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Casey Cobb, (860) 486-6278,
Dan Quinn, (517) 203-2940,

Nation's largest urban school voucher program doesn't produce better results than public schools, reviews find

Student graduation rates, test scores analyzed

EAST LANSING, Mich. (April 19, 2012) – A longitudinal study on students enrolled in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) found little differences between voucher students and those attending Milwaukee Public Schools overall, according to an academic review released today.

Three recent reports of the MPCP, produced by the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) at the University of Arkansas use largely sound methods, but the data they assemble provide little in the way of an endorsement for the 22-year-old school voucher program – the largest urban voucher program in the nation.

In February, the SCDP released a series of final reports on the MPCP, which addressed several areas of the voucher system. Casey Cobb of the University of Connecticut reviewed three of those reports. The reviews were produced by the National Education Policy Center with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice. The three reports reviewed are among more than 30 produced by the School Choice Demonstration Project.

The reports (No. 29, 30 & 32) found, respectively:

  • A sample of elementary and middle school MPCP students outperformed a matched sample of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) students in reading in the fifth year of the program. The MPCP sample also showed trends of outscoring the MPS sample in math, but these were not statistically significant (No. 29).

  • Voucher students who attended a private school in 8th or 9th grade in 2006 "were more likely to graduate high school," "enroll in a four-year post-secondary institution," and "persist in that four-year institution beyond the first year of enrollment" (No. 30).

  • Comparisons of the test performance of MPCP students with that of a sample of students from the Milwaukee Public Schools revealed mixed findings with no clear pattern (No. 32). For example, a sample of low-income MPS students scored higher than MPCP students on average in 4th grade reading, math, and science, and in 8th and 10th grade math. The MPCP students scored higher than the MPS sample in 8th and 10th grade reading and science.

In his reviews, Cobb found that the study comparing voucher and MPS elementary and middle school test-scores (No. 29) used sound and appropriately qualified methods. But he also found reason to believe that the study over generalized its findings.

In response to the report on student attainment (No. 30), Cobb wrote: "The report aptly concludes that even ‘if the results we present here are interpreted as evidence that MPCP students are performing slightly better on one metric – attaining a given level of education – they do not support a comprehensive conclusion that the MPCP necessarily provides a better learning environment than MPS’."
"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.

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.

Find Casey Cobb’s reviews on the Great Lakes Center website at:

Find the MPCP Fifth Year Reports on the web at:

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

The reviews are also available on the National Education Policy Center website at:


The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and 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.

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