Study: Charter competition boosts public schools

Milwaukee public schools improve when they face competition from an independent charter school, according to a study by Hiren Nisar, now an analyst at Abt Associates. Black and low-achieving students show the greatest gains.

Milwaukee’s district-sponsored charters don’t trigger significant improvement in traditional public schools, concluded Nisar, who did the research for his University of Wisconsin doctoral thesis. He theorizes that principals don’t feel as much pressure to make changes that will persuade parents to keep their children at the traditional school.

 

Milwaukee vouchers boost graduation rate

Milwaukee’s school voucher program increased the chances of students graduating from high school and going on to college, according to five years of research by the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas. Low-income students can use vouchers to attend private schools.

“The Choice Program boosts the rates at which students graduate from high school, enroll in a four-year college, and persist in college,” said John Witte, professor of political science and public affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Voucher students’ achievement growth was higher in reading but similar in math to comparable public school students, the analysis concluded. In the upper grades, voucher students performed better in reading and science but worse in math.

From 7.5 to 14.6 percent of voucher students have disabilities, the study calculates. That’s much higher than the state’s estimate, which was based only on students receiving test accommodations. Compared to private schools, public schools are 60 percent more likely to identify a student as needing special education. Many students who switched from public to private schools no longer are considered disabled.

 

Milwaukee, Fresno fail reading for low-income kids

If you plan to be reincarnated as a low-income student and you’d like to be literate, pick Tampa, New York City or Miami, writes Matthew Ladner, who’s been looking at the urban NAEP results. Avoid Milwaukee and Fresno, where very few low-income students reach proficiency in reading.

 

Washington, D.C. “has improved but is still horrible,” he adds, writing on Jay Greene’s blog. “Everyone in Wisconsin ought to be horrified by the abomination that is the Milwaukee Public Schools.”

 

Benefits vs. jobs

Wisconsin’s controversial law limiting public employees’ bargaining power will enable a district to hire more teachers to cut class sizes, reports the Appleton Post Crescent.

As changes to collective bargaining powers for public workers take effect today, the Kaukauna Area School District is poised to swing from a projected $400,000 budget shortfall next year to a $1.5 million surplus due to health care and retirement savings.

The Kaukauna School Board approved changes Monday to its employee handbook that require staff to cover 12.6 percent of their health insurance and to contribute 5.8 percent of their wages to the state’s pension system, in accordance with the new collective bargaining law, commonly known as Act 10.

Increased staffing also will make it possible to “identify and support students needing individual assistance through individual and small group experiences,” said the school board president.

Teachers will have less take-home pay, but more teachers will have jobs.

Via Ann Althouse.

Milwaukee Public Schools is laying off 354 teachers. In all, 519 staffers will be laid off and 500 vacancies will not be filled. Class sizes will increase and old textbooks won’t be replaced. If the union agrees to contribute 5.8 percent of wages to retirement benefits, the district can save 198 teachers’ jobs.

D.C. vouchers advance, despite Obama

Washington, D.C.’s voucher program could be back: On a 225-195 vote, mostly along party lines, the House passed Speaker John Boehner’s bill reauthorizing and expanding vouchers for low-income students in the District. Under SOAR, students would get $8,000 to attend a private K-8 school, $12,000 for high school tuition.

SOAR will have a tougher time in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

President Obama is “strongly opposed” to SOAR, but he hasn’t threatened a veto.  In a statement yesterday, the administration claimed, “Rigorous evaluation over several years demonstrates that the D.C. program has not yielded improved student achievement by its scholarship recipients compared to other students in D.C.”

That’s not what the rigorous evaluator said in congressional testimony, notes the Washington Post in a pro-voucher editorial. Patrick J. Wolf, the principal investigator who studied the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program for the U.S. Education Department, said on Feb. 16:

“In my opinion, by demonstrating statistically significant experimental impacts on boosting high school graduation rates and generating a wealth of evidence suggesting that students also benefited in reading achievement, the DC OSP has accomplished what few educational interventions can claim: It markedly improved important education outcomes for low-income inner-city students.”

In addition, writes the Post, parents say the program lets their children “attend safer schools or ones that strongly promote achievement.”

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarships also raised graduation rates, Jay Greene adds. Wolf’s study (pdf) concluded: Some 82 percent of students offered a voucher completed high school, compared to 70 percent for the control group.

Obama’s anti-voucher move will make it hard to get bipartisan agreement on rewriting the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, writes Mike Petrilli on Education Next. “Many Republicans will refuse to play ball with an Administration not willing to compromise on a top GOP priority.”

Yesterday, I linked to a study concluding that Milwaukee voucher students don’t outperform similar students in the city’s public schools.

But Milwaukee voucher students are more likely to graduate from high school and go on to a four-year college than similar public school students, writes Jay Greene, citing a study (pdf) released today by University of Kentucky researchers.

Attending a private school with a voucher resulted in about a 7 percentage point improvement in the probability of attending a four year college.  Considering that is a move from about 32% to 39% attending 4 year college, it is a big effect.

Compared to similar public school students, voucher students do worse in the early grades but perform better in the older grades. After three years, “rates of achievement growth are statistically similar.”

Indiana’s House has passed a voucher bill that would provide tuition aid to children from low- and middle-income families earning up to $60,000 a year.

Scores aren’t higher for Milwaukee voucher students

Milwaukee voucher students score lower in math and the same in reading as similar public school students, according to new state test results.  Math proficiency averaged 34.4 percent for voucher students, who come from low-income families, compared to 43.9 percent for low-income district students. Reading proficiency averaged 55.2 percent for voucher students, 55.3 percent for low-income public school students. (The voucher students are slightly poorer.)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wants to drop enrollment caps and income limits for the voucher program, which allows children to attend private schools, including many religious schools.

Charters educate high-need students

The federal role in charter education is a “haphazard collection of laws, rules, funding preferences and rhetoric that lacks coherence at the policy or action level,” concludes the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings. Its experts recommend:

a) collecting and using more and better data on the performance of charter schools for purposes of authorizing, research, and informed parental choice; b) requiring states to provide equitable funding for charter schools relative to traditional public schools—including support for facilities; c) supporting higher standards for authorizing; d) revising rules and definitions that unintentionally disadvantage charter schools; e) promoting the growth as well as quality control of virtual charter schools; and f) finally and most importantly articulating and following through on a coherent policy with respect to charter schools.

Some 1.6 million children attend 4,900 charter schools in 39 states, the study notes. The best-known chains “create highly structured routines with uniforms, strict rules, and numerous drills.”

But charters take many other forms, including single sex schools, schools for the performing arts, schools for science and technology, bilingual schools, schools for the disabled, schools for drop-outs, and virtual schools where learning takes place online.

Charters attract a disproportionate number of low-income and minority students, especially blacks.  “Initial test scores of students at charter schools are usually well below those of the average public school student in the state in which the charter school is located,” the report finds.

Of five randomized studies, four found charter schools improved student achievement while one found no impact, Brookings concludes. The four positive studies involved urban schools serving minority students. The no-impact study found “students from poor, minority, urban backgrounds did better in charter schools in contrast to students from middle-class, suburban backgrounds, who did worse.”

Thus all the randomized trials are consistent in pointing to the success of charter schools in large urban areas.

In addition to looking at reading and math scores, a study of charter high schools in Chicago and Florida found positive effects on both high school completion and college attendance.

Milwaukee’s charter students do as well in reading and may do slightly better in math compared to students in district-run public schools after one year, concludes a preliminary study by John F. Witte of the University of Wisconsin and Patrick J. Wolf of the University of Arkansas.

Students in independent charter schools that were converted from private schools outperformed Milwaukee Public Schools student in both math and reading after controlling for factors such as student characteristics and school switching.

Charters are schools of choice often located in minority neighborhoods, writes Nelson Smith. That’s not segregation.

Teachers union wants tax-funded Viagra

With hundreds of teachers facing layoffs, the Milwaukee teachers’ union is fighting in court to get Viagra coverage back in its health plan, reports AP.

. . . the union has argued, so far unsuccessfully, that the board’s policy of excluding erectile-dysfunction drugs discriminates against male employees. The union says Viagra, Cialis, Levitra and others are necessary treatment for “an exclusively gender-related condition.”

Via Flypaper.

Milwaukee voucher scores match public results

Milwaukee students who received vouchers to attend private schools score about the same as similar students attending Milwaukee’s public schools, according to a study by the School Choice Demonstration Project. School choice had no effect on racial segregation.

The ongoing study looked at two years of data.

Less taxpayer money is spent on students in the choice program, pointed out Patrick Wolf, the  University of Arkansas education professor who heads the study. “You’re getting similar rates of achievement growth at lower cost.”

The city’s low-income students — voucher and public — are outperforming low-income students in other urban school districts, the study found.

Vouchers are improving education in Milwaukee by improving public schools as well as helping voucher recipients find private alternatives that meet their needs, argues Greg Forster. He cites research here (pdf) and here.

The study shows that school choice isn’t enough, responds Rick Hess.

. . . choice-based reform should be embraced as an opportunity for educators to create more focused and effective schools and for reformers to solve problems in smarter ways. Whether any of that pays off is much more a question of quality control, support, talent, investment, infrastructure, and the rest than it is of whether or not a choice program is in place.

If reformers can’t create and expand quality schools, parents may choose schools that are smaller and safer but academically weak.

Higher grad rate for voucher students

Milwaukee’s voucher schools graduate 77 percent of low-income students, compared with 65 percent for public high schools, concludes an ongoing study. That means voucher students are 18 percent more likely to earn a high school diploma.

More than 21,000 low-income students in Milwaukee use vouchers to attend  110 private schools in the city.

The study compared seven choice schools and 23 public high schools, and was “adjusted to account for an expected 5% ninth-grade retention rate in choice schools and an expected 25% ninth-grade retention rate in MPS,” reports the Journal-Sentinel.

District officials complain that the names of schools in the study, which started in 2003, are confidential, making it impossible to judge comparability.