A report published Wednesday by the libertarian Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty found that charter schools in the Milwaukee area outperformed their public counterparts.
The study specifically compared 2016 ACT and Forward Examination—the successor to the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam—scores and controlled for different factors in student populations such as poverty levels, race and number of nonnative English speakers.
“This matters for parents. It’s not about building one sector up or tearing another down,” said the author of the report, Will Flanders. “But if we are to take seriously the wish of all Wisconsin parents to provide their children with the best opportunity to succeed, we have to make the best use of the available data to provide parents with accurate information about what is working and what isn’t.”
Both private schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, a voucher system for low-income students, and public charter schools had higher scores in English/Language Arts and Math proficiency than Milwaukee Public Schools did.
Private school students were found to be approximately 5 percent more likely to be proficient in English/Language Arts and about 4 percent more likely to be proficient in Math on the Forward Exam. On the ACT, private school students scored 2.8 points higher on average than MPS students.
Charter school students performed better than private schools compared to MPS, as they scored roughly 8 percent better on their ACT and Forward Exams. Non-charter speciality public schools, however, performed no better than their regular public equivalents. Most students attending those schools, such as Rufus King High School, a public magnet school, are less economically disadvantaged as those attending the average MPS school.
While the study indeed shows an achievement difference between public and charter schools, it is important to note that only one year of test scores was taken into account. The same report also found that rural schools performed similarly on those exams as urban ones, both of which were less proficient than schools in suburban areas. The budgets of the various types of schools was not taken into account when conducting the study.
Milwaukee has one of the nation’s first modern systems of private school vouchers. The MPCP was enacted in 1990 and has been championed by Gov. Scott Walker, both during his time as governor and as Milwaukee County Executive.