July 12, 2016

Casey D. Cobb, (860) 486-0253, casey.cobb@uconn.edu
Daniel J. Quinn, (517) 203-2940, dquinn@greatlakescenter.org

Wisconsin Report on Charter School Efficiency in Milwaukee Not Supported by Evidence

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Jul. 12, 2016) — A recent report from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) attempted to estimate efficiency scores for schools in Milwaukee and make the case for greater autonomy for charter schools. The scores were used in an attempt to draw conclusions about the relative "efficiency" of Milwaukee's charter and traditional public schools. An academic review released today of the report found the strong claims about the relative efficiencies to be too weak to serve any useful function for policymakers.

The report, Bang For The Buck: Which Public Schools In Milwaukee Produce The Best Outcomes Per Dollar Spent?, was reviewed by Dr. Casey Cobb, University of Connecticut, for the Think Twice think tank review project. Cobb is Neag Endowed Professor in Educational Policy at the Neag School of Education. Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), is funded in part by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The report used a simple analysis of math and science scores divided by per pupil funding. A second analysis from the report generated "efficiency scores" by using a regression model, which accounted for selected demographic characteristics. The authors of the report claimed that schools with greater autonomy were more efficient than schools with less autonomy.

Five major problems arise from the report's approach, Cobb finds:

  1. Test scores do not comprehensively represent the purposes of schools;
  2. The report does not address threats to the validity of its assumption that there is uniform financial accounting across schools and types;
  3. The analytic description of the study is incomplete, making interpretation difficult;
  4. "Autonomy" is never really defined—it is just used as a loose term implying independence—so autonomous behavior is assumed by virtue of their charter status. The report then makes strong but unmeasured claims about the superior "efficiency" of charter schools based on their having this greater autonomy; and
  5. While the report's analysis controls for some school demographic characteristics, it does not appear to adjust for selection effects; effects that could prove fatal to their conclusions.

In his conclusion, Cobb states: "Taken on the whole, the research warrants are simply too weak to support the report's very strong claims."

Read the full review at:

Find Bang For The Buck on the web:

Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policymakers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The review can also be found on the NEPC website:

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The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

Visit the Great Lakes Center website at http://www.greatlakescenter.org/