School Vouchers: An International Success Story

From The Economist:

Few ideas in education are more controversial than vouchers—letting parents choose to educate their children wherever they wish at the taxpayer’s expense. First suggested by Milton Friedman, an economist, in 1955, the principle is compellingly simple. The state pays; parents choose; schools compete; standards rise; everybody gains.
Simple, perhaps, but it has aroused predictable—and often fatal—opposition from the educational establishment. Letting parents choose where to educate their children is a silly idea; professionals know best. Co-operation, not competition, is the way to improve education for all. Vouchers would increase inequality because children who are hardest to teach would be left behind.
But these arguments are now succumbing to sheer weight of evidence. Voucher schemes are running in several different countries without ill-effects for social cohesion; those that use a lottery to hand out vouchers offer proof that recipients get a better education than those that do not.

Opponents still argue that those who exercise choice will be the most able and committed, and by clustering themselves together in better schools they will abandon the weak and voiceless to languish in rotten ones. Some cite the example of Chile, where a universal voucher scheme that allows schools to charge top-up fees seems to have improved the education of the best-off most.
The strongest evidence against this criticism comes from Sweden, where parents are freer than those in almost any other country to spend as they wish the money the government allocates to educating their children. Sweeping education reforms in 1992 not only relaxed enrolment rules in the state sector, allowing students to attend schools outside their own municipality, but also let them take their 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 and promise not to charge top-up fees (most American voucher schemes impose similar conditions).
The result has been burgeoning variety and a breakneck expansion of the private sector. At the time of the reforms only around 1% of Swedish students were educated privately; now 10% are, and growth in private schooling continues unabated.

More evidence that choice can raise standards for all 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.

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17 years ago

Funny how Democrats always claim to be the compassionate caring about the kids party. Their consistent stance in blocking any meaningful public education reform exposes their truly slimey and self serving nature.

17 years ago

“It’s for the ch-hhhh-ildren”
Until they don’t get the latest tax hike and retaliate by making the most hurtful budget cuts they can think of – sports, etc.

Tom W
Tom W
17 years ago

Regarding the Democrats, one can’t be for the teachers unions and for the highest possible quality public education system (and thus “for” childen”), because the teachers unions are diametrically opposed to achieving the highest quality education (because that is fundamentally incompatible with, e.g., tenure and seniority).
The Democrats are sycophants for the teachers unions; so their lip service for the gullible aside, the Democrats are really anti-education and anti-child.
(The hypocrites protect their own children by putting them in private schools – and of course the media gives them a free pass on that.)

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