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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MARI Brown Bag: Dan M. Healan and Grant S. McCall "Breaking Rocks and Repairing Theories: the Lithic Industries of Early/Middle Formative Chalcatzingo and Altica, Mexico"

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The Middle American Research institute is happy to present the first Brown Bag of the 2015-2016 academic year. Dr. Dan M. Healan, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Anthropology, and Dr. Grant S. McCall, Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology, will present a talk on their research on lithic technology in central Mexico entitled “Breaking Rocks and Repairing Theories: the Lithic Industries of Early/Middle Formative Chalcatzingo and Altica, Mexico.”

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Art Exhibit "Novia del Mar"

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The Consulate of Mexico in New Orleans is pleased to present the exhibit “Novia del Mar” by artist Aura Maury from August 28 to September 7th at the Art Gallery of the Consulate of Mexico in New Orleans. An opening reception will be held on August 28th at 6 PM. For more information please visit the Art Gallery website.

Call for Papers: Tropical Exposures Conference

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Tropical Exposures: Photography, Film, and Visual Culture in a Caribbean Frame
March 10-12, 2016
Tulane University
New Orleans, LA

The 2016 Tropical Exposures conference is now accepting abstracts through September 15, 2015. Click here to view or download the official Call for Papers.

Tropical Exposures welcomes proposals for papers that address any facet of Caribbean visual representation in photography, film, art, popular culture, and other media, as well as the interaction of word and image more generally. Scholars are also encouraged to present proposals that consider social and cultural shifts toward the increasing intermediality of representation in the Caribbean frame.

Papers may focus on one terrain, image-maker, or form of media, or employ comparative strategies. Papers may be in English, Spanish, French or Portuguese, though English is preferred. We anticipate creating an edited volume of expanded essays around the notion of Tropical Exposures, co-edited by Ana López and Marilyn Miller. We encourage participants to prepare abstracts and presentations with an eye to inclusion in a print publication. Papers might address some of the following tropics or questions in their myriad Caribbean contexts:

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Please send a proposal and 250-word abstract by September 15, 2015 to <ccsi@tulane.edu>, including the abstract as an attachment to the email. Please include the title of your paper, your name (and the names of any co-presenters), institutional affiliation, mailing address, phone number, and email address. We welcome pre-constituted panels. If submitting a panel for consideration, please include a top sheet with panel title, participant names and a brief abstract of the panel topic in addition to the individual paper proposals.

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For updated information on the conference, location and arrangements, visit the Tropical Exposures page on the Cuban & Caribbean Studies website.

Civil Rights Through the Américas Award: K-12 Teacher Workshop

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Américas Award K-12 Workshop

In celebration of the 2015 Américas Award, CLASP and Teaching for Change are hosting a K-12 teacher workshop “Civil Rights Through the Américas Award: K-12 Teacher Workshop.”

This hands-on workshop will explore issues of civil rights and identity using children's literature. The workshop will feature the work of this year's award winners, Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh and Silver People by Margarita Engle. Both authors will be in attendance to work with teachers on activities and strategies to best engage readers with the themes of civil rights, social justice, family, and identity as they arise in this year’s award winning books. Teaching for Change will highlight additional resources to incorporate teaching Social Justice and Human Rights.

All participants will receive dinner, teaching resources, and both books. Participants are also invited to attend the Américas Award Ceremony to be held at the Library of Congress from 3:00 – 5:00 PM the following evening – Friday, September 18th.

Workshop schedule will be posted soon. In the meantime, check out the workshop website or download last year’s agenda

The Américas Award is sponsored by CLASP and coordinated by Tulane University’s Stone Center for Latin American Studies and Vanderbilt University’s Center for Latin American Studies. Additional funding is provided by Florida International University, Stanford University, The Ohio State University, University of New Mexico, University of Utah, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

For more information contact Denise Woltering (dwolteri@tulane.edu) (504.865.5164)

Culinary Connections: Creole Cuisines of Louisiana and/as the Caribbean

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Rico Riz, a third-generation chef and hunter-gatherer of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, will discuss “Culinary Connections: Creole Cuisines of Louisiana and/as the Caribbean,” followed by a food presentation and tasting. Chef Riz’s culinary art, hunting and gathering techniques, and food photography have been featured on numerous blogs. He is a contributor to cookbook Hunt, Gather, Cook vol. 2 (forthcoming, Rodale Books).

This event is free and open to the public thanks to the support of the Stone Center for Latin American Studies and the Tulane Undergraduate Activities Fund.

To RSVP or request further information, please contact Kristin Okoli at kokoli@tulane.edu.

Art Exhibit "Hispanic Convergence in New Orleans"

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The Consulate of Mexico in New Orleans is pleased to present the group exhibition “Hispanic Convergence in New Orleans” which features artists from Mexico, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Argentina, and Cuba. The exhibit will run from September 10th to October 5th at the Art Gallery of the Consulate of Mexico in New Orleans. An opening reception and the presentation of the commemorative poster of the “Que Pasa Fest 2015” of the Cervantes Hispanic-American Arts Foundation will be held on September 10th at 6 PM.

For more information please visit the art gallery website.