"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, February 29, 2008

Milwaukee Voucher Program Fails to Improve Test Scores

From Americans United for Separation of Church and State:
February 27th 2008
A new study of the Milwaukee school voucher program shows that children receiving publicly financed tuition at religious and other private schools perform no better academically than their peers in public schools.

The results are surely disappointing for voucher supporters. Their premise rests on the assumption that children removed from “failing” public schools will fulfill their academic potential at private schools.

The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) gives over 18,000 low-to-moderate-income students up to $6,501 to attend one of 120 participating schools. The Wisconsin legislature predicts the program will cost taxpayers $120 million this school year.

So, do voucher supporters have a leg to stand on? Do vouchers improve students’ academic performance?

The new study’s comparative analysis of standardized tests scores suggests not. The data show that children who transfer to private schools using MPCP vouchers fare no better than their peers who stay behind in so-called “failing” schools.

“The baseline results indicate,” reports the study, “that MPCP students in grades 3 to 5 are currently scoring slightly lower on the math and reading portions of the [state scholastic aptitude test] than their [public school] counterparts.” Results from students in grades 6-9 were statistically equal.

The report didn’t have good news for Milwaukee’s education system as a whole, either.

Indeed, both public school students and MPCP students scored “well below the 50th percentile nationally.” Given the same standardized tests, both sets of students generally scored in the 33rd percentile, or below 2/3 of their peers nationwide.

So, these similarly situated groups of students fared alike when compared to each other and dismally when compared to students from all walks of life across the country. Maybe the question isn’t how we can redistribute students in similar educational environments, but how can we improve similarly situated students’ over all living and learning environments.

What about the Religious Right’s fondness for vouchers? I’ve always suspected their members are pro-voucher because they siphon money from public schools to their sectarian schools.

The program is undoubtedly a boon to religious schools in the Milwaukee area. Eighty percent of participating schools, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports, are religiously affiliated. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a solid majority of those – 70 per cent – are affiliated with the Christian religion. The remaining handful is associated with other religions, including Islam and Judaism.

Although researcher Patrick Wolf calls the project “the most comprehensive evaluation of a school choice program ever attempted,” he and his co-authors make clear that there is still much research to be done. This is the first of 36 reports scheduled to be released as part of the “School Choice Demonstration Project” and I suspect future data will corroborate those released his week. Then maybe we can make the debate less about free-market economics and religious education, and more about our children’s future.

By Lauren Smith

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