Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

School Vouchers: What Louisiana can Learn from Chile

By Ludovico Feoli

In light of Governor Jindal’s proposal to vastly expand Louisiana’s school voucher system it might be useful to consider the track record of similar programs elsewhere. To that effect, Chile’s experience might be informative. Starting in the 1980s that country implemented the world’s farthest reaching neoliberal reform of education. The Pinochet regime intended to revolutionize vast spheres of Chilean society by replacing professional and bureaucratic organization with market forces. In a nutshell, the logic behind educational choice was that the freedom of voucher-bearing parents to select schools would create competitive forces, generating incentives for schools to improve their performance, reduce their costs, and introduce greater innovation. Did it work?

While the evidence is complex, analysts suggest that “The Chilean reforms of the 1980s were not practicable, did not turn education upside down, and did not dramatically improve school performance” (Gauri 1998, 103). The reforms did not reduce inequalities in education: most poor children attend public schools, which have lower performance than private schools and are more poorly funded, due to their inability to charge tuition or surcharges, both of which are open to their private counterparts (Levin 2011, 74; Economist 2011). The reforms did not improve performance either. While standardized scores have improved in Chile over time, it is more likely to have been as a result of improvement efforts spearheaded by the Ministry of Education, not market forces. Scores are better in Chile than they are in other Latin American countries, but they are well below the OECD average and show high variability relative to student background. In fact, what vouchers do seem to have accomplished is a redistribution of pupils with better-educated parents from public to private schools. And while private subsidized schools seem to have lower costs than the public schools, this may be due to their free riding on the public education system—by not taking special needs students, and by hiring teachers already employed in nearby public schools as part-time faculty (Carnoy 1998). The prolonged student protests that have paralyzed the country in past months are testament to a widespread discontent with the educational system.

While it is clear that there are many institutional and even cultural differences between the education systems in the United States and Chile, these results should at the very least call for caution. As Gauri (1998) suggests, there are several lessons that can be drawn from this experience for a broader context. First, it is illusory to believe that markets will replace bureaucrats. To be sure, bureaucracies tend towards hypertrophy and can be paragons of inefficiency. But markets are also plagued by imperfections, like asymmetries of information, which allow parents that are better informed about school quality and performance, usually the more affluent, to reap greater rewards from the voucher system. Leveling the playing field by evaluating and disseminating educational achievement, and keeping schools financially accountable, requires increased regulation and state intervention. This points to an ironic paradox inherent in such market liberalizing reforms.

Second, markets are not immune to politics. If vouchers lead students away from existent public schools their remaining constituents—teachers, parents, staff, students, neighbors—will resist closures, creating political unrest and impeding cost reductions. Moreover, the complexity of educational reform is such that policies cannot be imposed by fiat. Not even the Pinochet regime could override longstanding traditions tied to the influence of teachers. There is no universal model that fits the needs of every community. Parents differ in their priorities and they are often willing to trade other aspects, like safety, convenience, day care, and instruction in religious or moral codes, for some degree of academic achievement or educational innovation (Gauri 1998, 105). Deliberation and consensus building are crucial for the success of educational policy.

While the Louisiana voucher expansion has been presented as a ticket for children to escape from failing public schools, the Chilean precedent warns against expecting this to emerge solely from market forces. Unfortunately, this expectation seems to be at the heart of the proposal given its broad eligibility requirements for students and its lax eligibility requirements for schools. Under the proposed rules students in more than 70% of Louisiana’s schools (55% of the public school students) would be eligible for vouchers (BGR 2012). At the same time, virtually all private schools meeting minimal requirements for operation could accept them. What is to prevent a student from entering a worse private school than the public one she is exiting? In the absence of regulations the assumption must be that the demand for quality education will draw parents to the best performing schools. Yet, this in turn assumes the existence of perfect information—available, intelligible, and unambiguous—which the new legislation makes no effort to impose. As the case of Chile exemplifies, an active administration is inevitable: to assure vouchers go only to those students who need them; to control that only highly qualified private schools can accept those students; to measure educational achievement in schools and to make the results widely available to parents; and to keep schools accountable for their educational and financial results over time.

The Chilean case, where tuition vouchers have been more extensively tried than anywhere, shows that private schools are not necessarily better than public ones, and that competition between public and private schools will not necessarily raise the quality of education or reduce its costs. “For those concerned with the quality and cost of education in the United States, the answers lie elsewhere” (Carnoy 1998).
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BGR. Making Choice Right: Can Private School Vouchers Live Up to Their Promises? (March 2012).
Carnoy, Martin. “Do Vouchers Improve Education?” Dollars & Sense, no. 216 (1998): 24-27.
Gauri, Varun. School Choice in Chile: Two Decades of Educational Reform. Pitt Latin American Series. Pittsburgh, Pa: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998.
Levin, Ben. “Chile, Latin America, and Inequality in Education.” Phi Delta Kappan 93, no. 2 (2011): 74-75.
“We Want the World; Education in Chile.” The Economist 400, no. 8746 (2011): 36.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Ludovico Feoli

    Executive Director - Center for Inter-American Policy & Research

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Summer K-12 Teacher Institute in Cuba

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Teaching Cuban Culture and Society: A Summer K-12 Teacher Institute in Cuba
Havana, Cuba | June 20 – July 4, 2015

The Application Deadline has passed. Visit the Institute Website to learn more about the program.

The Stone Center for Latin American Studies is offering a unique summer study abroad program for K-12 teachers in Havana, Cuba in 2015. This two-week program provides the unique opportunity to work on developing lesson plans while exploring the sights and sounds of a nation and people that remain obscured behind political rhetoric and misinformation. Recent economic changes on the island have provoked a series of social and cultural transformations that have left Cubans and the entire world wondering what could be next for the island and the Revolution. Don't miss the chance to witness some of these challenges and triumphs firsthand and get the opportunity to bring your experience back to your students in the classroom.

PLEASE VIEW THE WEBSITE FOR MORE INFORMATION AND TO APPLY.

ITINERARY – 15 DAYS

  • Day 1 – U.S./HAVANA, CUBA
    Depart from Tampa, FL, Upon arrival, enjoy dinner and a welcome reception followed by an informal walk and people watching on the Malecón.
  • Day 2 – HAVANA
    Havana Vieja Tour with local preservation experts to discuss in depth the history of local landmarks, historical preservation efforts, and future plans. Visit "Arte Corte" – a barber shop and hair-dressing school in the Santo Angel neighborhood developed to promote skills in the community and support the local economy – and meet with local community leaders., students and elderly folks at the community center Visit the Callejón de Hamel for rumba music and meet with Centro Habana residents. Presentation on AfroCuban dance with musical expert Cari Diez; opportunity to interact with the musicians and staff.
  • Day 3 – HAVANA
    Lecture with Professor Alfredo Prieto on "Cuba Since the Special Period." Curriculum development workshop. Visit the Cuba Council of Churches to meet local people and participate in a seminar about the organization's work in the areas of youth, agriculture, social welfare, and international communications.
  • Day 4 – HAVANA
    Walking tour of Calle Obispo in the morning with Professor Rafael Hernández. Meet the instructors and students of La Colmenita, an after-school program that uses song and dance performance as a social development tool.
  • Day 5 – HAVANA
    Presentation by Professor Isabel Rigol on "Current Challenges Facing Havana's Effort to Preserve its Architecture and Heritage." Visit to the Escuelas Nacional de Arte and meet with students and faculty. Evening walk and visit to the Cañonazo at the Morro.
  • Day 6 – VINALES
    Day trip to the UNESCO World Heritage site, Viñales for landscape and village exploration. Explore the mountainous magotes and visit and meet local tobacco farmers working in their fields and storehouses. At the Casa del Veguero we'll have an introduction to tobacco farming and tobacco production. Visit with locals in the town of Viñales; lunch will be a community event shared with local families, followed by a visit to a children's art center.
  • Day 7 – ALAMAR
    Visit to an Organipónico (urban agrarian farm) in Alamar to explore sustainable farming in Cuba and learn about Cuban cuisine from local gardeners and Noel Pina, the manager of the garden. After lunch explore the community project Muraleando, where local artists have been changing a downtrodden neighborhood into a living work of art.
  • Day 8 – HAVANA/JAIMANITAS
    Visit to Cementerio Colón and interact with the dozens of pilgrims who line up daily at the tomb of Amelia Goyri, said to grant miracles. Continue on to the Plaza de la Revolución. Lunch and afternoon visit to workshop of ceramic artist, José Fuster, who has turned his neighborhood into a unique, whimsical work of public art. Curriculum development in the evening.
  • Day 9 – SANTA CLARA, TRINIDAD
    Travel to Trinidad via Santa Clara, a town founded by 175 people on July 15, 1689. It is the site of the last battle in the Cuban Revolution in 1958. Visit to the Che Mausoleum in Santa Clara. Also visit the historic sugar plantation of Manaca Iznaga before arriving in Trinidad.
  • Day 10 – TRINIDAD
    Explore this UNESCO World Heritage site, founded on December 23, 1514 by Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar. Trinidad was a central piece of Cuba's sugar-based economy. Guided city tour with the city historian. Visit the Trinidad library to learn about the importance of libraries and debate questions of intellectual freedom with the staff. Meet with local entrepreneur David Alamar, owner of a private paladar (Davimart) to discuss cuentaproprismo in Cuba.
  • Day 11 – CIENFUEGOS
    We will head to Cienfuegos, a town known for its architectural beauty which reveals its French colonial roots. Visit the Beny More School of Art that trains students in the visual and musical arts and is one of the top ten middle-level art schools in Cuba.
  • Day 12 – HAVANA
    We will hear from children's book author Olga Marta Pérez about the children's/ youth Literacy Scene in Cuba today. In the afternoon, we will visit the Cuban Collection of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes accompanied by a curator.
  • Day 13 – PLAYA GIRON (Site of Bay of Pigs), Ciénega de Zapata, Playa Larga
    Day excursion to the historic site of the Bay of Pigs, one of the landing sites for the 1961 US-backed invasion. Visit the Finca Fiesta Campesina farm, the Playa Girón museum, the Parque Ciénaga de Zapata, the Laguna del Tesoro, and the Taino Indian village.
  • Day 14 – HAVANA
    Wrap-up curriculum workshop followed by a free afternoon ending in a celebratory dinner.
  • Day 15 – HAVANA/U.S.
    Morning departure for the U.S.

For questions, contact Denise Woltering Vargas at 504.862.3143, or at crcrts@tulane.edu. Visit the Summer 2015 Institute webpage.

REPAL Second Annual Conference

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The second annual meeting of REPAL (Red para el Estudio de la Economía Política de América Latina) will be held July 7-8, 2015 in Montevideo, Uruguay, hosted by the The Department of Social and Political Sciences at the Universidad Católica del Uruguay (UCU, Montevideo).

The conference discusses important puzzles and problems, both theoretical and practical, in the political economy of Latin America. Papers, and presentations are presented in English, Spanish, or Portuguese.

The conference is sponsored by CIPR. For more information visit the REPAL website.

La hora del cuento: Call Me Tree/Llámame Arbol

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Join the Pebbles Center at the Children’s Resource Center branch of the New Orleans Public Library for bilingual story time! We will be reading Call Me Tree/Llámame Arbol.

Photography Exhibit: El Viajero

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The Consulate of Mexico in New Orleans is pleased to present, in collaboration with the Photo Alliance of New Orleans, the photographic exhibition "El Viajero " by Owen Murphy from June 18th to July 11th, 2015 at the Art Gallery of the Consulate of Mexico. An opening reception will be held June 18th, 2015 at 6:00 PM.

For more information, visit the cultural agenda of the Consulate of Mexico in New Orleans.

Summer Bilingual Reading Series at the Pebbles Center

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SECOND SATURDAY OF THE MONTH

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La hora del Cuento: 'Twas Nochebuena

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Join the Pebbles Center at the Children’s Resource Center branch of the New Orleans Public Library for bilingual story time. We will be reading ‘Twas Nochebuena and celebrating Christmas in the summer! _’Twas Nochebuena’ is a 2015 Americas Book Award Commended Title.