Milwaukee Choice Students Have Higher Graduation Rates, Study Shows

Published February 25, 2011

Students in Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program have a better chance of graduating from high school than their peers, a study of the 21-year-old voucher program finds.

According to the report for School Choice Wisconsin by University of Minnesota sociologist John Robert Warren, Milwaukee choice students were 18 percent more likely to graduate high school than students from all economic backgrounds in Milwaukee Public Schools. Warren used seven years’ worth of data to track the graduation rates of students enrolled in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP).

The MPCP, which began in 1990, now serves more than 20,000 children annually. In six out of seven years of data Warren studied, students who received vouchers had higher graduation rates than those enrolled in public schools.

During that time period, graduation rates increased for students in both the Milwaukee Public Choice Program and in Milwaukee Public Schools.

Competing Explanations
Warren’s study concludes 3,939 additional students would have graduated from 2003 to 2009 had the graduation rate in Milwaukee Public Schools been equivalent to that in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

Although Warren conducted the study to document the differences in graduation rates between Milwaukee Public Schools and the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, he is careful not to argue the MPCP necessarily caused the higher levels of achievement.

Warren says given the data at his disposal, it’s impossible to rule out competing explanations, such as family motivation and post-high school plans. But the clear bottom line, he says, is students in MPCP schools graduate at a higher rate.

In addition, “I doubt that it’s socioeconomic factors, since from what I understand kids in MPCP schools tend to be relatively disadvantaged,” he explained.

Further Study on the Way

Warren’s caution is echoed by Patrick Wolf, endowed chair in School Choice in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas.

“The voucher students are graduating high school at higher rates than are MPS students, even as the MPS graduation rate is increasing over time. Those are true facts from [Warren’s] research,” Wolf said. “We just need to be careful drawing further conclusions from it.” 

Wolf’s own study of Milwaukee graduation rates is scheduled for publication in late March. The study will use a different methodology and, Wolf says, should provide more evidence of whether the MPCP is responsible for the higher graduation rates of MPCP students.

Lindsey Burke ([email protected]) is an education policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation

Internet Info:
John Robert Warren, Ph.D.: “Graduation Rates for Choice and Public School Students in Milwaukee, 2003-2009,” School Choice Wisconsin (January 2011):