Education Next | Flanders, Wolf: A Story, Not a Study

WILL Research Director, Dr. Will Flanders, and the University of Arkansas Education Professor, Patrick Wolf, write in Education Next:

A recent Wall Street Journal analysis of the Milwaukee voucher program concludes that the share of voucher students in a private school is the key to success—that private schools with few students using vouchers do well, while schools with many students using vouchers do poorly.

If accurate, this finding could be of value. It would suggest that perhaps there is a “magic formula” that leads to higher performance for all students in schools participating in a voucher program. It also might suggest that the benefits of school choice are limited to students attending a small subset of schools that admit few voucher students.

One of us (Wolf) was quoted in the story, though out of context. The bottom line is that this analysis is more likely to confuse the debate over vouchers than clarify it.

It’s worth noting, first and foremost, that there already has been a great deal of scholarly work completed on school choice in Milwaukee, which is the oldest voucher program in the country.

The School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas conducted the most comprehensive longitudinal analysis of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) to date. Among the findings: higher graduation and lower arrest rates for students enrolled in the MPCP, plus students who left choice schools to return to public schools subsequently performed better in their public school. With a few notable exceptions, research from other voucher programs around the country and world has found similar positive impacts on performance and attainment.

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