Milwaukee School Choice Research Yields a Lot of Interesting Results

School choice doesn’t provide all the answers to our education challenges, but it’s becoming very hard to deny that choice in itself yields some positive results. Look at the new results (PDF) from the University of Arkansas’s School Choice Demonstration Project for the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP).

Milwaukee isn’t just famous for that show about two women who work as brewery bottlecappers. The Wisconsin city is the granddaddy of school choice programs, and probably the best place for in-depth studies of all sorts of issues surrounding choice.

And the School Choice Demonstration Project has brought together some of the best and most experienced education researchers – including Patrick Wolf, John Witte, and Jay Greene – to do just that. The series of studies released this week focus on everything from fiscal impacts to parental satisfaction to academic growth and real estate prices. Some of the more interesting findings:

  • Boys in the choice schools show positive growth in reading, while girls do a little better in the public schools (maybe Krista Kafer was onto something with her “Boy Crisis in Education”)
  • Voucher students are behind their public school peers on 4th grade tests but mostly ahead by 8th grade, and are outpacing national norms by 10th grade
  • Competition has caused real but modest improvement among area public schools, in essence “a rising tide that has lifted all boats, but that tide has not exactly been a tsunami”
  • The school choice program created a net fiscal savings of $32 million in Fiscal Year 2008, but the funding mechanism still has left an unfair burden on Milwaukee property tax payers
  • “Families tend to have a good working knowledge of the educational options available to them in Milwaukee”
  • A wide variety of established education choices (including vouchers, charters, and other public school options) doesn’t seem to have changed the fact that home prices still are largely connected with the quality of the local public schools

All right. Time to dig a little deeper. (Just to observe caution, though, many of the results are preliminary. Interesting, yes, but also preliminary.) Consider it your homework for the weekend. Me? I’m going back outside to play in the snow before it all melts away.