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School Vouchers and Student Attainment: Evidence from a State-Mandated Study of Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program

School Choice, School Vouchers
Authors: Joshua M. Cowen, David J. Fleming, John F. Witte, Patrick J. Wolf, and Brian Kisida
The Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 4, No.1, 2013

Policymakers and scholars alike have looked to studies of school choice programs for evidence that students do “better” or “worse” in alternatives to the traditional public sector. Nearly all of these studies have focused largely on the performance of students on standardized tests. Many scholars acknowledge and several actually consider the importance of other outcomes, including the effects of school choice on student and parent satisfaction and civic values (e.g., Campbell, 2008; Dee, 2005; Howell, Peterson, Wolf, & Campbell, 2006; Schneider, Teske, Marschall, Mintrom, & Roch, 1997; Wolf et al., 2009) and the indirect effects of school choice on other socially desirable goals such as racial integration and the narrowing of racial, ethnic, and gender gaps in achievement (e.g., Betts, Rice, Zau, Tang, & Koedel, 2006; Bifulco & Ladd, 2007; Greene, 2005; Neal, 2006; Zimmer et al., 2009). As with other school choice programs, studies of school voucher programs have primarily focused on student test scores. These include evaluations of privately funded programs (Cowen, 2008; Howell, Wolf, Campbell, & Peterson, 2002; Howell et al.,2006) and analyses of public programs (Greene, Peterson, & Du, 1999; Metcalf, West, Legan, Paul, & Boone, 2003; Rouse, 1998;Witte, 2000;Wolf et al., 2013). Some of these studies have also reported to varying degrees on other indicators, often finding large and positive voucher effects on parent satisfaction and views of school safety whilealso reporting small or marginal effects on test scores (e.g.,Witte, 2000; Howell et al., 2006; Wolf et al., 2009).

Perhaps the most important alternative to student test scores as a measure of success in educational policy is attainment: reaching a given level of schooling such as a high school diploma, enrollment in post secondary education, or earning a bachelor’s degree and beyond. Educational attainment is an important indicator for school quality because it may be a direct result of the development of academic and life skills related to a variety of valuable outcomes of interest to policymakers and employers. These include regular employment, aversion to criminal and other dysfunctional behavior, and the generation and growth of personal income and savings. Studies have shown that students who have at least a high school degree can expect higher average life expectancy (Meara, Richards, & Cutler, 2008) and that even 1-year increases in education can reduce the probability of dying in the next 10 years (Lleras-Muney, 2005). College attainment is associated with higher levels of overall health (Wirt et al., 2004) and better health care (Muennig, 2005; Rouse, 2005). Not surprisingly, future wealth is also dependent on educational attainment (Day & Newburger, 2002; Heckman & Carneiro, 2003; Rouse, 2005), and this extends the benefits of higher attainment rates beyond the individual to broader social benefits such as increased tax revenue and economic development (Belfield & Levin, 2007). Beyond pecuniary benefits, governments may also see reductions in crime associated with increases in educational attainment (Belfield & Levin, 2009; Levitt & Lochner, 2001). Although such relationships between attainment and future success may not be surprising, graduation rates are still disturbingly low nationwide, especially for boys and particularly in the nation’s largestschool districts (Greene & Winters, 2006).

Despite such importance, attainment is generally not well studied in the literature on school choice. Several early studies examined the effect of attending a Catholic high school on student attainment (Coleman & Hoffer, 1987; Neal, 1997). These studies generally concluded that students graduated at much higher rates if they attended Catholic high schools, especially if they were urban minorities. Graduation and post secondary enrollment are increasingly of interest in studies of other school choice policies. Most notably, a multi state study of charter schools found large attainment gains for students who moved from traditional public schools to charter schools (Zimmer et al., 2009), and a study of public school choice in Chicago indicated modest impacts of choice on the probability of high graduation (Lauen, 2009). In the school voucher literature, only two studies have examined the association between participating in a voucher program and graduating from high school. A recent experimental evaluation of Washington, DC’s federal voucher program concluded that using a voucher increased the likelihood of high school graduation by 21 percentage points (Wolf et al., 2013). An observational study of a limited set of high schools in Milwaukee reported that they graduated their voucher students at a rate about 12 percentage points higher than the system-wide graduation rate for Milwaukee’s public schools (Warren, 2011).

In this article, we consider data from a state-mandated evaluation of the City of Milwaukee’s large, publicly funded school voucher program. We provide evidence that attainment may indeed be related to the school choices families make, at least insofar as these choices pertain to a voucher-funded private or traditional public school. That Milwaukee is a large, urban school district only adds to the importance of the question of whether school choice boosts the levels of student attainment.If quality of life is directly related to educational attainment, if attainment is a direct result of certain schooling conditions to which a student is exposed, and if these schooling conditions may vary as a result of individual parent and student decisions, then the long-term social and economic consequences of school choice programs may be far greater than the impact of such policies on more transitory outcomes like individual test scores. We proceed with our analysis by describing the state-mandated evaluation on which it was based, and the data and analytical procedures we employ. Next we present basic tabulations and statistical models of high school graduation and post secondary enrollment, and consider reasons why students did not complete a high school degree. We then consider the characteristics of postsecondary institutions attended by voucher or public school students. We conclude by presenting several caveats to this work, and by discussing our results in the context of ongoing and future research on public–private differences in student outcomes.

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A renewed model of education

School Choice, School Vouchers



The recently released Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) on rural education in India contains two main findings. First, learning levels among primary school age children in rural India continue to be shockingly low despite a steady increase in education spending under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and the Right to Education (RTE). Second, there has been a steady increase in the fraction of parents abandoning free government schools in favour of fee-charging private schools, with the share of private school enrolment in rural India increasing from 19% in 2006 to 29% in 2013. While reliable annual data does not exist for urban India, the private school share in urban India was estimated at 58% in 2005 (using the Indian Human Development Survey, or IHDS, data), and is likely to be considerably higher in 2013.

The ASER report shows, as do other data sources like IHDS and Young Lives, that students of comparable age and standard in private schools score significantly higher than their counterparts in government schools. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that private schools caused the better performance of their students. First, students in private schools are more likely to come from socio-economically and educationally advantaged backgrounds. Second, they also typically have 1-2 years of extra schooling (lower kindergarten/upper kindergarten) compared with students in government schools. So, the better performance in private schools could simply reflect these other factors and not the actual effectiveness of the schools. Thus, a critical open question for education in India is this: “Are private schools more or less effective than government schools—holding all other factors constant?”

The Andhra Pradesh “school choice” study

Answering this question is crucial for policy. Clause 12 of the RTE requires private schools to reserve 25% of their seats for students from economically weaker sections (EWS), with the government reimbursing private schools for their fees (up to a maximum of per-child spending in government schools). If public money is going to be used to fund private schools, we need to understand whether private schools are more (or less) effective than government schools after holding all other factors constant.

The Andhra Pradesh school choice project, a long-term research study covering more than 6,000 students in 180 villages for four years (2008-2012), was designed to precisely and credibly answer this question. (The study was carried out under my technical leadership by the Azim Premji Foundation in partnership with the government of Andhra Pradesh, with financial support from the Legatum Institute and the World Bank.) Under the project, we invited parents of children in rural government schools to apply for vouchers (scholarships) that would cover all the costs (fees, books, uniforms) for their children to go to any private school of their choice in the village. The project offered the voucher to two cohorts of students starting in class I and class II, and committed to providing the voucher till the completion of primary school (class V).

The key design feature that enabled a statistically valid comparison between government and private schools was that the scholarship was offered by lottery to a randomly selected subset of applicants. This lottery-based selection thus created a treatment group (those who got the vouchers) and a control group (those who did not)—who were identical, on average, on all other socio-economic characteristics and previous school experience except for winning the lottery. Thus, any differences in education outcomes between the treatment and control groups over time can be attributed purely to the change in schooling environment (made possible by the voucher) and will not be confounded by other factors.

What do private schools do differently?

We find that private school teachers have lower levels of education, training, and experience, and are paid much lower salaries (on average, less than one-sixth of government teacher salaries). However, they have much better measures of effort and time-on-task (lower rates of absence, more likely to be actively teaching and to be in control of the class, when measured during surprise visits to schools). Private schools also have a longer school day and year, significantly lower pupil-teacher ratios, and much lower rates of multi-grade teaching (the lower teacher salaries allow schools to hire significantly more teachers per student). Private schools are also more likely to have functioning toilets (for boys and girls) and scored better on measures of school sanitation and hygiene. Overall, we find that private schools are worse than government schools on input-based measures of teacher quality, but that they do much better on measures of teacher effort and active teaching.

Are private schools more effective?

In Telugu and Maths, we find that the lottery winners who went to private schools don’t perform any better than lottery losers. However, we also found that private schools spend much less instructional time on Telugu (40% less time) and Maths (32% less time), and use this extra time to teach more English, Science/Social Studies (EVS), and also Hindi as a third language (which is not taught in government schools). We find positive effects of vouchers on test scores on all of these subjects (large and significant for Hindi). Thus, adjusting for instructional time, we see that private schools are more productive as they are able to deliver equivalent outcomes as government schools on Telugu/Maths even with substantially less instructional time, and used the extra time to deliver better outcomes on other subjects (especially Hindi).

We also find suggestive evidence of important differences in impact by the medium of instruction of the private school attended. In particular, going to an English-medium private school led to worse scores on Telugu, Maths and EVS, but much better scores on English/Hindi (relative to staying in a government school). However, going to a Telugu-medium private school led to better outcomes on all subjects relative to staying in a government school (but less than English-medium schools in English/Hindi). These results suggest that switching the medium of instruction may hurt accumulation of content knowledge (Maths/EVS) for EWS students. This is consistent with evidence from cognitive neuroscience that first-generation learners are best off being taught in their native language (allowing for reinforcement at home), with English being taught as a subject. The results also suggest that private schools may be even more effective when the medium of instruction is not disrupted. These results, though, are only suggestive and a lot more research is needed in this area.

Finally, it is important to highlight that the average cost per student in private schools was only one-third of the per-child spending in government schools. Thus, even though private schools were not more “effective” in improving learning outcomes in the main subjects of Maths and Telugu, they were clearly more “productive” than government schools, delivering similar outcomes at a much lower cost per student.

Implications for policy

These results suggest that both sides of the public versus private debate need to exercise caution in their recommended policy approaches to improve education quality. Advocates of private schools need to confront the fact that the lottery-winners did not learn more in Maths and Telugu compared with the lottery-losers (suggesting that most of the observed differences between public and private schools reflect socio-economic factors). Given the abysmally low levels of overall literacy and numeracy, they also need to recognize that increasing the share of private-schooling, in its current form, is unlikely to solve India’s education quality problem. While private school teachers are clearly more accountable and work harder than their public school counterparts, it is possible that the binding constraint to education quality lies elsewhere—including a mismatch between the curriculum and student learning levels, and an education system that disproportionately values top-performing students and does not care about helping low-performing students to achieve functional literacy and numeracy and realize their full potential. These systemic pathologies afflict both public and private schools and an excessive focus on private schooling as a panacea may divert attention from fundamental issues of pedagogy and learning.

At the same time, the verdict on government schools is even worse. Empirical research on public education in India has clearly shown that increasing inputs (including teacher qualifications, training and salary) has had no impact on learning outcomes. So advocates of pouring more resources into government schools need to confront the fact that private schools are able to achieve equal or superior outcomes using teachers who are less qualified, and paid much less, suggesting that better management, and greater teacher accountability and effort can compensate for lower qualifications and salaries. In other words, private schools may have a pedagogy problem, but public schools have both a pedagogy problem and a governance problem.

Since private schools achieved equal or better outcomes at one-third the cost, the fundamental question that needs to be asked is, “How much better could private management do if they had three times their current level of per-child spending?” Thus, in addition to focusing on improving the effectiveness of government schools at the current level of spending, the results suggest policymakers should be open to experimenting with models of education provision with public funding (to ensure universal access) and private provision (for better school management).

Overall, policy discussions need to move away from debates of “public” versus “private” provision of education, which are (a) too simplistic because averages hide enormous variation within both public and private schools, and (b) not very useful because both systems are unlikely, in their current form, to deliver significant improvements in outcomes. Rather, the focus should be on the design of better education “systems” that aim to deliver superior outcomes by leveraging the strengths of both the public and the private sector while mitigating the weaknesses of the other. Clause 12 of the RTE provides the ideal context in which to have this discussion of education systems.

Karthik Muralidharan (author) is an assistant professor of economics at the University of California, San Diego.

This is the first of a two-part series.

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Education service delivery State regulations may cause more harm than good: expert

School Vouchers

Jan 19, 2014

Business Recorder

Right to Education legislation offers perverse incentives; education vouchers empowers parents instead of school inspectors. The state regulations on education service delivery may cause more harm than good by denying access to millions of low income families.

This was stated by Mr Parth J. Shah, founder and President of Centre for Civic Society, a New Delhi based top Indian think tank who was the guest speaker on a roundtable ‘Education Vouchers: Lessons from India and Pakistan’ organised by Policy Research Institute of Market Economy (PRIME) in collaboration with Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

Parth stressed that school recognition standards in terms of infrastructure requirements pose a serious challenge to the existing low cost, private schools, which are often unable to finance these standards and face a choice between closing down and increasing their fee, causing loss to enrolment in both cases. Around 30% students in Pakistan and 40% students in India are now enrolled in private schools, majority of them are non-elite, low cost and privately owned.

Parth Shah also explained the changed role of government and the new public management which stresses that the role of government should not be of a service provider but that of a financier. Voucher scheme is one such model whereby the government finances it but lets the private sector provide the service. “Vouchers increase the accountability and empower parents rather than inspectors”, he opined.

Speaking on this occasion, Ali Salman, Executive Director of PRIME, gave an overview of education vouchers scheme in Pakistan noticing its growth, success and scalability over last few years from 10,000 students to 150,000 students. He informed the participants that parents of school children are given non-cashable and non-transferable fee vouchers on a quarterly basis. Ali said that the key benefits of these voucher schemes is that they provide choice to parents, offer a cost effective alternative to government financing and improve the learning among these children compared to their peers in government schools.-PR

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Free Market Fairness in Education, Tomasi Style

School Vouchers

Kumar Anand

Senior Associate, Research

Centre for Civil Society

John Tomasi in his book Free Market Fairness makes a case for ‘market democratic’ interpretation of social justice, which he sees as a morally superior account of social justice due to its commitment to both economic liberty and a fair distribution of goods and opportunities, as against the familiar ‘social democratic’ interpretations of social justice. Tomasi differentiates between the two regimes in his book as follows,        

Social democratic regime types do not protect capitalist economic freedoms as basic constitutional rights. As a result, they empower legislative bodies to create and administer monopolies (or heavily regulated quasi-monopolies) in pursuit of socially desirable goods. The constitutional design of market democratic regime types, by contrast, encourages market-based forms of social construction. The market democratic emphasis on capitalistic economic liberties effectively limits the reach of legislative and administrative bureaucracies with respect to distributive issues.

Tomasi also elucidates the importance of decentralised decision making, choice, competition and innovation as seen in a market democratic regime; and its impact on education.

Market democratic regimes thus emphasize market mechanisms in pursuit of a superior system of education and health care for all. Instead of collectivizing decisions, the market democratic strategy is to create systems with the maximum number of decision points. By increasing choice and empowering people to make use of local information available only to them, such regimes aim to encourage innovation and improve performance on the part of the providers. By emphasizing individual choice making, such regimes encourage attitudes of personal awareness and responsibility on the part of ordinary citizens. By unleashing these forces, market democratic regimes hope to create a system that steadily drives up the quality of schooling and healthcare available to all.

Speaking generally, market democratic regimes prefer private over public forms of education, a preference that becomes ever stronger at higher levels of education. Such regime types seek to empower families to decide individually how much to spend on education and which type of school each of their children will attend (if they attend a school at all). By empowering families, market democratic regimes create an environment that encourages educational entrepreneurs to create novel and diverse forms of schooling. The government might play some oversight role in licensing schools and requiring that broad-gauged achievement standards be met.

In Tomasi’s market democratic world, choice for families/students and competition among service providers reign supreme.  

The thrust of schooling within market democratic societies is toward a system of polycentric competition among providers and empowered decision making families.

School choice model of education, through provision of educational voucher to families who in turn spend vouchers at a school of their choice, is one such way of achieving the twin objectives of choice and competition. We delay our progress towards a market democratic society at our own peril.

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Poor Indians Prove Amartya Sen Wrong

School Vouchers


The Wall Street Journal

Even illiterate parents can make rational choices on schools for their children.

Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen sure has a low opinion of India’s poor. In an interview with Mint newspaper published on July 23, Mr. Sen was asked about cash-transfer programs such as education vouchers. “If you are a peasant farmer and have never been to school, your ability to choose on the basis of information is very limited. Given the asymmetry of information, you’ll never be able to get there,” he said.

Yet the poor in India appear to disagree with Mr. Sen. Parents are increasingly choosing to send their children to low-cost private schools, where students often outperform their peers who attend free public schools.

Surveys suggest that poor Indian parents spend up to 13% of their income on education, well above the national average of 8%. But how do parents who are often illiterate and have little formal education themselves make informed decisions about the merits of schools?

Mr. Sen’s claim rests on two assumptions: that poor parents are incapable of choosing good schools by themselves; and that markets will not help parents identify a good school from a bad one. Evidence suggests neither assumption is true.

Young Indian children play in a classroom at a school in Lucknow, India, Monday, Oct. 31, 2011.

First, the theory that peasants cannot select the best schools is inconsistent with the evidence that they tend to transfer children from failing government schools to better-performing private schools. It is true that poor parents choose schools by considering “simple” things, like whether the medium of instruction is English or the visible state of the building. Yet there is no evidence that such decision-making process favors bad schools.

Research indicates that ordinary people making decisions based on relatively simple data can outperform experts who use much more complex measurements in a wide variety of areas, including predicting Wimbledon winners and picking stock portfolios. Professor Gerd Gigerenzer, a cognitive scientist at the Max Planck Institute, finds that “ignoring part of the information can lead to more accurate judgments than weighting and adding all information.” In other words, one does not need a degree in mechanical engineering to pick a good car.

Mr. Sen’s second assumption is that asymmetrical information makes it impossible for parents to decide which schools are best. The basic idea is that if sellers (low-cost schools) know the quality of a good (education) and buyers (poor parents) have no way of discerning quality, then buyers will either be ripped off or refrain from buying altogether.

However, most of us don’t know how to assemble a computer, manufacture a car engine or even how to make a simple pencil; yet we are able to buy these products fairly regularly. This is because the quality of these products is reflected in their prices. Ever wondered why the price of a car drops as soon as you drive it out of a showroom? The showroom prices include a premium for quality assurance. There is no reason to presume markets are capable of certifying cars but not schools.

In addition, the reality that parents can choose schools creates a market incentive for entrepreneurs to provide better information—in the same way that the market incentivizes the publisher of Consumer Reports to provide other product reviews. Organizations in Hyderabad, southern India, have begun rating low-cost schools so that poor parents can make better choices and better-performing schools can benefit from increased patronage. In fact, surveys by Grey Matters Capital, one such startup, suggest that poor parents are willing to pay up to 150 rupees, roughly $2, for this information.

The real problem is that the education market is still too small to see a proliferation of such certification agencies. Stringent government regulation has meant that most low-cost private schools are not recognized as legal entities. This limits their ability to grow by accessing loans from banks. Legalizing low-cost schools could result in more ratings organizations and increased transparency, ultimately giving poor parents a bigger say in their children’s’ futures.

In his Mint interview, Mr. Sen went on to say, “We need nothing short of a revolution, not an armed revolution, but a revolution in thinking.” The poor are on a mass exodus from government schools to private schools, and the bottom line is that the kids are performing better. It may not be a revolution in thinking but it is most definitely a revolution in doing. Perhaps it is time we treat Indian peasants with a little more respect.

Ms. Vijayalakshmi is a doctoral candidate in marketing at Iowa State University. Mr. Viswanathan is an analyst at Gray Matters Capital, Hyderabad. Mr. Veetil is in the economics doctoral program at George Mason University.

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Cross-border educationists endorse school vouchers

School Vouchers

A team of education activists from Pakistan and members of Delhi-based Centre for Civil Society shared their experience on the ‘school voucher project’ in both countries.

At an event at St Mark’s Convent School in Seelampur in north-east Delhi on Wednesday, Tajamul Hanif from the Pakistan-based National Commission for Human Development said her country fares better in the voucher education system.

The Delhi school voucher project, which was started in 2009 by CCS, pays for the education of poor children in budget private schools. It has benefited over 400 poor students from 68 wards in the Capital.

“Our government is extremely supportive of private intervention in education, though this is not a priority in the country. We are still in the stage of formulating Right to Education laws, which means most schools in Pakistan are not registered,” said Hanif.

CCS plans to present a report of this pilot project to the government so that a voucher system can be used for educating children under the economically weaker section category. The Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies has prepared the report.

With the help of the voucher system, students get the option of choosing their preferred school.

“We aim to convince the government to use this system instead of making schools wait for years to get their due for educating children under the EWS category,” said Shantanu Gupta of CCS.

Under this system, parents were given vouchers worth
Rs 3,600 for a child’s education for a year, which includes school fees, uniform, books, travel and other annual charges. A student should have studied till class six or below at a government school to avail these vouchers. The family concerned must also provide an income certificate to show their financial status.

The CMS conducted the study with 371 voucher students studying from pre-primary to class 8, 371 students attending private schools and 371 students from government schools. Students were tested separately in Hindi, Mathematics and English to evaluate their learning levels.

The findings show that students whose studies were supported by the voucher system performed better than those studying in government schools. They were even at par with students from private schools in all grades.

“Over 50 per cent parents availing the benefits of the voucher system said if this system was stopped, their children would either go back to government schools or stop going to school altogether,” said Gupta.

However, St Mark’s Convent School principal Dr Rajendra Kumar said budget private schools face the threat of closure as they are unable to meet RTE norms laid down by the Delhi government.

“We don’t meet most of the criteria as we do not have space to expand or provide playgrounds and cannot afford to give teachers salaries as per the Sixth Pay Commission,” he said.

Deccan Herald, 15 July 2012



Research, School Vouchers, Vouchers

Author: Epple, D.N and Romano, R

Abstract: Two significant challenges hamper analyses of collective choice of educational vouchers. One is the multi-dimensional choice set arising from the interdependence of the voucher, public education spending, and taxation. The other is that household preferences between public and private schooling vary with the policy chosen. Even absent a voucher, preferences over public spending are not single-peaked; a middling level of public school spending may be less attractive to a household than either high public school spending or private education coupled with low public spending. We show that Besley and Coate’s (1997) representative democracy provides a viable approach to overcome these hurdles. We provide a complete characterization of equilibrium with an endogenous voucher. Click here to read more.

NBER Working Paper 17986, April 2012


School Competition Rescues Kids: The government’s virtual monopoly over K-12 education has failed

Global news, School Vouchers

For years, American education from kindergarten through high school has been a virtual government monopoly.

Conventional wisdom is that government must run the schools. But government monopolies don’t do anything well. They fail because they have no real competition. Yet competition is what gives us better phones, movies, cars—everything that’s good.

If governments produced cars, we’d have terrible cars. Actually, governments once did produce cars. The Soviet bloc puts its best engineers to work and came up with the Yugo, the Volga, and the Trabant. The Trabant was the best—the pride of the Eastern Bloc. It was produced by actual German engineers—known for their brilliance. Yet even the Trabant was a terrible car. Drivers had to put the oil and gas in separately and then shake the car to mix them. Trabants broke down and spewed pollution. When government runs things, consumers suffer.

Our school system is like the Trabant. Economist Milton Friedman understood this before the rest of us did. In 1955, he proposed school vouchers. His plan didn’t call for separating school and state—unfortunately—but instead sought a second-best fix: Give a voucher to the family, and let it choose which school—government-run or private—their child will attend. Schools would compete for that voucher money. Today, it would be worth $13,000 per child. (That’s what America spends per student today.) Competition would then improve all schools.

Friedman’s idea was ignored for decades, but now there are voucher experiments in many states.

Do vouchers work? You bet they do. Just ask the low-income kids in Washington, D.C., who have participated in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The U.S. Department of Education found that the voucher kids read better than their government-school counterparts.

So what did the politicians do? Expand the program? No. Two years ago, President Obama killed it. Why?

“The president has concerns about … talking large amounts of funding out of the system,” then-press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

Voucher families protested. One voucher student, Ronald Holassie, said, “President Barack Obama, you say that getting an education is a key to success, but why do you sit there and let my education and others be taken away?”

The program was reauthorized only after John Boehner became speaker of the House and insisted on it.

Holassie was a guest on my Fox Business show last week. He says the difference between a government school and his private school was dramatic.

“In the public school system when I was in there, (there were) lots of fights. There were shootings, stabbings, and it was really unsafe—drugs.”

The Opportunity Scholarship didn’t offer the full $20,000 that the district squanders on its public schools. It was worth just $7,000, but that was enough to get Ronald into a Catholic school.

“I was actually challenged academically,” he said. “I remember when I was in the public school system, my teacher left in the middle of the year. I remember doing crossword puzzles and stuff like that. We weren’t actually learning.”

He says most of his government-school teachers acted like they didn’t care. His mother, who’s from Trinidad, was going to send him there because the schools are better than American schools.

“She wasn’t going to continue to just let this system fail me.”

But he got the voucher and a good education, and now he’s in college.

Despite the data showing that voucher kids are ahead in reading, the biggest teachers union, the NEA claims: “The D.C. voucher program has been a failure. It’s yielded no evidence of positive impact on student achievement.”

Holassie asks: “How is it a failure when the public school system is failing students? I don’t understand that.”

I don’t understand it either. Vouchers aren’t a perfect solution, but they are better that leaving every student a prisoner of a government monopoly. District government schools have only a 49 percent graduation rate. Ninety-one percent of the voucher students graduate.

Why would the union call that a failure? Because vouchers allow parents to make choices, and many parents would chose non-union, non-government-run schools. The school establishment can’t abide this. Too much money and power are at stake.

Hawaii Reporter, 30 October 2011


India education: The chain school

School Choice, School Vouchers

NEW DELHI, India — In a typical Delhi slum, sewage overflows from the drain alongside the street and scraps of colored paper and empty bottles tumble in the foul wind. Here and there, a spindly boy in threadbare briefs fetches water from the hand-pump and a baby, her eyes blacked with kohl, plays happily in the grime.

It’s not an easy place to live. But even here, Ramesh Singh, a bicycle rickshaw driver, opted to send his son, Dhiraj, to a bare-bones private school when a pilot program for school vouchers gave him the chance several years ago.

“You saw when the teacher tested him,” Ramesh said. “He finished class three in government school, and he can’t read anything!”

Rich or poor, Indians are abandoning the country’s disastrously managed government-run schools in droves. Only about two-thirds of India’s school-age children attend classes at all, and the fierce competition for places at private institutes means that waiting lists are enormous and it’s difficult to win admission to any without pulling strings.

More discouraging still, because of its demographics India will need to build another 250,000 schools to meet its goal of universal enrollment by 2015. But that means there’s a big opportunity, as well, some investors believe: India could well be the first country in the modern world where the business of educating kids from kindergarten through high school is, well, a business. Meet the would-be chain store of education: the Indus World School (IWS).

The school that Ramesh chose for Dhiraj, called R.S. Public School in homage to the legacy of Eton and Harrow, was not part of IWS or any other big corporation. When I visited the place, the paint was crumbling off the concrete walls. Its barred windows give it an aspect more penal than pedantic, and the children in the courtyard were forced to squint and shield their eyes against a fine grit whipped across the compound by the wind.

Still, at $6 a month, it cost less than the voucher that Ramesh received as part of a pilot program run by the Center for Civil Society, and the teachers actually showed up for work. Corporation-run chain schools would institute higher standards — perhaps even pioneering the franchise model in education.

“India needs entrepreneurs and organizations who are willing to build a scalable execution model of schools,” said Satya Narayanan, chairman of Career Launcher. “In terms of numbers, these could translate into a chain of hundreds of schools over a five to seven year period.”

With 14 schools in operation, mostly in second-tier cities but also including five rural schools, Indus World School has made a good start.

Earlier this year, the company secured second round financing from Gaja Capital Partners and sold an additional, undisclosed stake to Housing Development Finance Corp. for around $10 million — suggesting that the snowball is beginning to roll downhill. According to Narayanan, IWS hopes to operate 75 schools with over 40,000 students in five years time, which could pave the way for a wave of followers.

According to the entrepreneur, at least a dozen of India’s large corporations are discussing similar ventures or investments. But the blue ocean market — 250,000 schools! — means he won’t need to worry much about competition for bodies.

Nevertheless, Narayanan aims to make sure innovation isn’t limited to the business model.

The company is steadily developing its own intellectual property for the curriculum, with a focus on age-appropriate linkages to career aspirations and higher education goals — music to the ears of middle-class Indian parents.

And the connection with Career Launcher — a test prep and college admissions advisory company that serves 100,000 from 225 outlets — ensures that IWS understands its target customers and their goals.

Can for-profit chain schools really step in where the state has failed — especially for students like Dhiraj Singh, whose parents can’t afford to pay more than a pittance?

Studies of tiny, grassroots private schools and school vouchers suggest that the answer may be yes. So far IWS, like most elite Indian schools, offers scholarships for only a few hundred students. But the gathering momentum of the country’s recently passed Right to Education law (RTE) could free up funds for private players.

“The RTE needs to be given an operating framework from the current ‘intent’ state,” said Narayanan. “We can contribute immensely to [uplifting the poor] in just a generation if we can implement RTE smartly!”

Global Post, 24 October 2011


On school choice we must look to the US

School Choice, School Vouchers

One of the most powerful ideas in education reform is the “voucher”. At present, the Government spends more than £5,000 per year on average for a child in a state school (more for secondary schools, less for primary schools). With a “voucher”, parents could choose to take that money and spend it on a place in a private school. Parents would gain a much greater range of choice overnight, and research suggests that greater choice leads to better results. This is the evidence from Sweden, which has served as the inspiration for Michael Gove’s free schools.

These arguments have been winning the debate in America for several years. Last Thursday, the State Senate of Indiana approved the largest voucher programme to be seen in the US so far. The programme is geared towards families on lower incomes. It will eventually allow 62 per cent of all families in Indiana to take their public funds to a private school if they so choose. The Government will pick up the tab on a sliding scale depending on each family’s income, with the poorest eligible for 90 per cent of their school’s fees.

Indiana’s Governor, Mitch Daniels, explained the reforms: “If you’re a moderate or low-income family and you’ve tried the public schools for at least a year and you can’t find one that works for your child, you can direct the dollars we were going to spend on your child to the non-government school of your choice. That’s a social justice issue to me.”

The Indiana reforms follow hot on the heels of the renewal of a school voucher programme in the District of Columbia, which has helped thousands of disadvantaged children get a decent education that they would not otherwise have received.

England has the same need for radical reform. Last year, only 30.9 per cent of children from poorer backgrounds (measured by eligibility for free school meals) achieved five good GCSEs, compared to 58.5 per cent of children not in receipt of free school meals. That makes it all the more surprising that the Government has set its face against something similar in England. In February, Nick Clegg was the latest Minister to declare that “while we are opening up diversity of provision, there will be no for-profit providers in our publicly funded schools system”. But school choice is a social justice issue here too. England would do well to follow Indiana’s lead.

The Telegraph, April 26, 2011

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