Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Sunday, April 5, 2009

Studies find benefit from charter schools, little effect from voucher program

The use of vouchers to send students to private schools in Milwaukee does not have much of an impact on the students' academic progress, while charter schools have higher rates of students graduating high school and attending college, two recent studies involving La Follette School professor John Witte find.

La Follette School professor John Witte leads a roundtable discussion about school choice in Milwaukee. La Follette School photo by Bob Rashid taken Friday, November 3, 2006. La Follette School professor John Witte leads a roundtable discussion about school choice in Milwaukee.

Rand Corporation Report: Charter Schools in Eight States Effects on Achievement, Attainment, Integration, and Competition

School Choice Demonstration Project

Witte is a co-author of a RAND Corporation study of charter schools in Chicago, San Diego, Philadelphia, Denver, Milwaukee, and the states of Ohio, Texas and Florida. Charter Schools in Eight States Effects on Achievement, Attainment, Integration, and Competition is the first to use longitudinal, student-level data to systematically examine charter schools and the arguments for and against them.

Milwaukee charter schools had a positive effect on math achievement in comparison to traditional schools. These effects were in the first years in which schools switched to charter schools and leveled off after that. There were no differences in standardized reading tests.

Charter schools do appear to improve the rates for high-school graduation and college entry, Witte says. "For where we have the data — Chicago and Florida — charter high schools appear to increase the probability of graduating by 7 to 15 percentage points and the probability of enrolling in college by 8 to 10 percentage points."

Another important finding is that charter schools generally do not draw the top students from other public schools, Witte says.

In Milwaukee, researchers found no statistically significant differences overall in achievement gains for students in Milwaukee's school voucher program compared to similar students in public schools.

Witte's portion of the national School Choice Demonstration Project examines the achievement growth over time of carefully matched panels of voucher and public school students. His report finds no statistically significant differences in achievement gains for students in the program compared to similar students in Milwaukee public schools.

"However, the data suggest that boys gained an extra 6.4 scale score points in reading if enrolled in the voucher program, whereas girls gained an extra 5.2 scale score points in reading if enrolled in Milwaukee public schools," Witte says. "Both differences among the gender subgroups are statistically significant, but these early results need to be confirmed before they are considered conclusive."

Study finds results of MPS and voucher school students are similar, March 26, 2009, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

School Choice in Milwaukee Benefits Some Students, March 26, 2009, Saves Money, University of Arkansas Daily Headlines

How Charter Schools Affect Student Outcomes, March 18, 2009, Rand Corporation news release

The Impact of Milwaukee Charter Schools on Student Achievement, March 2009, Issues in Governance Studies, Brookings Institution