April 6, 2016

Clive Belfield, (917) 821-9219, Clive.Belfield@gmail.com
Daniel J. Quinn, (517) 203-2940, dquinn@greatlakescenter.org

Milwaukee school voucher report has several weaknesses, review finds

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Apr. 6, 2016) – A recent working paper from the Department of Education Reform (DER) at the University of Arkansas suggested the benefits of Milwaukee’s school voucher program extended to reduced criminal behavior. The working paper attempted to study the relationship between crime and the school voucher program. However, an academic review of the paper finds that it has several weaknesses and does not support the implication that voucher programs caused a reduction in crime.

The paper, The School Choice Voucher: A "Get Out of Jail" Card?, was reviewed by Clive Belfield, Queens College, City University of New York (CUNY). The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) produced the review with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The authors of the working paper used data from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) to compare crimes processed through the Wisconsin courts for program participants and a matched sample of students. Although most of these comparisons showed no association, the report finds that some subgroups of MPCP students were less likely to commit crimes as adults.

On a positive note, Belfield says that the paper contributes to policy in one important respect: it bases its findings on behavioral outcomes (criminal activity) rather than cognitive outcomes (test scores). Despite this, Belfield is very clear in his review, the findings from the paper should not warrant any strong claims of voucher effects on crime.

Belfield raises the following concerns:

  • the study’s results are highly variable, with most comparisons showing statistically insignificant results;
  • the methods used do not justify a causal inference; and
  • the evidence, despite the paper’s title, is associational, not causal.

In short, Belfield cautions that a better interpretation of the report would be that vouchers and crime are, in fact, not correlated. Belfield concludes that it is unclear how useful the findings are for policymakers.

Find the review on the web:

Find the working paper at:

The review can also be found on the NEPC website:

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The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

Visit the Great Lakes Center website at http://www.greatlakescenter.org/