Last week, exciting new research was released on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP). The research was released the left-leaning Urban Institute, which perhaps makes their findings of positive benefits of school choice all the more intriguing. 

The study is a follow-on to the School Choice Demonstration Project conducted by the University of Arkansas’s Department of Education Reform. The researchers have followed the same group of students since their eighth-grade year in 2006.  Students who attended MPCP schools were compared with a set students in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) using the best available statistical matching methods that approximate true experiments. 

The Urban Institute study was the first to follow these students into their college years. They found that students who attended an MPCP school were significantly more likely than their peers in public schools to enter college. These differences were meaningful—students in the MPCP were approximately 7 percent more likely to enroll in a four-year college compared to MPS students. Students from MPCP schools were also more likely to persist in college than MPS students, experiencing on average 13 percent more of a year in college.

While the researchers did not find that such students were more likely to graduate from college, the importance of this finding should not be easily dismissed. Mere college attendance has been associated with higher levels of personal income, earning approximately $372 more per month than high school graduates according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. College experiences have also been associated with the development of other positive traits such as tolerance, volunteerism and civic engagement.

The lack of an impact on college graduation should, of course, give us pause. As the authors of the study note, the problem of college graduation for such students is not unique to Wisconsin and is something that universities around the country have been struggling with for decades. It is possible that the benefits of the education received in MPCP schools become less central over time, and that it is incumbent on the universities themselves to work harder to accommodate the unique needs of these students that are often from low income, minority backgrounds.

But nonetheless, this research represents an important contribution to the growing body of research on the positive effects of the MPCP. Previous research has found that MPCP students are more likely to graduate from high school, have higher test scores, and are less likely to become involved in criminal behavior. These positive impacts at the individual level represent a huge boon to Milwaukee and Wisconsin as a whole in economic terms.

The bottom line is that is no longer credible for opponents of the MPCP to make the claim that there is no evidence for positive outcomes associated with choice. Those who make that claim are little different from the science deniers they profess to hate in other contexts. In an environment where even the most modest school choice expansion has been unable to get out of Republican-controlled committees in the state legislature, it is vital that ed reform supporting policymakers be made aware of these positive benefits, and stand at the ready to refute the claims of opponents to the contrary.

Dr. Will Flanders is the Research Director for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.
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