Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Scores shows vouchers are no miracle pill, even in Milwaukee

Hold your hats. The Wisconsin Department of Education has just released test score data showing that students attending voucher schools in Milwaukee -- home of the nation's first and longest-lasting voucher program -- lag behind students in public schools.

That's right: Education Week magazine states plainly, "Students who received vouchers to attend private or religious schools in Milwaukee performed worse on statewide reading and math tests than their counterparts in public schools."

Of course, Milwaukee's former city administrator -- now Wisconsin's lackluster governor -- Scott Walker has issued his own decree that despite test score data, the voucher program in Milwaukee is "exceptional." Perhaps the beefaroni they serve in Milwaukee voucher schools is superior to the beefaroni served in public schools, and this is sufficient to counter any criticism over test scores. Walker is not specific.

But the larger point is informative to us, as our own lawmakers ponder a proposal by Governor Nikki Haley and Superintendent Mick Zais to scrap public education and move to a voucher scheme here.

The test results show that for all grades, 34.4 percent of voucher students were proficient or advanced in math compared to Milwaukee public schools' 47.8 percent average and the 43.9 percent average for low-income Milwaukee public schools students. Statewide, 77.2 percent of public school students scored proficient or advanced in math.

On reading scores, 55.2 percent of voucher students were advanced or proficient compared with 59 percent of Milwaukee public school students. Among Milwaukee's low-income public school students, 55.3 percent proficient or advanced. Overall, 83 percent of public school students in Wisconsin hit those marks.

Want to hear something else?

Our own leaders like to say that moving to a voucher program in South Carolina wouldn't cost anything, and would actually save taxpayers some money. But in Milwaukee, apparently truth is told aloud, and vouchers there DO cost taxpayers some money after all.

Private and religious schools that accept voucher students receive $6,442 from the state for each pupil. With about 21,000 students currently enrolled, the program has cost about $130 million in taxpayer money this year.

That's $130 million in taxpayer dollars this year alone, in just one city. That's a hefty price tag.

And one last thing: We only know this information now because a change in the law required that students in voucher schools take the same test as students in public schools. Comparing apples to apples meant that the test score data is a valid measure of voucher schools' effectiveness. But now, Wisconsin's governor wants to repeal that change in the law and let voucher schools go back to using their own testing system, so no accurate comparisons can be made in the future.

The Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations tests, which began in 1992, were given to 430,000 students in third through eighth grade and 10th grade last fall. The test initially was required under state law, but beginning in 2002 was used to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind to determine whether schools are progressing as required.

Voucher students took the tests for the first time this year, as required under a law change approved by Democrats when they controlled the Legislature. That included about 10,600 students.

Walker has proposed doing away with that requirement and instead allowing voucher students to use any nationally normed test to measure a student achievement, a move that would not allow for direct comparisons with public school students' scores.

Watch, South Carolina. Doubtless our own governor and superintendent are taking careful notes of these developments and adding these facts to their calculation to dismantle public schools and return to a colonial system, in which the wealthy educate their own, and the poor do what they're told.

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