Conclusion: Are Vouchers a Panacea or Problematic? Pt. VI

Written in collaboration with Dr. Jaime Portales

Voucher supporters in the United States and elsewhere claim (including Sen. Dan Patrick) that vouchers will improve the educational opportunities of disadvantaged students (Sugarman, 1999), and contribute to the social integration of middle- and upper-class students. Voucher supporters argue that, since school choice is already available to upper-class families through residential mobility or through enrollment in private schools, expanding this right to low-income families through vouchers will reduce stratification as parental income becomes less important in determining who attends private schools (Neal 2002, Nechyba, 2000).

We can conclude that these assumptions are not well supported by the research evidence in the previous posts here on Cloaking Inequity (1,2,3,4). The Chilean voucher policy example demonstrates vouchers generating creaming effects, benefiting some groups of families and students, while damaging others, especially low-income students living in urban areas. Overall, students with higher SES and/or greater academic abilities living in mixed income and/or upper income areas have greater opportunities to choose relative to their lower SES and/or less academically inclined counterparts living in low-income/ high-poverty areas. Low-income students have fewer opportunities, and greater barriers, to choice in a voucher system.

Some of the barriers they have encountered are:

  • The implementation of student selection procedures (such as test-score requirements) by private-voucher and more popular public schools
  • The charging of additional fees to parents by private-voucher schools and secondary public campuses located in wealthier municipalities;
  • Creaming mechanisms utilized by private-voucher schools and some public-municipal schools that are used to keep better able students and utilized to expel students en-masse with behavioral and academic issues; and
  • Self-segregation based on parental criteria— choice based on specific social class values and cultural desires.

Thus, in the ongoing debate on vouchers, US policymakers must enact a set of accompanying educational policies to counterbalance the negative effects of vouchers already observed in practice.

In conclusion, vouchers are not a substitute for systemic investments in education. As noted by Darling-Hammond (2010), some alternative systemic investments include: Implementing mechanisms for the equalization of resources among public school districts and between public schools, requiring certified teachers and principals in all schools, placing a renewed focus on higher education-based teacher training and developing policies that prohibit creaming (i.e. test score requirements, overuse of disciplinary and academic expulsion, and prohibition of fees/add-ons). Vouchers have not—and can not—resolve long-standing educational dilemmas or challenges such as school effectiveness or equity of educational opportunity that face US school systems; in fact, in the universal implementation of vouchers, Portales (2012) showed that these issues were actually exacerbated instead of solved.

For references, go here.

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Categories: Accountability, African Americans, Latina/os, School Finance, Vouchers

Author:Julian Vasquez Heilig

Julian Vasquez Heilig is currently an Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning and African and African Diaspora Studies (by courtesy) at the University of Texas at Austin.

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  1. Vouchers and School Finance: Saving the Statehouse $? | Cloaking Inequity - January 1, 2013

    [...] in Chile based on excerpts that I have already published here on CI (1,2,3,4,5). I will start a new voucher series this week based on a new policy brief entitled Are Vouchers a [...]

  2. Letter to Civil Rights and school “choice” advocate (p.s. neoliberals skip this) | Cloaking Inequity - March 29, 2013

    [...] have already seen this transition in Chile as they have divested in public education. Click here to see how a national “choice” market has impacted inequality and public [...]

  3. What We Know Now (and How It Doesn’t Matter) | the becoming radical - August 19, 2013

    […] choice (and competition): Decades of a variety of commitments to school choice (notably vouchers) have resulted in a growing body of evidence that school choice fails to achieve the goals of its […]

  4. A experiência chilena com os vouchers | AVALIAÇÃO EDUCACIONAL – Blog do Freitas - August 19, 2013

    […] […]

  5. What We Know Now and An Alternative to Accountability-Based Education Reform | - Breaking Censored News, World, Independent, Liberal News - August 21, 2013

    […] choice (and competition): Decades of a variety of commitments to school choice (notably vouchers) have resulted in a growing body of evidence that school choice fails to achieve the goals of its […]

  6. O fracasso das políticas dos reformadores | AVALIAÇÃO EDUCACIONAL – Blog do Freitas - October 4, 2013

    […] entre escolas : décadas de uma série de compromissos com a escolha da escola (especialmente os vouchers) resultaram em um crescente corpo de evidências mostrando que ela não consegue atingir os […]

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