School Vouchers and Educational Inequalities: A Global Perspective
Monday, June 13, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:00 PM
Clement House, 5th Floor, Room 02 (London School of Economics)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Discussants: Gregory Elacqua, Inter-American Development Bank and John Witte, University of Wisconsin - Madison
Panel Chairs: John Witte, University of Wisconsin - Madison
Panel Organizers: Kaitlin Anderson, University of Arkansas
Private school choice programs (school vouchers) have expanded globally as a market based reform that enables parents to choose any school for their children. Many of these voucher programs are means tested, providing public funds for low-income students or other disadvantaged subgroups to exercise choice in their education and potentially reduce inequalities in access to educational opportunities and in educational outcomes. The extent to which school vouchers deliver on their promise to promote greater equality is subject to continuing debate.
Two types of studies are needed if the fierce debate over private school vouchers is to reach a resolution: (1) rigorous evaluations of particular programs that are targeted to highly disadvantaged student populations, and (2) reliable assessments of what we know in general about private school vouchers and how such programs might be structured to deliver their greatest benefits to individual students and entire communities.
This panel benefits from original contributions in both of these vital areas. Two of the papers present evidence from specific voucher programs, in the state of Louisiana and the slums of East Delhi, aimed at reducing inequalities in access to a quality education. The Louisiana study is of the crucial competitive effects of that school voucher program on the achievement of non-choosing public school students. The Delhi study is of the participant effects of a development project providing low-price private school vouchers to very poor families in the urban slums. Although the results of both of these rigorous empirical analyses are somewhat mixed, they suggest that private school choice can improve educational equity, especially for the highly disadvantaged girls of East Delhi.
The other two papers take a more broad perspective on school choice. Paper 3 is a meta-analysis of private school voucher studies, providing the most comprehensive look at the participant effects of such programs using lottery-based research designs both in the U.S. and internationally. Since many voucher programs are means-tested or are designed to reduce inequalities in educational opportunities, meta-analytic impacts are reported overall, as well as for disadvantaged subgroups, when available. The fourth and final paper examines a comprehensive variety of evidence on school choice in India including a review of the evidence on the causal effects of private schools on learning outcomes, the effects of private schools on equity issues, and the ways in which the private sector may affect learning levels in India.
Combined, these four papers present both specific and comprehensive evidence on the possibility of improving equal access to educational opportunity through private school vouchers. They cover both the U.S. and global context. They include consideration of both the participant and non-participant competitive effects of school choice. Together, they bring a wealth of high-quality evidence and analysis to the enduring question of whether greater private school choice might promote an increase in educational equality and, if so, who might benefit most and under what conditions.