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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

GOP rush to dump voucher-school WKCE requirement explained

by folkbum

(light of day update to point to the real reporters' story on the issue)

The headline on DPI's press release says it all:
Overall MPS results higher than choice schools on statewide exams
I will start again with the usual caveat that I think test scores by themselves are no way to judge a student, teacher, school, or district. Indeed, test scores from a meaningful test measured over time can produce a picture of one aspect of schooling, but by themselves as a single snapshot they should not be the only metric.

Which doesn't mean that the Almighty Test Score isn't the only metric, because, really, it has become so. Fortunes are won and lost based on that single number for schools and districts and states all over the country. So we have to talk about the numbers, and when it comes to the Milwaukee Parental Choice (voucher) Program, we should really be talking about comparable numbers to the Milwaukee Public Schools, whence MPCP draws students and funds.

So in a reasonable application of an unreasonable tool, the state legislature a couple of years back mandated that schools participating (with the state's money) in the MPCP administer the state's test to their voucher students. Fall 2010 was the first time that all voucher students took the test. If Republicans have their way--this is in Scott Walker's proposed budget and the legislature has given no indication that they will change it--Fall 2010 will be the only time all voucher students take the test.

Now we know why. To repeat:
Overall MPS results higher than choice schools on statewide exams
The release from DPI goes on:
Results from the first administration of statewide exams to students participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) show lower academic achievement in choice schools than performance by students attending Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Results also show that both MPS and choice schools have significantly lower student achievement than the statewide average, including for students statewide who are from economically disadvantaged families.

“Clearly for the children of Milwaukee, whether in MPS or choice schools, dramatic improvements in academic achievement are needed,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “While both systems have some good schools, our statewide assessment data shows, with very few exceptions, that the choice program provides similar or worse academic results than MPS. For the sake of the city and the state, MPS and MPCP results must be improved. And, these results reinforce the need to continue using the same test for all students.”
To the right, you have it in graph form (and, yes, I wrote most of this last night so I was using the embargoed press release; click to embiggen). Note that MPS occupies two of the last three positions--not to mention coming in for some harsh critique from Evers--so this is not some sort of a smug, braggery thing. But, particularly in math, voucher schools are behind even comparable (low income) MPS students.

Pro-voucher solution? Stop requiring the test that shows this to be true.

Digging deeper into the data shows that MPS students (or, separately, the MPS low-income students) outscore voucher students at every grade in math and most grades in reading. These complete test results follow years of sampled data showing that, on balance, voucher schools do not do much better or much worse with their students than MPS does with its. (The latest round of those results, from an outside study group, are due any day now.) The verdict continues to be that vouchers aren't a solution and, in some cases like math, a detriment.

Math scores have been on the rise in MPS for years (though slightly down this year). And that's another galling thing about Walker's proposed budget: As MPS math scores have risen over the past few years, everyone in the know recognizes the reason--the Milwaukee Mathematics Partnership. Walker defunds that grant, cutting the equivalent of 99 math teachers' of funds from MMP and MPS. (This at a time when the GOP wants to use your tax dollars to "level the playing field for private schools" all across the state.)

Further data will be available later today from DPI. I don't have all of it as I write this, such as individual MPS schools' scores. I do have the voucher schools' scores and, as will undoubtedly be true of MPS, there are better schools and worse schools. Many of the older, long-established schools have pretty good scores. (Marquette University High School had all of its parents opt out of the testing ... hm.) However, it seems true that the worst places to be schooled in Milwaukee are some of the new voucher schools, founded with the sole intention of attracting voucher money. Schools I have never heard of, even, are on this list, and scoring miserably.

So, the take-away: Voucher proponents have got to be doing some soul-searching this morning. (As a godless union thug, I have no soul to search. Archives, yes; soul, no.) I expect the "yeah, but it's half-price" thing to pop up very early in the response process. Also: It is clear, again, that there must be some force outside of the school walls that leads to the kind of results that are so pervasive across schools of all different flavors. To continue to ignore the effects of poverty, segregation (by race and class), and other social ills on students' preparedness for the classroom and ability to perform is suicide for this city. There's no magic bullet, people. We have to buckle down and fix Milwaukee first.

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