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NEPC Review

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According to a new study of Milwaukee public schools, student achievement has benefited from voucher-based school competition. A novel method, using geocoding, was proposed for measuring the degree of competition within the city of Milwaukee and, in turn, for determining whether such competition has increased or decreased the achievement of public school students. Though a more traditional measurement of competition was eventually used in lieu of geocoding, the authors of the study determined that the overall effect of competition on student outcomes was positive over the seven-year span for which data were available. Specifically, it was argued that increased school choice improves the academic performance of students in traditional public schools who are voucher eligible by means of system-wide competitive pressures. Based on a review of several key issues—including statistical modeling and control, effect size interpretation, the role of explanation in causal inference, and the validity of reported conclusions—the practical effect of competition through vouchers appears to be small, if not negligible. It is also suggested that a number of methodological issues would benefit from greater clarity.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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