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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Before Structuralism and Dependency: What did Latin America contribute to International Political Economy?

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Eric Helleiner, Profeesor and Faculty of Arts Chair in International Political Economy at the University of Waterloo, presents a talk titled “Before Structuralism and Dependency: What did Latin America contribute to International Political Economy?” on Friday, September 30 at 1:30 PM.

Dr. Helleiner holds a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and researches international political economy, international money and finance, North-South economic relations, and the history of political economy. He is the author of over 100 journal articles and book chapters.

The talk is sponsored by the Tulane Political Science Department and the Murphy Institute

Assessing equitable care among Indigenous and Afrodescendant women in Latin America

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The Department of Anthropology and Tulane Anthropology Student Association (TASA) present a lecture by Dr. Arachu Castro, the Samuel Z. Stone Chair of Public Health in Latin America in the Department of Global Community Health and Behavioral Sciences at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. Dr. Castro will present a lecture titled “Assessing equitable care among Indigenous and Afrodescendant women in Latin America” on Friday September 30, 2016 at 4:00 PM in Dinwiddie Hall 103.

Talk Abstract:
Health provider discrimination against Indigenous and Afrodescendant women is a primary barrier to quality health care access in Latin America. Discrimination is driven by biases against ethnic minority populations, women, and the poor in general. Discriminatory practices can manifest as patient-blaming, purposeful neglect, verbal or physical abuse, disregard for traditional beliefs, and the non-use of Indigenous languages for patient communication. These obstacles prevent delivery of appropriate and timely clinical care, and also produce fear of shame, abuse, or ineffective treatment, which, in addition to financial barriers, deter women from seeking care.

A light reception will follow the lecture

MARI Brown Bag: Eugenia Robinson "Utatlan, A Late Postclassic Guatemalan Highland Capital: MARI Collections Research"

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Dr. Eugenia Robinson, Professor of Anthropology at Montgomery College and a Research Affiliate of the Middle American Research Institute, will present a talk “Utatlan, A Late Postclassic Guatemalan Highland Capital: MARI Collections Research” on her recent research about highland Guatemalan sites from the collections of MARI.

For more information and a full list of Brown Bag talks, visit the Brown Bag Website.

Ixcanul Screening and Educator Reception

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The Latin American Resource Center and the Broad Theater are hosting a screening of Ixcanul, an educator reception, and discussion about the film. Ixcanul follows the life of a young Kaqchikel Maya woman as she grapples with problems in the modern world. The film was Guatemala’s entry in the 2016 Best Foreign Language Film Category at the Oscars. The discussion following the film will include a discussion of how to use the film in the classroom.

The event is FREE for educators who REGISTER below. The public may purchase tickets to attend the screening and discussion.

Please be able to show your school ID if requested to confirm educator status

Event Schedule:

4:30 Reception
5:00 Film
6:30 Discussion

Latin American Cinema Series

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In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Stone Center for Latin American Studies is collaborating with The Broad Theater to present the 1st Annual Latin America Cinema Series. The series will showcase a wide variety of shorts and features from Haiti, Cuba, Argentina, Guatemala, Peru, Mexico and Colombia. Titles include such film festival standouts such as THE APOSTATE, Martin Sheen’s latest film THE VESSEL, and IXCANUL, the first Guatemalan film shot in the Kaqchikel Maya language. The series will take place over two days, October 1st and 2nd, at The Broad Theater, 636 North Broad, New Orleans.

This film series is presented in partnership with WWNO and the Cine Institute in Jacmel, Haiti. All proceeds from the Haitian series will go to Cine Institute.

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 1

  • 12:30 pm – Haitian Shorts (100 mins.) A selection of Haitian narrative shorts will be screened as part of a partnership with the Cine Institute in Jacmel, Haiti.
  • 2:45 pm – Tierra y Sombra (97 mins.) Colombia. Alfonso is an old farmer who has returned home to tend to his son, who is gravely ill. He rediscovers his old house, where the woman who was once his wife still lives, with his daughter-in-law and grandson. The landscape that awaits him resembles a wasteland. Vast sugar cane plantations surround the house, producing perpetual clouds of ash. 17 years after abandoning them, Alfonso tries to fit back in and save his family.
  • 5:00 pm – Ixcanul (100 mins.) Guatemala. On the slopes of an active volcano in Guatemala, a marriage is arranged for 17-year-old Maria by her Kaqchikel parents. “Ixcanul” provides a window into a culture that we rarely see. Film will be presented with a special introduction by Professor Judith Maxwell and Kaqchikel Maya language Scholar, Ixnal Cuma Chávez. The Latin American Resource Center- welcomes all educators to a special reception preceding the screening. Reception is free with registration. For more information about this special reception, please register here.
  • 7:10 pm – The Vessel (110 mins.) United States. Ten years after a tidal wave destroys a small-town elementary school with all the children inside, a young man builds a mysterious structure out of the school’s remains, setting the town aflame with passions long forgotten.
  • 9:15 pm – Embrace of the Serpent (133 mins.) Colombia/Venezuela/Argentina. The story of the relationship between Karamakate, an Amazonian shaman and last survivor of his people, and two scientists who work together over the course of 40 years to search the Amazon for a sacred healing plant.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 2, 2016

  • 12:00 pm Ixcanul (100 mins.) Guatemala.
  • 4:30 pm Unfinished Spaces (86 mins.) Cuba. Cuba’s ambitious National Art Schools project, designed by three young artists in the wake of Castro’s Revolution, is neglected, nearly forgotten, then ultimately rediscovered as a visionary architectural masterpiece. In 1961, three young, visionary architects were commissioned by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara to create Cuba’s National Art Schools on the grounds of a former golf course in Havana, Cuba. Construction of their radical designs began immediately and the school’s first classes soon followed. Dancers, musicians and artists from all over the country reveled in the beauty of the schools, but as the dream of the Revolution quickly became a reality, construction was abruptly halted and the architects and their designs were deemed irrelevant in the prevailing political climate. Forty years later the schools are in use, but remain unfinished and decaying. Castro has invited the exiled architects back to finish their unrealized dream. Unfinished Spaces features intimate footage of Fidel Castro, showing his devotion to creating a worldwide showcase for art, and it also documents the struggle and passion of three revolutionary artists.
  • 9:00 pm The Apostate (80 mins.) Uruguay/Spain. A man at a crossroads in his life (Alvaro Ogalla) wishes to fully excommunicate himself from the Catholic Church, but is faced with baffling bureaucracy from his decision in this absurd comedy-drama from director Federico Veiroj.

More information can be found at thebroadtheater.com, in the Events section. Tickets for the series will go on sale Friday, September 23rd. Tickets for each screening will be $10 with a two-day pass available for $40. For more information please contact the theater at mgmt@thebroadtheater.com or 504-218-1008.

Day of the Dead Teacher Workshop at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

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In collaboration with the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Stone Center presents the annual K-12 teacher workshop exploring the cultural and artistic elements of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. All participants will receive light refreshments, 2 free tickets to Ogden After Hours, teaching materials and CEUs. The workshop will focus on the Ogden Museum’s altar exhibition, celebrating the life Allen Toussaint, on view from Oct. 4 – Nov. 8. The event will discuss altar traditions and how to integrate altars into the classroom.

Check out the event website for resources and other information about teaching Day of the Dead.

Workshop Schedule

5:30 – 5:45
Welcome and Introduction
Denise Woltering Vargas, Tulane University
Suzanna Ritz, Ogden Museum of Southern Art

5:45-6:00
Day of the Dead Altars: Allen Toussaint
Cynthia Ramirez, Southern University of New Orleans

6:00 – 6:15
Day of the Dead Altars in the Classroom: the ISL Altar to Benny Andrews
Suzanna Ritz, Ogden Museum of Southern Art

6:15 – 7:00
Hands on Activities for the Classroom: Building Altars and Retablos
Suzanna Ritz, Ogden Museum of Southern Art

7:00 – 7:30
Discussion and Evaluation