Study: Milwaukee School Choice Program Leads To Higher Graduation Rate Among Participants

By Patrick Burke | February 28, 2012 | 11:49am EST

School classroom. (AP photo)

( - The results of a new study show higher rates of graduation and attendance of four year colleges among students enrolled in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) than public school students not enrolled in the program.

“Students enrolled in the Milwaukee voucher program are more likely to graduate from high school and go to college than their public school counterparts, boast significantly improved reading scores, represent a more diverse cross-section of the city, and are improving the results of traditional public school students,” said the study’s press release.

“Among the new findings are that students enrolled in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP)—the nation’s oldest private school choice program currently in operation—not only graduate from high school on time by seven percentage points more than students enrolled in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), but they are also more likely to enroll in a four-year college and persist in college.”

The study was led by University of Arkansas Professor Patrick J. Wolf, who is also head of the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP.) Researchers at the SCDP have conducted evaluations of other school choice programs in cities such as Washington, New York and Charlotte.

To prove the higher level of “attainment” among voucher program students than those outside the voucher program, the study examined over time two similar samples of 801 9th grade students. The primary distinction between the two samples was one contained entirely students enrolled in the voucher program and the other did not. The study also compared two samples of 290 8th graders, one sample full of voucher participants and the other void of any.

In the case of each longitudinal comparison, the Milwaukee school choice enrollees were more likely to graduate high school by four percentage points and more likely to graduate on time by seven percentage points.

Additionally, the results over a period of four and five years respectively indicate a “20 percent gain in the likelihood of college enrollment” of voucher students. The students in the 9th grade samples were also more likely to stay in college through their first year by six percentage points.

According to the study’s summary of final reports, the schools that accept voucher recipients place a large amount of emphasis on graduation and educational attainment.

Said the summary,“Each school employs strategies to try to catch students up to grade-level that vary from extra instructional times to a no-excuses approach to discipline and homework to integrating the artistic and the academic to counseling students with troubled home lives.”

“Every high school and many of the elementary schools we visited emphasize high school graduation and college enrollment… High school teachers, administrators, and guidance counselors at the high schools we visited reported using interest inventories, career websites, career nights, and assistance with college applications as strategies to keep students focused on college and career preparedness.”

The study also tracked the performance levels of students in different subject areas such as reading, math and science. While school choice students displayed better results overall in reading, performances by non-voucher public school students indicated higher competency in math.

Ultimately, the study produced varying results related to achievement in the different subject areas, and only in charter schools that were once privately run was there a clear trend of  higher achievement by voucher students when compared with students in public schools.

During 2009-2011, student enrollment in MPCP increased despite fewer schools participating in the program. The amount of students in the program stood at 23,426 for the 2011-12 school year, a 12 percent increase from the previous year.

Established 22 years ago, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) is the oldest private school choice program in the United States that is still in existence. Currently, the state of Wisconsin trails only Arizona in the percentage of students K-12 enrolled in a school choice voucher program.

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