Graduation Rates: MPS vs. Choice
By Benjamin Artz
There is no doubt it is in the interest of every citizen to care about the public school system. Not only do millions of tax dollars funnel into public schools every year but more importantly, graduates create a more stable, functional and successful society. It is for this reason Milwaukee decided to improve its public school system by implementing the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program years ago. This is simply a program that provides a subsidy per student that goes to the school each student chooses to attend. Thus good schools theoretically get more students and therefore more funding while bad schools lose funding and eventually shut down. Basically vouchers create competition among schools, where in the end only the strong schools survive.
The question is whether or not students actually are more successful at a choice school rather than staying in the Milwaukee Public School system. A new study suggests that choice, or voucher, students are indeed graduating more often than MPS students. “Graduation Rates for Choice and Public School Students in Milwaukee, 2003 – 2007” by John Robert Warren of the University of Minnesota identifies that voucher student graduation rates are higher than MPS graduation rates for four out of the five years of the study. In fact, if the MPS graduation rate had been the same as that of the voucher student rate over the five year period, Dr. Warren estimates that an additional 20% of MPS students would have graduated. Admittedly, Dr. Warren’s method of measuring graduation rates depends on making some trivial, and biasing, assumptions including, among others, migration of students. However, the single best measure of graduation rates requires individual identification of all students who begin high school in Milwaukee but are tracked throughout all of their years in school. This data has only recently been made available and is currently being researched.
The issue, however, is not necessarily the correct way to measure graduation rates, since Dr. Warren’s results are likely to be quite close to the most accurate results. Instead, the issue is to determine whether or not the voucher schools are actually better or if there is something systematically different about the voucher students themselves that make them more likely to graduate than MPS students. It could be that voucher schools are getting better as more funding comes with more students. However, it could also be that more motivated students are choosing to leave MPS and go to their choice of voucher school while the unmotivated are not as likely to change.
Regardless, the results speak for themselves. Student graduation rates are higher among voucher participants, implying that the program should slowly be expanded to include increasingly higher income groups. Although higher income families can often afford the tuition of their school of choice, it is important to provide more incentives for students to attend the schools they and their parents feel are best for them, not just the ones that are closest or cheapest. In this way more students are likely to graduate and possibly even go on to college. This will create increased growth potential in Milwaukee and build a more successful and stable society. The Choice program should therefore remain a significant, and growing, part of the public school system in Milwaukee.
-May 29, 2008