Ed Week on Distorted Special Ed Counts

March 15, 2012

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Ed Week dives into details on the difficult issue of how special education counts get distorted by a variety of factors. The article gets into a lot of interesting issues that make it difficult to get a clear picture of how many disabled students are served by the program. See also here for the researchers’ take on the issue.

One factor not canvassed in the Ed Week story – unsurprisingly – is the role of financial incentives in public school special education programs. Public schools are incentivized to label studnets as disabled in order to access additional funding. Study after study after study after study has confirmed the empirical relationship between the presence and strength of these incentives and rising rates of special education diagnosis in public schools. Private schools have no such distorting incentive and will thus report lower numbers of disabled students. (All this is true regardless of whether you think the true rate of disabilities is higher, as in the public system, or somewhat lower, as in the private system.)

MPS Takes “Standing in the Schoolhouse Door” to a Whole New Level

May 31, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Over the weekend, John Witte and Pat Wolf had a compelling article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel summarizing the real (as opposed to media-reported) results of the Milwaukee voucher program research being conducted by the School Choice Demonstration Project.

And then they dropped a bomb:

Recently, our research team conducted site visits to high schools in Milwaukee to examine any innovative things they are doing to educate disadvantaged children. The private high schools of the choice program graciously opened their doors to us and allowed us full access to their schools. Although several MPS principals urged us to come see their schools as well, the central administration at MPS prohibited us having any further contact with those schools as they considered our request for visits. We have not heard from them in weeks.

Our report on the private schools we visited, which will offer a series of best practices regarding student dropout prevention, will be released this fall. Should MPS choose to open the doors of their high schools to us, we will be able to learn from their approaches as well. [ea]

MPS opposition to vouchers takes standing in the schoolhouse door to a whole new level.

New Grad Rate Study in Milwaukee

January 10, 2011

School Choice Wisconsin has released a new study by the University of Minnesota’s John Robert Warren of graduation rates for the voucher and public school systems in Milwaukee.  Here’s the highlight from the release:

Based on seven years of data, Professor Warren estimates that the graduation rate for students in Milwaukee’s choice program was about 18% higher than for students in MPS.  Had MPS achieved the same graduation rate as students in the MPCP, an additional 3,939 Milwaukee students would have graduated from 2003 to 2009.  Based on findings in separate research reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the annual impact from these additional graduates would have been about $4.2 million in extra tax revenue and $24.9 million in additional personal income.

Warren’s research shows a general pattern of growth in Milwaukee graduation rates.  From 2003 to 2009 the MPS rate grew from 49% to 70%.  For the MPCP the rate grew from 63% to 82%.

Of course, this is not a causal analysis.  We do not know (and the study does not claim) that the higher grad rate among voucher students is caused by the program.  A forthcoming analysis by the University of Arkansas’  School Choice Demonstration Project, led by my colleague, Patrick Wolf,  should be able to address that issue.

But the this descriptive report is nevertheless encouraging.  Not only do voucher students graduate at higher rates than MPS students, but both sectors have been improving their graduation rates.  That finding is consistent with a scenario in which choice and competition are improving outcomes for all students — public and private — in Milwaukee.


Vouchers and the Rising Tide

April 7, 2010

“A rising tide lifts all boats.”

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I haven’t had a chance to read the details yet, but from the executive summary of the new results released today by the School Choice Demonstration Project, it looks like vouchers have done a good job of improving education for all students in the city of Milwaukee.

What? That’s not the way you heard it?

Of course not. Because the new result, taken in isolation from other information, simply says that after two years, the voucher students are making learning improvements about the same as public school students. The scores for the voucher students are higher, but the difference is not statistically certain.

However, let’s plug that into the larger universe of information. We know – from the very same research project – that vouchers are improving education in Milwaukee public schools. The positive incentives of competition and the improved matching of student needs to school strengths are causing public schools to deliver a better education.

So if the voucher students and the public school students are doing about the same, and vouchers are improving results for public school students, it follows that vouchers are improving results for everybody.

That, of course, is the consistent finding of a large body of research. The overwhelming research consensus is that vouchers improve public schools.

Also, let’s not forget that in several previous longitudinal studies, the results from the first one or two years were similar – the voucher students ahead, but the difference not statistically certain – and in those cases, in later years the difference always became statistically certain. It just took the accumulation of more data to reach the high bar of statistical certainty.

So here’s a toast to the great news that vouchers in Milwaukee are making everybody better off!

PJM Column on Milwaukee Study

March 30, 2009

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

This morning, Pajamas Media carries my column on the results of the new Milwaukee studies released last week by the School Choice Demonstration Project:

It’s bad enough that everyone seems to be ignoring the program’s positive impact on public schools. About four-fifths of the students are still in public schools. Why look only at the results for the voucher students, only one-fifth of the total? If you had a medical treatment that would help four-fifths of all patients suffering from some horrible disease — and what else can you call the present state of our education system but a horrible disease? — that would be considered a fantastic result.

But it gets worse. These results don’t just show that the program improves education for students in public schools. They also indicate that the program improves education for the students who are using vouchers.

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