This study examines whether students in Milwaukee experience greater educational success if they use a voucher to attend a
private school rather than remaining in public schools. While early high-quality research on the Milwaukee Parental Choice
The program suggested that they do, it has been almost a decade since those early evaluations, and critics have continued to question whether the program provides students with better educational opportunities. This study calculates graduation rates for choice students and students remaining in public schools in order to provide new evidence on whether Milwaukee’s voucher program benefits students academically. Choice students in Milwaukee graduate high school at much
higher rates than students in its public schools. What’s more, their graduation rates are higher than those at selective public
high schools whose students are likely to be more advantaged in their background than Milwaukee’s choice students, who are
disproportionately poor and minority. This indicates that choice students’ higher graduation rates are unlikely to be the result of
any demographic bias in the student population. The accuracy of the study’s calculations of graduation rates is confirmed by those produced through an alternative method of calculation:• In the graduating class of 2003, Milwaukee students using vouchers to attend private high schools had a 64% graduation rate.
• That same year, the 37 Milwaukee public high schools for which data are available had a combined graduation rate of 36%.
• Milwaukee’s six academically selective public high schools, whose students are likely to be more advantaged than choice students, had a combined graduation rate of 41% in 2003.
• Using an alternative method to calculate these graduation rates produces similar results, confirming the accuracy of the study’s results. Both the study’s main method and its alternative method are widely accepted by education researchers.
Do students in Milwaukee experience greater educational success if they use a voucher to attend a private school
rather than remaining in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS)? Early high-quality research on the Milwaukee
Parental Choice Program (MPCP) suggested that they do. But it has been almost a decade since those early evaluations,
and the program has grown considerably since then. Critics have continued to question whether the MPCP provides
students with better educational opportunities and whether enough information is available to answer that question.
This study addresses, for the first time, a key issue involving the effects of Milwaukee’s school choice program on
student achievement. In particular, it estimates high school graduation rates for students enrolled in the MPCP and
students enrolled in MPS, and compares the two as a measure of their relative academic achievement. It also presents an
estimated graduation rate for a subset of Milwaukee public high schools that have selective admissions policies.
This study finds that students in the MPCP graduate high school at significantly higher rates than all MPS students.
Furthermore, choice students also graduate at significantly higher rates than students who attend selective MPS high
Approximately 64% of students who used a voucher to enter 9th grade in 1999 graduated high school in 2003, compared
to 36% of all MPS students. Among students at six MPS high schools with selective admission requirements, an
estimated 41% graduated in the class of 2003. At other MPS high schools, approximately 34% graduated.
Comparing the graduation rate for Milwaukee’s choice students to students at all Milwaukee public high schools as
well as to a selective subset of those schools does not provide a definitive evaluation of the city’s choice program. However,
such a comparison helps confirm earlier research finding that choice students in Milwaukee and other cities have
higher academic achievement. A more definitive evaluation would require longitudinal data for individual students and
employ a random-assignment research design to control for the selection of students into the choice program. In 2003,
the Wisconsin Legislature approved such an evaluation, which was to have been overseen by the state’s nonpartisan
Legislative Audit Bureau, but Governor James Doyle vetoed the bill. Another attempt at launching this important study will likely be made in the next legislative session.