Data from the newly released state report card reveals that more charter schools and private schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) are meeting or exceeding expectations than Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). More than 80 percent of Independent Charters, more than 75 percent of MPS instrumentality and non-instrumentality charters, and 68 percent of MPCP schools meet expectations or higher.

Less than half of MPS district schools, including schools with selective enrollment, meet or exceed expectations.

The state report card, released by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), evaluates schools based on their overall achievement on the 2017-18 Forward exam, the amount of academic growth shown by students from year to year, the ability of schools to close gaps between underserved groups of students, and student’s readiness for post-secondary education. The weights of growth and achievement are weighted based on economic status.

Milwaukee Public Schools

An MPS press release touted “modest improvement” among MPS schools on the state report card. Excluding MPS charter schools, the majority of schools in MPS are performing below state expectations, even with the increased emphasis on growth. 37 MPS schools, 31% of all MPS schools in the sample, are in the “Fails to Meet Expectations” category. Another 26% fall into the “Meets Few Expectations.” MPS schools in the two lowest categories have enrollment of nearly 34,000. About 29,000 students are in schools that meet or exceed expectations.

The only school in Milwaukee that “Significantly Exceeds Expectations” was Reagan College Preparatory School, a specialty school with selective enrollment.

Independent Charter Schools

More than 80 percent of Milwaukee’s Independent charter schools exceed or meet expectations. 53 percent “Exceed Expectations” on the state report card and another 29 percent “Meet Expectations.” Just 18 percent of Independent charters fell into the lowest two categories of performance. Of note, perhaps, is that no Independent charters reached the top category, “Significantly Exceeds Expectations.” Consistent with prior research by WILL and others, the charter sector seems to be more consistently above average than the MPCP, but the MPCP has more schools that fall into the top performance category. About 700 students are enrolled in low performing independent charters, while about 6,500 students attend charters in the highest three categories of performance.

MPS Charter Schools

A similar story holds for non-instrumentality and instrumentality charter schools. Nearly a quarter of MPS charter schools “Significantly Exceed Expectations.” And another 55 percent “Exceed” or “Meet Expectations.” Just 22 percent of these schools fall into the lowest category of performance. About 1,300 students attend low performing MPS charters while 7,250 attend high performing MPS Charters.

MPCP

68 percent of schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the private voucher program, reach the “Meets Expectations” category or higher, while only 31 percent fall into the lowest two categories. About 17,500 students in Milwaukee are attending choice schools in the “Meets Expectations” category or higher while 7,000 are enrolled in schools in the lower performance categories. Governor-elect Tony Evers said on the campaign trail he would like freeze and phase out the voucher program despite these good results.

The report card results represent a significant improvement for the MPCP over last year, where about 48 percent of schools fell into the lowest two categories of performance. This may represent improvement in these schools, or improvement in data collection. Last year, the report card scores of many choice schools was significantly downgraded by incorrect accounting of the number of low-income students in the schools. Further analysis will be needed to determine the reason for this improvement.

The immediate picture is very positive for choice and charter schools. Of course, more work needs to be done. In the coming months, WILL plans to release our annual ‘Apples to Apples’ report that puts schools on a level playing field by controlling for student demographics and school characteristics.

But these results ought to make clear that school choice, whether it is private schools in the choice program or public charter schools, are making an important difference in the lives of Milwaukee students. Any calls to “phase out” or arrest education reform efforts would be a major step backwards for thousands of Milwaukee families.

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