NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 14, 1996

Milwaukee's pioneer voucher schools are registering impressive gains in student test scores vis-a-vis their public school counterparts, according to new research.

The most recent study, conducted by Harvard University and University of Houston researchers, supersedes an earlier study by John Witte of the University of Wisconsin that found voucher students' performance was not significantly better than that of public school students after two years.

The new study examined students' test scores over a four-year period. It shows significantly higher reading and math test scores among the voucher school students. The authors of the study charge that the Witte research was "so methodologically flawed as to be worthless."

Yet teachers unions -- fierce opponents of privatizing elementary education -- are reportedly using the Witte study to convince a Wisconsin court to issue an injunction to stop the city from expanding its 1990 pilot voucher program.

Researchers say Witte's study is flawed because it used inappropriate comparisons between low-income, minority students in the school choice program and a much less disadvantaged cross-section of public school students for the control group.

  • Ninety-seven percent of school choice students in the Witte study were black or Hispanic, versus only 60 percent of the comparison group.
  • Choice parents reported family incomes of only $11,330 on average, compared with $20,040 for all Milwaukee public school families.
  • Fifty-eight percent of choice students' mothers were on welfare, compared with 40 percent of mothers in the comparison group.

The Witte study has been used repeatedly in Wisconsin and in Congress to claim that choice schools are not outperforming public schools.

Critics say the Witte study is not just bad science -- it is actually harmful to underprivileged children who most need the superior educational opportunities vouchers would provide.

Source: Jay P. Greene (University of Houston) and Paul E. Peterson (Harvard University), "School Choice Data Rescued from Bad Science," Wall Street Journal, August 14, 1996.


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