Wisconsin School Choice Students Outperform Government School Peers

Published January 14, 2019

Children in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP) performed better on the ACT standardized test this year than those in government schools, Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) reports.

In 2018, WPCP students earned an average composite score of 21 out of a possible 36 points on the ACT, 1.3 points higher than the statewide average of 19.7, an October report from DPI states.

WPCP is a statewide school choice program. Two other state choice programs are limited to Milwaukee and Racine.

Objections ‘Just Not True’

Lennie Jarratt, project manager for the Center for Transforming Education at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News, says there is a clear link between educational freedom and student performance.

“When students can choose the education that best fits their learning styles and goals, they will do better,” Jarratt said.

Ola Lisowski, research director at the MacIver Institute, says DPI’s data have consistently demonstrated school choice benefits students.

“I’m not surprised by the data,” Lisowski said. “It’s the third year in a row that school choice students have outperformed their public-school peers. You’ll hear people say that no data show stronger results for school choice students, and that it’s a failed experiment. That is, simply put, just not true.”

Calls for Universal Choice

Participation in WPCP is restricted to children in households earning up to 220 percent of the federal poverty level. As of October 2018, there were 7,140 students in WPCP. Including the Milwaukee and Racine programs, a total of 39,381 students participated in school choice in the state.

Jarratt says the state should universalize WPCP to make education freedom available to all students, not just those in low-income households.

“School choice should not be limited,” Jarratt said. “It should be universal. Every child deserves access to the education that meets their individual needs.

“Students should also be provided more freedom than just selecting another school,” Jarratt said. “They should be able to choose courses at multiple schools, online, or even self-study, to ensure each class fits their academic skills and goals. In other words, they should be able to pick from a menu of choices.”

Promoting Selfish Interests?

Jarratt says school choice is necessary because many government school administrators neglect students’ needs in order to promote their own economic interests and political causes.

“The hostility to school choice comes because losing students is a loss of control and of ‘hostages to the cause,’ as Horace Mann once wrote,” Jarratt said. “Government schools can no longer indoctrinate students into their current social-justice cause. In addition, far too often, public school districts have become more focused on being local jobs programs for friends and family, instead of education.”

Ashley Herzog ([email protected]) writes from Avon Lake, Ohio.