A new study conducted by the School Choice Demonstration Project, part of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, shows there is little difference on standardized tests between students attending public and private schools according to an article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
For years, the Milwaukee program has been allowed to exist with private schools not having to take standardized tests to determine how well their students were doing. That changed in 2006, allowing this study to take place:
But the early findings, based on examining standardized test results for voucher students and comparing them to those of a matched set of MPS students, are unlikely to be seen as good news by advocates of the program that was launched in 1990 with hopes of being a powerful step to increase educational success among the city's children.
The Milwaukee program is the largest, oldest and arguably most significant school voucher effort in the United States. As Patrick J. Wolf, the lead researcher in the project, wrote, "When one thinks of school choice, one thinks of Milwaukee."
"We have displayed a rough and limited snapshot of the average performance of Choice (Milwaukee Parental Choice Program) students in certain grades that suggests they tend to perform below national averages but at levels roughly comparable to similarly income-disadvantaged students in MPS," Wolf, a professor at the University of Arkansas, concluded.
At one point in the reports, researchers use the phrase "relative parity" in describing the small differences between the performance of MPS students and voucher students.
They say there is little evidence that voucher schools are "skimming the cream" by taking the best students from MPS, as some critics have claimed. What they conclude is that the performance of both MPS and voucher students is fairly typical for low-income students nationally, pointing at the broader American dilemma of how to achieve widespread educational success among poor children, minority children and children from homes where there is little history of educational success.