Milwaukee Charter Schools Outscore MPS on New Tests and School Report Cards

Budget Approved by Joint Finance Expands Charter School Program throughout Milwaukee County

June 18, 2013

by Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

[Madison, Wisc…] The budget approved by the Joint Committee on Finance would expand the reach of independent charter schools in Milwaukee County by 2014. According to DPI data, this small geographical change in the budget may prove to be a major gain for the area’s economically disadvantaged students. Students in 2R charters outperformed their classmates in traditional MPS classrooms or instrumentality charter schools once again in 2013, according to state testing data, in fourth grade reading and math, as well as in 10th grade reading.

A review of the 2012-2013 Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination shows that Milwaukee’s 2R charter schools – institutions that are public schools but run outside of the Milwaukee Public School umbrella of influence – outscored the city’s traditional public schools and instrumentality charter schools in fourth grade reading and math. That advantage remained in 10th grade math skills as well. These gains occurred even though these schools educated a similar number of economically disadvantaged students as the average MPS classroom.

This continues a trend that the MacIver Institute examined back in 2011 that showed that 2R charters perform better on DPI’s achievement metrics. That theory is furthered by the state’s first round of School Report Cards, which came out in 2012. These data provide evidence that Wisconsin’s independent charter schools are having a positive impact when it comes to educating economically disadvantaged students.

While traditional MPS schools led the way in high school reading scores, the city’s non-instrumentality charter schools placed significantly higher in fourth grade and somewhat higher in high school math. Those strong results helped 2R institutions post a state report card score that was nearly 10 points higher than their peer institutions. However, it is important to note that these report card numbers come from the 2011-2012 school year, and are likely to change when the second year of results is released this summer. For this study, schools were limited to those operating in 2012-2013 in Milwaukee.

These schools, which are established by either the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee or the City of Milwaukee, will have the opportunity to expand outside of city limits in 2014. The Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee recently voted to approve an omnibus educational package that would allow UW-Milwaukee to grant charters to schools across Milwaukee County. This compromise replaced Governor Scott Walker’s plan to create a charter oversight board that would have the power to grant independent charters across Wisconsin.

While charter schools typically outperformed traditional public schools, these results still lagged behind the statewide average. These low results on WKCE and WSAS results were a trend that affected all schools in Wisconsin thanks to new, higher standards on state tests.

It is also important to note that some of the best individual performances in both sectors came from the schools that served below average populations of economically disadvantaged students. Whittier Elementary School, with 37.4 percent of its students fitting into that category, led all MPS charters with a 4th grade reading proficiency rate of 50 percent and was second in math at 60 percent. In the independent charter sector, Woodlands School led the ranks in 4th grade reading with a 56.7 proficient rate and was third in mathematics at 50 percent.

However, having a high concentration of students from impoverished families was not necessarily an indicator of failure. 2R charter school Tenor High School (82.7% economically disadvantaged) outscored their sector’s average in both reading and math according to the WSAS. Central City Cyberschool (100%) outscored their sector’s average in math and had similar outcomes in reading. Amongst MPS charter schools, ALBA (95.8%) and the International Peace Academy High School (90.6%) both outscored the MPS Charter average.

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This year’s batch of DPI is a strong indicator of what schools are performing well in Milwaukee. While a limited reach into student growth measurements prevents us from seeing just how much value these classrooms are adding to a student’s education, these results are an important look into how students are learning according to traditional standards. We’ll know more as the next round of School Report Cards becomes available, but so far the evidence suggests that the city’s independent charter schools are doing a better job of educating some of Milwaukee’s poorest students despite operating at a significantly lower funding level than traditional public schools.

That’s a strong indicator that the reforms behind these schools are beginning to take root and help a dynamic student base that needs more educational options now than ever before. According to state data, these schools are producing more with less, and that’s helping to create a rising tide of educational standards in Brew City. For the full database of Milwaukee charter school results used for this study, click here.