A new set of empirical studies was recently released on the Milwaukee voucher program, and they’re being spun in a misleading way. The data clearly show that vouchers deliver an improved education to Milwaukee students. But the usual suspects are misleadingly spinning the study as proof that vouchers don’t work, and the media is buying the spin.
The battery of empirical studies, conducted by the School Choice Demonstration Project, examined a broad array of questions. One study found that the Milwaukee program saves major taxpayer money, confirming what we knew from previous studies: private schools are more efficient than the bloated government bureaucracy. Another found that private schools in the voucher program are more racially diverse, also confirming a large body of earlier research unanimously showing that vouchers provide a more racially integrated school environment. Yet another study found that vouchers have not affected home prices.
The two studies that are getting all the attention, though, are the ones on test scores. The first of these studies examined whether voucher students have better academic outcomes than a comparison group of public school students. The students in the comparison group were selected by the researchers because they had similar demographics to those of the voucher students, similar test scores at the start of the study, and came from the same neighborhoods as the voucher students.
The second study examined whether competitive incentives from the voucher program improve outcomes in Milwaukee public schools, as the government school monopoly can no longer take students for granted but must serve them better to keep them. For each individual public school student in a randomly selected sample, it counted how many voucher-participating private schools in his or her grade level were within a normal school-commuting distance, then analyzed whether the presence of more voucher options improved outcomes.