Working Paper Finds Voucher Programs Effective Globally

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

The College of Education & Health Professions at the University of Arkansas has released a report titled “The Participant Effects of Private School Vouchers across the Globe” as part of a working paper series.

The paper begins by introducing school voucher programs to readers who may be unfamiliar with the term. Voucher programs (also known as opportunity scholarships) pay for students to attend a private school of their choice, with these vouchers usually funded by the government. These types of programs have been initiated worldwide.

Typically, voucher programs are viewed as a means to increase the achievement level and satisfaction of individual students, while at the same time spurring competitive pressure in the education sector to encourage other schools’ improvement.

There have been many studies conducted on school vouchers, but no other study has performed what the working paper calls a “meta-analysis” of the international randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that evaluate the achievement effects of vouchers.

Researchers at the College of Education identified 9,443 potential studies, 19 of which were ultimately included in the report. These 19 studies represent 11 different voucher programs. The study argues that all previous studies of voucher programs provide inadequate results to determine whether students are helped or harmed academically by access to private school choice.

The results of the study show that voucher programs globally tend to impact students’ test scores positiviely, particularly in countries where there is a large gap between private and public school quality. Thus, voucher programs tend to be more successful where underprivileged students, who would otherwise lack access to a high-quality private school, use them to avoid low-quality public education. These kind of scenarios are often experienced in poorer, less developed countries of the Global South.

The researchers concluded by offering several policy recommendations. They found that publicly-funded voucher programs show larger positive effects than privately-funded programs. Often, publicly-funded voucher programs are of significantly greater value because they cover the full cost of educating a child. Students who use publicly-funded vouchers have the means to stay in private school long enough to realize the benefits of the voucher.

Interestingly, the researchers also suggest that publicly-funded voucher programs are subject to more and better regulation than privately financed voucher programs because public authorities have a vested interest in ensuring the quality of publicly-funded programs and can be held responsible for quality control.

Vouchers also tend to be cost effective because, for a fraction of the cost, they generate achievement outcomes that are as good or better than those generated by traditional public schools. Parents and students tend to feel more personally fulfilled when they are able to exercise some control over schooling, and vouchers facilitate that autonomy.

The goal of the University of Arkansas’s working paper series is intended to disseminate the latest findings on education research. The papers have yet to be peer-reviewed, but they hope to encourage the discussion and input of educators and policymakers nationwide before being submitted to a journal.

The full working paper can be accessed online.