ON-Lion Letter

Too often, the media, politicians, and interest groups try to form conclusions by lumping schools together according to "sector" -- traditional public schools in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) system, private schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), and independent public charter schools in the city.  They compare average Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) test scores according to each sector, as if they are one homogenous unit.  But, given the differences in private schools in the choice program and public charter schools -- and the limitations of the WKCE testing -- this is a flawed approach to comparing schools in Milwaukee. 

A February policy brief from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) in Milwaukee recommends a better way to form conclusions from the flawed WKCE data.

With Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget calling for the legislature to lift the cap on the statewide Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, there will be a renewed focus on the performance of the Milwaukee voucher program.  If people insist on making comparisons between MPS and MPCP, WILL's latest paper gets closer to an "apples-to-apples" comparison when analyzing WKCE test scores by taking into account a school's religious affiliation, the composition of its low-income students, and the composition of its African-American students. 

Publicly available student data allows comparisons between schools in Milwaukee that serve predominantly low-income, African American students.  When looking at these schools across all sectors, according to the policy brief, MPCP students in Catholic or Lutheran schools outperform MPS students, and independent charter schools perform significantly better than MPS schools.

"It would serve public policy better to improve the information provided to parents, identify high performing schools and figure out how to expand their seats, and identify chronically low-performing schools and figure out how to turn them around," WILL's paper concludes.  "In light of this, one should question the reason for making comparisons across sectors when clearly both high-performing and low-performing schools operate in each sector.  Nonetheless, comparisons will likely continue to be made, and this report offers a better (though still not ideal) alternative to the usual ones."

Milwaukee's Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation substantially supports WILL.

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