Researchers to Study Milwaukee Choice Program

Published April 1, 2006

The School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) at Georgetown University will conduct a five-year longitudinal study of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), the nation’s oldest and largest school voucher program for low-income families.

The SCDP, led by chief investigator Dr. Patrick J. Wolf, previously won a nationwide competition to evaluate the two-year-old Washington, D.C. voucher program in 2004. Wolf said the Milwaukee evaluation is intended to provide the most comprehensive study yet conducted of an active school choice program.

“The central goal is to conduct a thorough and reliable study that sheds light on what policies and approaches help low-income, inner-city students learn,” Wolf said.

Wolf spoke to state legislators about the study on January 19. Plans for the Milwaukee study follow previous unsuccessful attempts by legislators and school choice supporters to evaluate the program. Those efforts were blocked by the Wisconsin State Senate in 2002 and by Gov. Jim Doyle (D) in 2003. Both plans were strongly opposed by the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), the state’s largest teachers union.

Strong Union Opposition

Sam Carmen, director of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, a WEAC affiliate, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for a January 23 story the planned study is “not the sort of accountability we think is necessary to really make fair comparisons between the success of students or schools generally.” In February, Carmen’s union sponsored radio ads suggesting “elimination” of the Milwaukee program is the union’s preferred option.

The five-year study planned by the SCDP has initial financial support from three foundations, and several others were evaluating proposals at press time. Funding commitments have already been made by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation.

“I am especially pleased that foundations from across the ideological spectrum on school choice have expressed an interest in supporting this important study, ” Wolf said.

Noteworthy Team

Wolf’s team includes John F. Witte, the University of Wisconsin researcher who evaluated the MPCP from 1990 to 1995. Another notable partner is the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), which will assist in study design and in assembling a group of MPS students whose test scores will be compared with students in the choice program.

“MPS will serve primarily to facilitate this study and ensure that it is a real apples-to-apples comparison,” said Deb Lindsey, MPS director of assessment and accountability.

The Georgetown team will be assisted by an advisory panel of well-known scholars with a range of views on school choice programs, including Witte and Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas.

Important Contribution

Wolf briefed a group of about 20 legislators on January 19 at the state capitol in Madison, explaining there will be annual MPCP performance reports starting in the fall of 2006. Overall, about 35 reports will be released over the course of the five-year study.

Gerard Robinson, a senior fellow at Marquette University’s Institute for the Transformation of Learning and author of the 2005 report “Survey of School Choice Research,” sees the study as an important contribution to the growing body of research on school choice.

“The Georgetown study will expand the scope and depth of what we know (and do not know) about MPCP’s impact on student achievement and other factors important to the learning environment of lower-income students,” Robinson said.

Mike Ford ([email protected]) is a research associate at School Choice Wisconsin.

For more information …

For more information about the School Choice Demonstration Project, visit its Web site at

See also:

“National researchers want to scrutinize city’s school voucher program,” by Alan J. Borsuk and Sarah Carr, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January 23, 2006,

“Survey of School Choice Research, Spring 2005,” by Gerard Robinson,