WILL Press Release | New WILL Study Compares School Performance in Milwaukee, Across Wisconsin

The most comprehensive look at test scores since the School Choice Demonstration Project


March 1, 2017 – Milwaukee, WI –  For too long, the debate over student achievement in public, charter, and private schools has been muddied by insufficient data and inappropriate apples-to-oranges comparisons.  Not anymore.  A new WILL study, for the first time using the most recent test score results, provides parents and policymakers with the clearest possible comparison of student outcomes in each school sector in Milwaukee – as well as in Wisconsin.

The study found that private schools in the choice programs and public charter schools in Milwaukee and Wisconsin perform significantly better on the 2016 ACT and Forward Exams than traditional public schools when a proper apples-to-apples comparison is made.  This means accounting for a schools’ student population make-up of poverty, race, and English language learners.  Other findings include:

1. MPCP outperforms MPS.  Private schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) significantly outperform traditional Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).  On the Forward Exam, students in the MPCP were approximately 5% more likely to be proficient in English/Language Arts and about 4% more likely to be proficient in Math.  On the ACT, students in the MPCP score, on average, 8%  higher than students in traditional public schools.

2. Charters outperform MPS.  Both independent and non-instrumentality charters have higher proficiency rates than MPS.  Students in non-instrumentality charter schools were about 8% more likely to be proficient in English/Language Arts and 7% more likely to be proficient than traditional public school students.

3. Affiliation with long-established religious school system matters.  When compared to MPS, students in Catholic schools are about 7% more likely to be proficient on the Forward Exam in Math and 14% more likely to be proficient in English than students in MPS.

4. MPS’ specialty schools are no different than neighborhood MPS.  On its face, MPS’ citywide specialty schools – Golda Meir, Ronald Reagan, King IB, etc. – outperform the vast majority of schools in City.  But when schools’ race and socio-economic status are taken into account, specialty schools perform no better than neighborhood MPS schools and are outperformed significantly by the MPCP average.  The reason?  MPS’ specialty schools – many of which have admissions policies – have less economically disadvantaged students and more “white” students than the rest of MPS, MPCP, and charter schools.

5. Statewide comparisons.  Schools in the Racine and Wisconsin choice programs score approximately 17% higher on the ACT composite score than traditional public schools.  Rural Wisconsin schools struggle as much as urban schools.

Will Flanders, Ph.D., author of the report, “This matters for parents.  It is not about building one sector up or tearing another down.  But if we are to take seriously the wish of all Wisconsin parents to provide their children with the best opportunity to succeed, we have to make the best use of the available data to provide parents with accurate information about what is working and what isn’t.”

The study can be found here.


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