FREE TO CHOOSE, AND LEARN
May 7, 2007
Few ideas in education are more controversial than school vouchers. But those opposed to the idea are now succumbing to the sheer weight of the evidence. Voucher schemes are running in several different countries without ill-effects for social cohesion and proving that recipients get a better education than those that do not, says The Economist.
- A Colombian program to broaden access to secondary schooling, known as PACES, provided over 125,000 poor children with vouchers.
- The subsequent results of the program show that the children who received vouchers were 15 to 20 percent more likely to finish secondary education.
- In addition, they were 5 percent less likely to repeat a grade, scored a bit better on scholastic tests and were much more likely to take college entrance exams.
- The program selected children by lottery, stripping out the common argument that vouchers only help the fortunate.
Another example comes from Sweden:
- In 1992, the country allowed students to attend schools outside their own municipality, and also allowed state funding to private schools, including religious ones and those operating for profit.
- The only real restrictions imposed on private schools were that they must run their admissions on a first-come-first-served basis.
- At the time of the reforms, only around 1 percent of Swedish students were educated privately; now 10 percent are, and growth in private schooling continues.
More evidence that choice can raise standards comes from Caroline Hoxby, an economist at Harvard University, who has shown that when American public schools must compete for their students with schools that accept vouchers, their performance improves. Swedish researchers say the same. It seems that those who work in state schools are just like everybody else: they do better when confronted by a bit of competition.
Source: Editorial, "Free to choose, and learn," The Economist, May 3, 2007.
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