The Sunday Journal Sentinel editorial page included several commentaries on last week’s release of the final reports of the state-mandated evaluation of the Milwaukee voucher program. Most frustrating is the entry by University of Colorado professors Alex Molnar and Kevin Welner.
They bring up legitimate questions on study attrition but go off the rails when completely dismissing the voucher program as the cause of reading gains for choice pupils. Molnar and Welner point to the experience in Chicago where the introduction of high stakes testing caused a one-time bump in test scores. Great.
If you actually read the studies by the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) you’ll see that the SCDP study team did acknowledge that the introduction of high-stakes testing might have played a role in test scores gains. In other words, the SCDP team, as they have throughout the evaluation, took a cautious and critical eye to what they were finding. In contrast Molnar and Welner feel comfortable dismissing the role of the voucher program on reading gains because of the Chicago anecdote, writing:
It is the implementation of test-based accountability in voucher schools during the final year of the evaluation that is most likely responsible for the entire bump in reading test scores.
They later conclude:
As this evaluation confirms, students who receive vouchers probably don’t do any worse or any better when they move to private schools.
Simply, no, that is not what the evaluation found.
Further, it is mind-boggling that the headline to Molnar and Welner’s piece calls the entire evaluation “inconsequential.” Because of this evaluation, the public knows more about the impact of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program than just about any other major education reform effort in U.S. history. The merits of vouchers should be debated, but dismissing the evidence informing the debate as inconsequential is ridiculous.
If education reform efforts are not guided by evidence, how will they be guided?