This new study on school competition examines which types of schools experience more competitive pressure and asks Milwaukee principals which schools they identify as their primary source of competition. The analysts use Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) administrative, student-transfer, and achievement data for 2007–08 through 2009–10, as well as geographic data and MPS principal survey findings from 2010. Four key results arise: First, 45 percent of the surveyed principals reportedly experienced a lot of competitive pressure from other schools, 30 percent some, 14 percent a little, and 11 percent none. The schools of those who perceived some or a lot of pressure tended to have more poor children and those with special needs. Secondly, and surprisingly, the extent to which principals feel pressure is not related to geographic factors, such as the number of nearby schools serving the same grades. Analysts muse that this may be a result of the robust choice system in Milwaukee that includes transportation supports. However, the extent of competition is related to transfer rates out of a school and student performance—with low- and high-achieving schools feeling more pressure than those in the middle. Third, when asked to identify their biggest sources of competition, principals tended to point to schools that were similar to them with higher average scores, more white or Hispanic kids, and those that receive greater numbers of transfers from them. This makes intuitive sense. And fourth, the most common response to competition is not improving curriculum or instruction but ramping up outreach and advertisement to parents. The latter is more than a tad disappointing, because this is the same key finding that similar studies found a decade ago!

SOURCE: Susanna Loeb and Matthew Kasman, “Principals’ perceptions of competition for students in Milwaukee schools,” Education Finance and Policy 8 (1): 43-73.

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