Milwaukee’s Charter Schools Enroll Large Number of City’s Poorest Children

By Christian D’Andrea

MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

One myth that seems to surround charter schools in Milwaukee is that they are able to pick the cream of the crop when it comes to their student body. Most recently, we saw this rear its head in a discussion of the most recent NAEP data, which detailed the disparity between high-income and low-income students when it comes to test scores. Some people believe that these charter schools educate an overwhelming number of students that come from more financially-stable backgrounds.

However, that’s not the case.

Just examine the Department of Public Instruction data from within the district and its non-instrumentality charter schools. There are 19 2R charter schools in this group — schools that are sponsored by either the city, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, or the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.  They are not authorized by a school board, like charter schools in the rest of the state are.

These schools are similar types of schools as the ones that would potentially be created by a statewide charter authorizer. They have more autonomy than regular public schools, but also lack some of the benefits, including teacher pension programs.

Sixteen of these schools have enrollment data available on the Wisconsin Information Network for Successful Schools (WINSS). This database can be found here. One school had an official enrollment count so low that data could not be revealed due to privacy concerns. The other two – Milwaukee Scholars and Milwaukee Math and Science Academy – are entering their first year of existence and have no data available.

WINSS is able to tell us the population and income status of the children that attend these schools. The 16 recorded schools educate approximately 7,030 students in the city of Milwaukee. Of these, over 5,897 were considered to be “economically disadvantaged.” WINSS defines this as students that are eligible for federal free or reduced lunch benefits. Nearly 84 percent of non-instrumentality charter school students fit this description.

All data is from 2010-2011.

The concentration of students that hail from low-income backgrounds is over six percent higher in the city’s independent 2R charter schools than the Milwaukee average. This shows that not only are these schools educating some of the toughest students, but they are actually doing it on a greater scale than traditional neighborhood public schools.

The myth that Milwaukee’s charter schools aren’t educating the city’s poorest students holds no weight. The student populations within these independent charter schools help confirm that. In fact, DPI has deemed that some of these schools teach this group on a nearly exclusive basis. However, the achievement group between pupils from high-income backgrounds and low-income backgrounds not only persists, but is growing to become a major problem in Wisconsin’s largest city. For Milwaukee to improve, these public schools will have to find a way to reach the children that have historically been tougher to teach.

  • Yes, I think you have cleared up the confusion I had between Charter and voucher schools. However, you entirely missed covering the land-infrastructure component of the equation which I believe is the primary driver of the problems.

  • BuckyBadger

    Really, Christian. By my count, there are at least 55 charter schools in Milwaukee. Nice job of cherry picking.

  • MacIver Institute

    Someone who actually read this piece would understand that Christian was specifically referring to the non instrumenality charters, those not under the MPS umbrella.

  • Elton Burells

    Really, Bucky. By my comprehension, the article clearly states that this focuses only on independent 2R charters. That\’s either a nice job of cherry picking on your end, or you just aren\’t much of a reader.

  • BuckyBadger

    Here\’s what I read.

    \”The myth that Milwaukee’s charter schools aren’t educating the city’s poorest students holds no weight.\”

    There is no qualifier in this statement, offered as a conclusion.

  • BuckyBadger

    \”The myth that Milwaukee’s charter schools aren’t educating the city’s poorest students holds no weight.\”

    Focuses only on independent 2R charters?

  • Elton Burells

    Not the authors fault if you chose not to read the rest of the article.

    \”There are 19 2R charter schools in this group — schools that are sponsored by either the city, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, or the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.\”

    \”These schools are similar types of schools as the ones that would potentially be created by a statewide charter authorizer. They have more autonomy than regular public schools, but also lack some of the benefits, including teacher pension programs.\”

    \”Nearly 84 percent of ***non-instrumentality*** charter school students fit this description.\”

    \”The concentration of students that hail from low-income backgrounds is over six percent higher in the city’s ***independent 2R*** charter schools than the Milwaukee average.\”

    Yeah, you\’re right. The article barely touches on the methods used and the schools chosen.

  • Elton Burells

    Looks like they added a second sentence in the conclusion to clarify that for you, making it no less than five references to independent charter schools.

    Still, it won\’t help much if you continue to only read the bolded words, Mr. Badger.

  • Christian D\’Andrea

    Bucky –

    Thanks for the comment. I apologize for the confusion. This specific report deals only with Independent 2R charter schools in the Milwaukee area. There was no cherry picking, but independent charter schools were chosen thanks to their ability to be created without the MPS School Board\’s clearance. I thought that the article had made that clear, but I can see how this could cause confusion.

    However, when you factor in the 55 charter schools in Brew City, you\’ll find that 79.4% of all charter school students qualify for free or reduced lunch benefits. That is still above the city\’s average of 77.4 percent. It provides more ammunition to shoot down the myth that charter schools don\’t educate the poorest children. 17 of the 37 regular charter schools educate more than the citywide average of low-income students. Another four schools didn\’t provide DPI data due for various reasons (first year in the program being the most common). As a result, we have 29 out of 48 charter schools (with reported data) in the city that educate a higher percentage of students from low-income backgrounds. As it happens, the 2R schools educate a greater percentage of impoverished pupils than regular, school-board granted, charter schools.

    We will be releasing that data in a later report – this new bent on charter schools in Milwaukee is actually just the first in a series. If you enjoyed it, I suggest you check out the follow up piece that compares WKCE scores between regular public schools and independent charters in the city. We\’ll be supplementing that with more charter school data as the month progresses.

    I look forward to your comments there. Thanks for reading.

    Christian