ON-Lion Letter
Participation in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) increased the chances of students graduating from high school and going on to college, according to research by the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) based at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark.

MPCP was the first school-voucher program of its kind when it started in 1990.  In 2006, Wisconsin policymakers mandated that SCDP lead a five-year evaluation of the program.

"Our clearest positive finding is that the Choice Program boosts the rates at which students graduate from high school, enroll in a four-year college, and persist in college," said John Witte, professor of political science and public affairs at the University of Wisconsin.  "Since educational attainment is linked to positive life outcomes such as higher lifetime earnings and lower rates of incarceration, this is a very encouraging result of the program."

Witte worked on the evaluations with SCDP director Patrick Wolf and a team of researchers.  Their evaluations covered numerous aspects of the program, including academic achievement, parental satisfaction, and cost savings.

"Our final set of reports on the [MPCP] represent the last word on the first private school choice program targeted to low-income inner-city students in the U.S. -- a pioneering program that operated for 22 years and paved the way for 25 voucher and tax-credit scholarship programs that have come in its wake," according to a summary by Wolf of the final reports.

"Our findings include several 'no significant difference' results but also some evidence that participation in MPCP or enrollment in an independent public charter school has produced better student outcomes than those experienced by similar students" in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) system."

The evaluation concluded that, when similar students in MPCP and MPS were compared, the achievement growth of students in the voucher program was higher in reading, but similar in math.  When a snapshot of students in the voucher program who took the state accountability test was compared to a snapshot of the performance of MPS students with similar income disadvantages, the students in the voucher program performed at higher levels in the upper grades in reading and science, but at lower levels in math at all grade levels examined and in reading and science in fourth grade.

Milwaukee's Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation supported the SCDP research.
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