Voucher Students Don't Do Better, Wisc. Study Says

A new study of Milwaukee’s school voucher program that is being called the most comprehensive to date shows that children receiving publicly financed tuition at religious and other private schools perform no better academically than their peers in public schools.

Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program (MPCP) is the oldest voucher program in the nation. It gives vouchers worth as much as $6,500 to 18,000 students from low- and moderate-income homes. The program will cost taxpayers $120 million this school year.

The new study’s comparative analysis of standardized test scores shows that children who transfer to private schools using MPCP vouchers fare no better than their peers who stay behind in so-called “failing” public 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 for students in grades 6-9 were statistically equal.

Eighty percent of the schools participating in the voucher program are religious in nature. Of those, 70 percent are Christian, with the remaining handful associated with other religions, including Islam and Judaism.

Less than a month after that report was issued, an analysis of Catholic schools found that students attending them do no better in reading in the early grades than their public school counterparts and perform worse in math.

“I was actually surprised to find the results that Catholic schools are worse in mathematics,” Sean F. Reardon, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of education and sociology at Stanford University, told Education Week. “But, if Catholic schools aren’t subject to the same accountability requirements as public schools are, then they may not spend as much time on mathematics and literacy.”