School Choice and School Accountability: Evidence from a Private Voucher Program in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Nine months ago, the School Choice Demonstration Project delivered its final treatise on the Milwaukee school-voucher program, known as the MPCP (capping a run of thirty-seven reports on the topic). It concluded that “the combination of choice and accountability left the MPCP students in our study with significantly higher levels of reading gains than their carefully matched peers in MPS after four years.” This study by analysts at the Universities of Oklahoma and Kentucky and Furman University corroborates that encouraging assertion. Here, authors examine three years of achievement data—two years before and one year after stricter testing and public-reporting requirements were passed in Wisconsin for private schools accepting voucher students—to ascertain the impact of these new accountability provisions on student achievement. They found large increases in the average math and reading scores for students enrolled in voucher schools. Further, voucher students outperformed their traditional-school peers in reading in 2010-11 and narrowed the gap in math. Using value-added and other rigorous models, the research team was able to demonstrate that achievement increases in the neighborhood of 0.1 to 0.2 standard deviations reflect the impact of the new accountability policies as opposed to pre-existing trends and/or selective student attrition (think: counseling-out or expelling more difficult students). With only one year of data available since the stricter requirements were implemented, this research by no means concludes the voucher-accountability discussion (we’ll offer our own remarks on the topic in coming months, in fact), but it does offer a strong case for the combination of both market forces and performance measurement to improve student achievement.

Deven E. Carlson, Joshua M. Cohen, and David J. Fleming, School Choice and School Accountability: Evidence from a Private Voucher Program in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Rome, Italy: INVALSI Improving Education Conference, October 3-5, 2012).

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