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.