What do economists know about school vouchers?

That is the new Journal of Economic Literature survey by Dennis Epple, Richard E. Romano, and Miguel Urquiola.  It is a fine piece, the best I have seen (and in fact one of the better survey pieces I’ve read on any literature), and it stresses such important distinctions as small- vs. large-scale voucher programs, and why that matters for interpreting various voucher tests.  Here is the abstract:

We review the theoretical, computational, and empirical research on school vouchers, with a focus on the latter. Our assessment is that the evidence to date is not sufficient to warrant recommending that vouchers be adopted on a widespread basis; however, multiple positive findings support continued exploration. Specifically, the empirical research on small-scale programs does not suggest that awarding students a voucher is a systematically reliable way to improve educational outcomes, and some detrimental effects have been found. Nevertheless, in some settings, or for some subgroups or outcomes, vouchers can have a substantial positive effect on those who use them. Studies of large-scale voucher programs find student sorting as a result of their implementation, although of varying magnitude. Evidence on both small-scale and large-scale programs suggests that competition induced by vouchers leads public schools to improve. Moreover, research is making progress on understanding how vouchers may be designed to limit adverse effects from sorting, while preserving positive effects related to competition. Finally, our sense is that work originating in a single case (e.g., a given country) or in a single research approach (e.g., experimental designs) will not provide a full understanding of voucher effects; fairly wide-ranging empirical and theoretical work will be necessary to make progress.
That is not nearly as negative a picture of vouchers as you might have seen floating around lately.  It is interesting that vouchers seem to work especially well in Colombia, much better than in the United States.  And here is from the conclusion:
…Vouchers have been neither the rousing success imagined by proponents nor the abject failure predicted by opponents…The most robust finding is that voucher threats induce public schools to improve.
Definitely recommended.


What, in general, do economists know about anything?

Hypothetical can openers. Of course, that is just the core of economists' knowledge.

It begs the question. If 51% of voters demand school vouchers then we will get school vouchers. It's called Democracy. If you have faith in human intelligence then you must also assume that if we get school vouchers and later find out that they are a disaster that 51% (or more of the voters ) will reverse the decision. Democracy is a better system than rule by special interest groups.

There's nothing about democracy that prevents us from trying to understand whether vouchers are a good idea, and how they should be structured, before we vote on them.

Insightful as always.

Of course, vouchers will further erode the public education system. And, no doubt, that's the point. To paraphrase Cowen, average is over, and that includes average in education. The problem, of course, is that average is, well, average, and it's impossible to defy both math and gravity. Elites will want to send their children to private schools, elites will want the public to pay to send their children to private schools, and elites will want funding for public schools (and, hence, their taxes) to be cut. The reality is that in most school districts across the country there already is a de facto dual system, one for the best students and the other for the average (and below) students, the former called advanced placement, the latter called good luck with that placement. Vouchers simply convert a de facto dual system into a de jure dual system. I suppose the voucher system is the more honest system, the de facto dual system the hypocritical system (whereby everyone pretends all the children attend the same schools).

"The most robust finding is that voucher threats induce public schools to improve"

Yes. It's all a giant conspiracy to destroy public schools. Because we hate poor people and want the population to be composed of ignorant massespecially, who are easier to Because. Muahahahahahaha.

Stupid phone

What is the dumbest thing about your past is the notion that preventing the best students from moving into more advanced classes is somehow more fair to the worst students. If we just don't educate the best and brightest as well, we will make life more fair for the stupid!

That is one of my reactions. What's so bad about sorting? I think this bias comes from our reaction to Jim Crow. Public funding, accreditation, and truancy were core tools of Jim Crow. Our method for addressing that wasn't to get rid of these sources of public oppression. Instead, it was to enforce desegregation, with the idea that the broader public wouldn't use these tools of oppression if their own children would be subjected to it. So, desegregation has assumed the mantle of educational justice instead of choice.

But, we don't use this logic in any other area. Retail consumers sort themselves. Would Wal-Mart customers benefit if we forced Whole Foods to close so that their customers were forced to shop at Wal-Mart? Or if we assigned customers to Whole Foods or Wal-Mart through a public program? It seems pretty obvious to me that everyone would be worse off in that case, including those who had been shopping at Wal-Mart the whole time. This whole idea of preventing sorting in schools seems a bit elitist to me. As if children with different backgrounds and different needs than my children will somehow benefit if they attend a school that is run for the preferences of a bunch of kids like my kids. This seems obviously wrong. It is wrong, conceptually, even if the schools those kids are in now aren't exactly high performing. Surely there are more coherent solutions to that problem.

From a purely utilitarian standpoint, society is going to be better if everyone is as well educated as they are capable of. Some kids are faster learners so they should be sorted into classes where they can optimize their educational attainment. Because it's better for the rest of us if we have more geniuses around to develop better technologies.

You and Hazel are making a lot of unwarranted assumptions. Enough to drive a semi truck through.

Part of the intellectual movement to disparage testing and promote grades is that the goal should not be to separate kids by ability. Unsurprisingly, there are pretty obvious phenotypic differences in separating kids by ability. That's like, bad? And racist? Also gender differences at the top level. I could count the number of women in my higher level math classes in graduate school on one hand. Apparently Ivy League graduate math programs don't have a lot of women applicants. At least proportionally.

So instead, we do it by housing costs. This way we are able to separate by ability by proxy, and all the upper middle class can feel good about themselves and keep their children away from the riff raff.

Being in New York I have no worries at all, my kids will go to Stuy like their mother. And so it goes....

You have to get in to Stuy

I don't know what you're talking about. I'm in favor of sorting kids by ability. If women aren't applying to graduate class in math that's indicative of lack of interest, not lack of ability. I think women are socialized to believe that math and science intensive occupations are not for them. Even in all-black schools the smarter students should be sorted into advanced classes.

Lack of vouchers prevents choice for all but the wealthy, vouchers extend that to many more.

Which other service enterprises do these authors wish to run as local monopolies provided by public agencies?

......internet/mail/fire-response/ambulance/electricity/water/sewer/trash/zoning/publicTV/Radio/roads/business-licensing/pharmaceuticals/.....etc etc There are no limits for armed, obsessive do-gooders

Vouchers disenfranchise rural areas, disabled students, and dysfunctional family units. We are picking winners and losers at a relatively young age. In such a prosperous nation, this is unacceptable. Every child should be given the opportunity to succeed. We simply have failed to apply ourselves to the problem for far too long, merely seeking easy solutions.

You're supposed to use a ;) at the end so that we know you're being sarcastic.


You can use that sentence for almost everything spewing out of drones of the vast left-wing hive of higher indoctrination; higher ideology, if you will.

The Obama s and Clintons of the World need dysfunctional public education systems to produce the massive levels of stupidity necessary to advance liberal crap.

Another is, 'You said/wrote that as if it was a bad thing."

Because what's really important about public education is making sure that disabled students from dysfunctional families get the same education as everyone else. Lost common denominator for the win. We can't allow Anyone to get a better education than anyone else.

"Vouchers disenfranchise rural areas, disabled students, and dysfunctional family units."

Our current system disenfranchises based on your address, so pick your poison i suppose.

The address system is more straightforward, less vulnerable to corruption.

How so? There are many people who get caught faking mailing addresses to move 2 blocks over to get into a different school.

It also benefits homeowners in rich areas, so it's bound to continue.

Current homeowners may benefit or be harmed by a redistricting. but future owners will have paid for the the change in quality before they move in.

People like you are the reason people support the stupid idea that is vouchers.

"Every child should be given the opportunity to succeed."

That is the goal of allowing overwhelmingly minority students to escape from Democrat-Teacher Union plantations.

Serious question: What do you mean that "Vouchers disenfranchise rural areas" and why do you think it's the case? Is the concern that rural areas won't benefit from vouchers since there are fewer private schools there? And if this is the concern, would you also propose stopping urban and suburban places from having any institutions, innovations, and services that give them an advantage over rural ones? If so, what do you do about the economies of agglomeration?

Why would a private school locate in Appalachia? Little incentive to establish the framework. Solutions to the education system must include flexibility for different regions to address problems. Distance learning, varied schedules, exchange programs. I worry that once again America will adopt a broad sweeping program like NCLB that fails to tackle growing inequality.

Agglomeration effects require a robust nucleus, otherwise outer electrons are easily lost.

What about findings that vouchers increase parental satisfaction with education?

I wish I had school choice. I bought into a supposedly "good" school system, but am unsatisfied. The cost of changing (i.e. moving) is quite high (6% of my home's value to realtors, plus moving expenses).

If you're reading this blog, you're likely intelligent. And because intelligence is 50-80% heritable, I'm assuming your kids are intelligent.

With that in mind, why would you ever place intelligent kids in the classroom with people who decided to become teachers?! (i.e., they entered a field without competition where they get "tenure" for doing nothing and have summers off, they are forced to follow prescribed top-down, statist social experiments (e.g., common core), they are often leftist and have no issues with indoctrinating children, etc.)

If one were designing the worst education system possible, his result would likely resemble what we have now in the form of government schools (and many private ones): 30-40 kids often distracting each other because the material/teacher is so boring (this is by design), context-switching when the bell rings every 50 minutes, instructors lecturing at a pace for the lowest common denominator, no hands-on learning, no applicability to everyday life, no running around to let off steam (recess has been curtailed, which is esp. important for boys)---and on and on.

Gov't schools are indoctrination centers, adopted from the Prussian model to create obedient soldiers (see: John Taylor Gatto). They teach very little besides propaganda to kids who have no choice but to sit there and take it. Why do you think to many kids (esp. boys, who are seen as "defective girls" by majority-female teachers) have issues with attention deficit disorder and the like? They don't understand what relevance the material has to their lives (most of it has none), they're terrified what happens when these little letters aren't "A" or "B" because adults tell them so, and they're simultaneously bored out of their wits!

Compare a middle-school reading list from 100 years ago to today. It's a disgrace: http://www.better-ed.org/blog/middle-school-reading-lists-100-years-ago-vs-today

Or the immigrant kid who did MIT MOOCs and then got into MIT at 15. You think he's a once-in-a-lifetime genius? I highly doubt it: http://news.mit.edu/2015/ahaan-rungta-mit-opencourseware-mitx-1116

"Reflecting on his journey from Calcutta to Cambridge and the many intersecting moments with MIT, Rungta is grateful to his parents and to MIT for being responsive to his needs every step of the way. “MIT has been my middle school, my high school, my entire education. That’s pretty amazing. Some people think I’m gifted, but I don’t think so. OCW was a gift to me. I was lucky to be born at the time MIT was opening up education to the world and extra lucky that OCW brought MIT and me together.”

As he ponders declaring a major next year, Rungta pauses for a moment, and then he lights up. “In an ideal world, I would want to major in everything.”"

Or the family of kids who aren't even teenagers yet going to college to study finite mathematics and computer science. Again, not geniuses---this is a testament to how horrid the school system is and what kids are actually capable of: http://www.today.com/news/meet-family-who-sent-six-kids-college-age-12-1C9316706


"Named after her mother’s favorite song, Mona Lisa Harding home-schools her children in the basics, but found that her kids learned more quickly (and got less bored) when they were allowed to study deeply -- something they loved.

"I don't have any brilliant children,” she contends. “I'm not brilliant. My husband's not brilliant. We're just average folks.” Who inspired six children to enter college before they became teenagers.

Kip, their dad, didn't take his own advice. He graduated from college at 25, while flying helicopters in the military. Mona Lisa studied to be a nurse before staying home to teach her kids. They were high school sweethearts who shared a passion for learning.

"The expectation is that you're going to have a fun day,” Kip says, watching his children play. "Not that you're going to come home with A's."

Each Harding has a different passion. Keith loves music. Rosannah became an architect -- at 18. And Thunder James? Well, what’s in a name? The 3-year-old careens down the hall, scattering his brothers and sisters, driving a little electric car.

I can understand maybe convincing one or two children to enter college early, but Mona Lisa has more kids than Mother Hubbard: 10.

She shrugs. "By the time you get down to number five, number six, they just think learning seems normal. We find out what their passions are, what they really like to study, and we accelerate them gradually."

But what happens to their childhood?

"We didn’t limit their experience," Mona Lisa says. "They’re taking college classes, but socially, they are just teenagers." Who live at home, not in college dorms."

Isn't it better to try let a child find out what he wants to do and make mistakes on that path earlier in life? I wouldn't go full-on Rousseau here, but giving kids room to explore what they really want to do is paramount.

I agree. Parent satisfaction is key, yet rarely discussed or measured.

We could draw these same conclusions about most things from free market. "There really isn't much difference in foot outcomes from different shoes, so we can't say for sure that having more than a couple choices of shoes matters."

That school vouchers work brilliantly in Colombia and poorly in the US probably reflects instutional quality relative to human capital; in Colombia there is a large segment of the population that is intelligent and conscientious while their institutions are sometimes good and sometimes atrocious. School vouchers work in this situation.

I wonder if Colombia is as stringent on voucher schools following the recipe of the public schools as they are in the U.S., which limits the margins on which voucher schools can improve on.

I find the hostility to vouchers pretty strange.

I agree. The most credible reasoning seems to be that public schools will get worse if students leave to go to other schools, but it's not clear why that would be the case. They will have less money, but also fewer students. Why can't they downsize?

Obvious answer: teacher tenure. I mean the REAL problem with the public schools is the stranglehold the teachers unions have on them. And of course, Democrats don't want to admit that the teachers unions might be bad for education quality, so OF COURSE the real reason for vouchers is because evil people are just being evil and hate poor people, blah! And how dare you question the sacred nobility of the teaching profession, you horrible person?

Public schools will have less money if nobody leaves to go to other schools. Those currently attending private schools at their own expense get public money. Or do voucher proponents want tax increases?

Here are a few of the reasons I have heard why vouchers are bad (and take money out of the public schools). The details are going to vary depending on the particular program and the population served.

-Vouchers are mis-priced. Per student funding is not an accurate way of thinking about how public education is financed. Some kids actually cost more to educate (i.e., disabled kids, kids with learning disabilities, kids with behavioral problems, etc.). If you price vouchers at the per student level, and the highest functioning students concentrate in the highest performing schools, the students that are left behind will actually have insufficient resources.
-Vouchers create other costs for parents and students (becoming aware of the program, understanding the program, identifying and applying to the good schools, commuting to those schools, breaking up more local peer groups). These costs privilege better off families, create additional work and stress for everyone and may be unworkable for some segments of the population.
-Another way of thinking about this is that vouchers promise better schools for the same or less money but with more work from parents, teachers and administrators. Lots of people dislike and distrust reforms that depend on people doing more work for the same or less money.
-Vouchers are insufficient to actually pay for private schools. The only choice may be between various "bad" public schools. Thus vouchers create a false choice and impose the costs mentioned above.
-Vouchers will be used by families who are already sending their kids to private schools to subsidize private school tuition . This takes money from the public system and puts it in private schools.
-Vouchers pose church / state issues (i.e., should public money pay for education at religious schools).
-"School competition" will lead to an inordinate amount of test prep and cause a lot of cheating by administrators.
-Another way of thinking about this is that it is unclear that schools will actually compete by offering better instruction.
-Lastly, people's first preference is for good neighborhood schools. Like they have in the suburbs or in some recalled past. A voucher system, if it works as advertised, is inferior to a system with good neighborhood schools. People don't want to engage in an annoying uncertain process of analyzing, visiting, and ranking schools in order to add significant time and complexity to their commute. They will pay that price for good schools but its not what they want. People prefer reforms that promise to deliver good local schools.

Perhaps the more realistic question is why we try to provide a "normal education" to such difficult children. I know its a hard conversation to have, but is playing pretend about what these kids are capable of and how well they can fit into a normal education setting really doing anyone any good.

In terms of special needs kids it seems almost universally better for both cost and effectiveness to send them to specialized schools.

For delinquents and thugs its not clear its fair to the other students that have to put up with their behavior, and for the worst cases its usually best to send them to trouble maker programs.

For the regular old low IQ its important to teach them the 3Rs, but its not clear how important it is to pretend they are going to go to college. It should be obvious by high school if Vo Tech makes more sense.

It seems to me that charters exist for when there is a significant difference between a child's ability and temperament and the ability and temperament of the children in their geographical area. I see no reason to hold children back in those cases.

As asdf points out, if some students are much more expensive to educate than others, we ought to question whether it is really the best allocation of socity's resources to spend that money trying to bring them up to the mean instead of giving a better education to the non disabled students. Are we better off spending the marginal dollar to turn D students into C students, or turning B students into A students?

Your other reasons aren't persuasive at all. In every other area of economic life, competition improves performance. In every other area of economic life consumers are capable of sorting out which producers products are optimal. Nehemiah the results of the study - competition from vouchers may induce local schools to improve.

You didn't even respond to all of his reasons.

PD Shaw,

You didn't respond to ANY of hers!

Democracy hazel.

Everyone wants their idiot, sorry special, snowflake to have every opportunity to get into Harvard.

And have fun selling to the democratic masses that their child has been assessed to not have the chance for Harvard. They'll riot.

Rational systems and multicultural democracy are incompatible. The best we can do is mitigate the damage.

So give people an education based on zip code. That filters for parental ability.

Then add charter schools for motivated parents in shitty areas. If the parents give a shit, they can move their kids.

The parents that don't give a shit unsurprisingly have kids that don't give a shit. And they can collect welfare and deal drugs or whatever.

I think you are moving the goal posts a little bit. My response was directed towards two points in meets and your comments: why do people think vouchers defund poor performing schools and why do people not love vouchers (other than irrational attachment to teachers' unions). My point was not to weigh in on the merit of these arguments (FWIW, I think their merit depends on the design of the voucher system and the population such a system serves and it's difficult to assess the merits of vouchers in the abstract) but to point out that they exist.

Be that as it may, I think you are significantly undervaluing the social utility of turning D students into C students and overvaluing investments in above average performers. D students are much more likely to drop out of high school, drift into crime and the informal economy, and welfare. C students may not cure cancer but they are much more likely to graduate, work, pay taxes, and stay out of trouble. This difference is also particularly valuable to the D student because the marginal benefit of rising from poverty / near poverty to the working class is very high. On the other hand, a B student is already going to graduate and is probably going to attend college. An A student will be more likely to graduate from college and earn more money over their lifetime than if they had been a B student. That's great but it's not as valuable to society because (1) there is a greater utility gain from moving from the ranks of the poor to the working class than from moving from the middle class to the upper middle class, and (2) it does not have the additional benefit of reducing expected negative externalities (i.e., crime, informal work, welfare consumption, etc.), which the B student was already at low risk of creating.

In addition, I would point out that turning a B student into an A student does not turn the B student into an innovator who is likely to produce great rewards for society. Potential innovators are probably already A students and need to be pushed to become superstars. I think a good argument can be made that you should devote disproportionate resources to turning A students into superstars (through magnet programs, scholarships, etc.) but as between D students and B students, you get a higher return from focusing on the D students.

You didn’t even respond to all of his reasons.

Cause I'm in the middle of a busy schedule attempting to type out concise answers via my phone. Give me a break.

I think you are significantly undervaluing the social utility of turning D students into C students and overvaluing investments in above average performers.

I'm really referring to the students that you mention that are very expensive to educate, which is the argument against vouchers - that schools will be left educating all these disabled dysfunctional students that cost more. It's not JUST that they are D students (there are probably plenty of D students that don't cost any more than anyone else).
Do you want to spend the marginal dollar educating a disabled student who will probably never be a net positive tax contributor or educating the other students.

From one perspective you could say that the voucher effort is society trying to work it's way around to a more optimal resource allocation - spend the money on educating those who are most able to be educated, rather than forcing all parents to cross-subsidizing education of the least able, most expensive students. Every parent is trying to seek the optimal education for their child and that generally means their kids will be better off if they aren't cross subsidizing the most expensive students.

There are states without effective teacher unions. Are they seeing better results when you correct for income? Honest question, because when the problem is X and states are already experimenting without X, we should be able to see something.

"There are states without effective teacher unions."

Are there any states where firing a teacher is as easy as firing someone working in the private sector?

There is an underlying assumption that if it is very easy to fire teachers, the firing decisions will be based on competence rather than favoritism.

In many cases vouchers are offered to families in the areas with the worst performing schools; hence the alternative would have to be bad or the students would have to be hopeless for a voucher program to not be an improvement.

Opposition to vouchers on the left:

1. Anti-Market bias.
2. Anti-Christian bias.
3. Aesthetic preference for government solutions.
4. Financial and political alliance between the Education industry and Democrat politicians.
5. Fear that successful minorities will stop voting Democrat.

I agree with all points but the last. That seems a little too cynical to me.

I suppose I listed it last because it is the most tenuous. That being said, what do you imagine the electoral fallout would be from a national voucher system and evidence that it worked and that those for whom it worked were disproportionately black? There would be fallout from the idea that the political party for which your community has been block voting has been acting against your better interest and vociferously attacking alternative policies.

With school voucher success, would a 90% Democrat vote rate turn in to a 75, a 60, or even a 50 percentage rate? A split black population would mean disaster for Democrat electoral outcomes in every state except their extremely low black population stronghold states like California, Washington, Oregon, and Greater New England, and odd states like New Mexico, Colorado, and Iowa. The Democrats couldn't win a Presidential election under these circumstances.

I think the 90% rate would remain 90%, and I think both parties know this.

Vouchers aren't going to change black IQ, which means they aren't going to make that big a difference. The one service they provide to minorities is that the more involved parents that can't afford a better school district can get their kids out of the absolute worst schools. That's something, but it ain't going to change voting rates. More likely the fact that the black professional class has lots of teachers in it would be more relevant.

Bourgeois blacks vote Democratic (though it might be that the margin is 5-1 in that substratum rather than 20-1). Improving schools would be a good thing, but it's likely to have only a modest effect on the racial balance in each social stratum.

If the education result is the same either way, vouchers or no vouchers, shouldn't this be a strong argument for vouchers just as a freedom thing? Freedom to send your kids to a school of your choice I think is a good thing in itself.

You think economists give a rip about truck mechanics and salesman who'd like to send their child to a Catholic school without paying the jiziya to the superintendent's office?

Tyler, you should interview Freddie DeBoer on this subject.

There is an over 25 year old ongoing experiment with vouchers in Milwaukee. They also got around the "religious" issue by eliminating the requirement for chapel attendance and allowing students to opt out of any class that might be church/synagogue/mosque related. Lots of articles have been published on this and the results are quite spotty. A lot of private schools that were set up went bust when they didn't perform. The Catholic schools are keeping the Parish churches alive as they are the only source of revenue for the church in some of these areas. There was no mandate on the voucher schools to provide for special needs children so those kids are pretty much still in the public school system.

Lots of good data from Ms. DeVos's home state of Michigan where results are worse than in Milwaukee.

'The Catholic schools are keeping the Parish churches alive as they are the only source of revenue for the church in some of these areas.'

Nice to see how the government is keeping the parts of the Catholic Church going - just like the Founding Fathers intended, right?

If you cut spending on Planned Parenthood's "women's health" operations, suddenly it can't afford to operate abortion facilities. Are you suggesting that the anti-Christian bias of the left may finally lead it to publicly acknowledging the fungibility of money?

The Founding Fathers were all Christians and not atheists. Nor did they want the US to be a country of atheists. And if you'll note, it says "In God we trust" on US money, albeit this springs for the mid-1800s.

The first amendment of the Constitution states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

This means that US institutions cannot prefer one religion over another. If vouchers could be used only at Catholic Schools, then indeed, they would violate the Anti-Establishment Clause. However, if they can be used at any accredited school, then the government is not making any normative statement about religion. You are free to attend any religious institution or none. And there is precedent. Medicare will pay for your treatment at a Catholic hospital. You can buy a Bible with food stamps. And you can subscribe to religious programming on cable using your Social Security check. In none of these cases is the government establishing -- pushing -- any particular religion.

Indeed, if vouchers could not be used at religious schools, then the US government would be officially endorsing atheism, which is a religion of its own.

meh - none of the studies listed control for the amount school options available without vouchers. Considerable variation exists within districts both within the US and outside the US with respect availability and access to special units, charter schools, trade schools, alternate language of instruction, etc. The story should be about how well individual students are matched to institutions that best meet their needs. Vouchers are but one tool to facilitate better matching. It will obviously not enhance results as much in situations where parents are already empowered to match their children appropriately.

A family in DC would not be tied to one school in a residential attendance zone because, with or without a voucher, they have a strong bench of charter schools to choose from. Further, I understand that DC Public Schools do not spend nearly as much on private lawyers to prevent families from accessing appropriate special education programs under IDEA the way, for example, they do in the Bay Area does (see http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Public-Schools-Delay-Deny-Special-Education-Services-231960511.html ). No wonder effects fall off in the third year - the non-voucher winners are not stationary or if they have not changed facilities they were already matched well to begin with.

The residential attendance zone, in which significant numbers of families are prevented from matching a child to an institution that could better serve the child's need is a largely US phenomenon.

In Canada, for example, Alberta choices include charter, private, and French-language schools. Homeschooling is encouraged and supported by the provincial government, and “blended” programs are available where children can take some courses at home and others at school.

In Colombia, students can match to different "tracks", which all lead to their own "Bachiller" after a curriculum of two years. Out of the usual academic curriculum (Bachillerato Académicoi), the students may choose from a variety of technical tracks(Bachillerato en Tecnología o Applicado): Industrial track (Bachillerato Industrial), Commercial track (Bachillerato Commercial), Pedagogical Track (Bachillerato Pedagogico), Agricultural Track (Bachillerato Agropecuario), social promotion track (bachillerato de Promocionio Social). In India, the voucher study cited in the article had 4 year attrition rates over 15% suggesting alternatives were readily available. In Sweden, schooling is “free,” and parents are able to choose their children’s schools; funding even follows the student when they change schools. I

In Chile, secondary education is divided between Scientific-Humanist (regular), Technical-Professional (vocational) and Artistic, all lasting four years. The first two years are the same for the three kinds of schooling, while the third and fourth years are differentiated according to the orientation of the school. Technical-Professional programs are denominated as Industrial, Commercial, Technical, or Polyvalent.

In Denmark, secondary education is not compulsory, but usually free of charge, and students have a wide range of programs to choose from. Some education programs are academically oriented, the most common being the Gymnasium. Others are more practically oriented, training students for jobs as e.g. artisans or clerks through a combination of instruction in vocational schools and apprenticeship.

The universal voucher program in the Netherlands that has been in place since 1917 strongly outperforms the US. On the 2012 international PISA exam, the Netherlands ranked 4th in the world in math, 8th in science, and 10th in reading while the United States ranked 27th, 20th, and 17th on those tests, respectively. In the Netherlands elementary schools are based on a particular educational philosophy, for instance the Montessori Method, Pestalozzi Plan, Dalton Plan, Jena Plan, or Freinet. Most of these are public schools, but some special schools also base themselves on one of these educational philosophies. One might consider the possibility that a child might perform better under one plan than another and that by allowing children to be matched this way overall education outcomes are increased.

In New Zealand, compulsory education only goes to age 15. There are three types of secondary schools: state schools educate approximately 85% of students, state-integrated schools — private schools that have been integrated into the state but keep their special charter — educate 12%, and private schools educate 3%. There is a wide variety of state secondary schools: Te kura kaupapa Māori and Wharekura state schools where the teaching is in te reo Māori and is based on Māori culture and values; Partnership Schools/Kura Hourua between education, business and community groups that are like charter schools; designated character schools; Te Kura correspondence schools; regional health schools to serve students with physical conditions; and special units similar to US special education schools. Schools also offer instruction separately for teen parents.

And on and on...What do economists know about school vouchers? A lot less than they think they know. And if this is the best they contribute, education policy would be much better off if they would just simply shut up and go away.

If you're a Republican, here's how you say it: "Means-testing school vouchers."

"Means-tested school vouchers."
"Means-tested school vouchers."
"Means-tested school vouchers."

Without the addition of means-testing, vouchers become a subsidizing tool for the upper middle class. Right now, families who send their kids to private schools (or have no children in school) subsidize those who send their kids to public schools. Given that education is typically the biggest line item in a municipality's budget, universal vouchers must necessarily involve either a tax increase or a reduction in average subsidy per student. The former will draw resistance from taxpayers, the latter from families with children in public school. A pre-condition of success involves, in my opinion, budget neutrality, and that cannot be achieved without means testing.

Okay, then we'll just support the current system, where the UMC can price everyone else out of good schools. Everyone else gets the "Welcome to the Jungle" schools.

If by subsidizing, wharf you mean is "not forcing to subsidize lower classes students as much" . Upaper class people do pay more in property taxes. They are paying for the public schools right now, even if they don't use them. Vouchers would mean that they would subsidize them somewhat less.


Interesting snopes article that lies about whether wealthy, white liberal, and "resistance" leader Sam Bee, and her wealthy, white liberal husband opposed a school move because it would have allowed poorer, black students to attend. Snopes ruled this was totally false because the racist, classist liberal in question said so.

Jason Jones, Racist: "So just be mindful of when you speak, if you’re going to speak to the press, because slandering or saying anything negative about this teaching staff is wrong. And, conversely, painting any opposition as classist or racist is about as bad as it can get."

So, you know, case closed. Well-to-do progressives would totally be okay with their children's school demographics become 50 or 75% reduced or free lunch, but, you know, they just don't want to have to bus their kids or anything. And, they totally paid the enormous housing premium to live in a wealthy, white enclaves in large cities out of real estate naivete and incompetence. Yep.

The voucher argument is such a waste of time. You need to privatize education, period. Sell off the land and the edifices, lower the taxes.

Right, right, I know---but what about the poor?! (Who are apparently so well-served by Baltimore public schools that no kid can pass a simple state test: http://foxbaltimore.com/news/project-baltimore/6-baltimore-schools-no-students-proficient-in-state-tests. And who can afford fancy shoes and televisions and "live a better life than all but the richest persons a hundred years ago.”" but can't afford to spend a penny on their kids' education - http://www.heritage.org/poverty-and-inequality/report/air-conditioning-cable-tv-and-xbox-what-poverty-the-united-states)

"Another objection to a fully privatized educational system is that if taxpayers were not coerced to finance government schools, some families would be unable to afford quality education. The first thing to note in answer to this objection is that the coercively funded and operated government schools are precisely what make it impossible for customers to receive quality education. Another important point is that with the government monolith slain, the property, income, and sales taxes that had been levied to sustain it could and should be repealed. With their tax burden substantially diminished, families would retain more of their income and be fully free to spend it on their children’s education. Yet another point is that in a full private market for education, competition among private schools, teachers, and tutors would increase dramatically. This inevitably would drive prices down, making education increasingly affordable.

As for those families that somehow in a free market for education still could not afford to pay for any education for their children, observe that even today many private schools offer scholarships to worthy students who cannot meet the tuition.25 In a fully free market for education, such scholarships would increase and abound. Private schools are highly competitive with one another, and they all seek to showcase the value and superiority of their product. Consequently, it is in their rational self-interest to attract students who will make them shine. Scholarships are a crucial means of doing so.

It is also worth noting that voluntary charity flourishes in America even when we are taxed at today’s obscene rates. According to Giving USA Foundation’s annual report on philanthropy, “Charitable giving in the United States exceeded $300 billion for the second year in a row in 2008,” and “Education organizations received an estimated $40.94 billion, or 13 percent of the total.”26 So long as the government does not prohibit educational charities, Americans will contribute to such charities.

In short, in a fully private market for education, the few families unable to afford quality education would find no shortage of scholarships and/or charities available to assist them. Objections to privatizing the government schools simply do not hold water."


The summary claims vouchers cause public schools to do better because of the competition. How do they know that? If there is an improvement, could it be because of smaller class sizes? More information is needed to determine if this is a valid claim.

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