School Vouchers in an International Context

Call me a self-centered, but I thought that the school voucher wars were an exclusively American issue. I guess not. The Economist summarizes voucher programs in other countries. Apparently several have met with a great deal of success. Money quote:

Harry Patrinos, an education economist at the World Bank, cites a Colombian programme to broaden access to secondary schooling, known as PACES, a 1990s initiative that provided over 125,000 poor children with vouchers worth around half the cost of private secondary school. Crucially, there were more applicants than vouchers. The programme, which selected children by lottery, provided researchers with an almost perfect experiment, akin to the "pill-placebo" studies used to judge the efficacy of new medicines. The subsequent results show that the children who received vouchers were 15-20% more likely to finish secondary education, five percentage points less likely to repeat a grade, scored a bit better on scholastic tests and were much more likely to take college entrance exams.

Read the whole thing.

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The problem with this is that it's not in a vacuum, it's closely related to the quality of public education. The money that was used for the vouchers could have improved public schools instead.


The point is that the money gets better results when there is competition for it. Just shoveling it into the public school system is often ineffective. Throwing more money at a school system is no guarantee of improvement - in Maryland, for example, the worst performing schools are actually in the middle of the pack for funding. Most voucher systems have the money follow the student and the amount that does move around is often less than the per-student spending that goes on in the public schools, so the actual funds per student available to public schools often goes up.

I don't really see where the competition angle comes into this, although it's an Economist article, so I'm not surprised that's the angle they chose to play up.

However, the study says only that students who recieved vouchers did better...regardless of which particular school they went to. (I assume that kids with vouchers chose private this correct?) It makes sense if you consider that private schools tend to be better, and they expose students to others whose parents are more likely to have had higher education.

But it seems that the results don't so much point to competition among schools as they do to the fact that children who had a say in where they spent most of their days had better outcomes.

And let's not kid ourselves, of course it was the children, not their parents, who would have had most of the say in which school to attend. It was focused on secondary school students, was it not?

My son goes to a charter school. Charter schools have to meet the same standards as the normal public schools - and are funded by the state. I maintain that everyone in this school has a couple big advantages over those in the public schools. First, every child has at least one parent capable of filling out the 18 page application form. It's not that easy. Secondly, every child has a parent who actually filled it out.

So, when the teacher sends home a note, we take it seriously, and figure out how to get through whatever difficulty we need to get through. I've read that a public school teacher left messages for all thirty parents in their class, and didn't get a single reply.

It doesn't matter if your kid is brilliant. (s)he needs help from time to time.