 year longitudinal study conducted by the University of Arkansas - showed that MPCP and MPS were statistically similar. Although their test scores were similar, MPCP out-performed MPS with higher graduation rates. In fact, 94% of MPCP students that stayed in school until their senior year graduated in contrast to 75% of MPS students. The longitudinal study also found that MPCP students were more likely to attend college than students at MPS.
So perhaps it is Lisa Kaiser who is not paying attention because graduation rates are more indicative of a student's future success than one test congenial to public school curricula.
Lisa goes on to say,
"I've always wondered why folks believe that "choice" is better than universal public education. According to voucher supporters' logic, the more 'choice' there is in a system, the better the results will be. Parents will send their kids to the best schools, regardless of whether they are public or private, and schools will compete for the students, thereby raising the outcomes of the entire educational system. In theory it makes sense, I guess. But it's not playing out according to that logic in the real world."
Kaiser ignores a very large body of evidence showing that public school performance improve when they compete with voucher schools.
In Florida, a study from the Manhattan Institute showed public schools that competed with voucher schools improved their math scores by 6% compared to public schools without voucher competition. In Main and Vermont, a study done by Christopher Hammons of Houston Baptist University showed that the closer proximity public schools were to voucher programs, the better their academic performance. And of course, Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby showed that Milwaukee's public schools performed better due to MPCP than public schools without voucher competition. In fact, MPS students scored 3.4% better in Math, 5.4% better in science, 3.1% better in language, and 2.7% better in social studies.
Lisa Kaiser need not wonder anymore why choice advocates believe competition encourages academic achievement. Approximately 25 studies and 206 corresponding analyses show that school voucher programs compel public schools to do better. Lisa Kaiser was quick to criticize school choice when snap-shot statistics appeared to go against it, but when a comprehensive study showed that voucher schools did better in areas of academic attainment, she was nowhere to be found.
Ignorant to how studies are done, Kaiser relied on a single test to make an apples-to-apples comparison. The problem with that is that the WKCE doesn't measure academic improvement over time, doesn't establish, and doesn't measure graduation rates or the likelihood for college enrollment.
Besides pointing out the limitations of WKCE, there is a significant deficiency with the test. As pointed out by Pat McIlheran of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the WKCE gives students who skip the exam a 0%. This distorted the average of some schools where the majority of the student body opted out of the test. Tamarack, a school with a good academic reputation, scored poorly because 55% of their students didn't take the exam.
Lisa Kaiser has put herself on the side of government's education monopoly. If choice schools performed academically similar to public schools for half the cost, then why be so quick to criticize the program? What does Kaiser gain by poo-pooing voucher schools? I invite Lisa Kaiser to tour St. Anthony's School in Milwaukee to see first hand what free market education looks like. When she witnesses 90% of the students that start school not knowing English yet end up scoring above the national average in both math and reading, then she can explain to the parents of St. Anthony's how the voucher program isn't really the answer.