Another blow has been struck against Milwaukee’s underperforming education system. Statewide standardized reading and math test results released for the first time indicated students on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, designed for low-income families, performed “similar or worse” than public school students. The results, released Tuesday by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, cast doubt on the effectiveness of the program, in which about 10,000 of 80,000 students in Milwaukee are involved.
This is bad news for the voucher program, which was intended to allow parents who live in areas with failing public schools to send their children to private schools. Ironically, these voucher students performed worse than students from the very public schools they left. However, the results are not very surprising, considering the factors that play into a student’s performance on a test.
White students regularly outperform most other racial groups in the United States in standardized tests. The disparity in results is not caused by biological differences — it is income levels and living environments that make the difference. As such, it should not be surprising that students coming from poor families still perform poorly on tests despite being placed into a supposedly better quality private school.
This is not to say that going to a quality school has no effect on a student’s performance. There is obviously a correlation between having a better quality education and learning more effectively (and thus performing well on a standardized test), but the results of the statewide test showed that other more important factors are in play here.
Students still spend more of their time outside school, and this just might be what matters. Even the student with the best teachers and facilities at school will not be able to perform well if he or she has to work long hours after school to support their family. Factors such as these are not solvable by subsidizing families to send their children to more prestigious private schools. The only way to solve this problem is to go to the very root: poverty itself.
Such a statement is of course not very helpful in improving the public education system. Poverty is a much bigger problem, more complicated on many levels and requiring funds the government cannot possibly afford any time soon. However, one thing the state government can do is not take actions that worsen the problem, such as cutting public school aid by more than $800 million.
Gov. Scott Walker, a supporter of the expansion of the voucher program, has proposed doing away with the statewide standardized test, which hopefully is not his ‘solution’ to the voucher students’ underperformance. Nevertheless, the standardized test, though imperfect, is still the most reliable way to gauge the effectiveness of the program. Because this was only the first year, the standardized tests should be kept and possibly refined to determine if in forthcoming years the program could become more effective or if it does not work and should be discontinued.
For the time being, the program should not be expanded. It is understandable why the program is widely supported by Republicans; sending children to private schools, meant to be better than the failing public schools, would ring a bell. They believe that government, in this case the public school system, is the problem and the private system is the solution. Nonetheless, the results so far show that the government needs to find a better solution to save Milwaukee’s students.
Albert Budhipramono (email@example.com) is a freshman majoring in biology.