A new study using the most robust statistical techniques available shows that the advantages of extending school choice using vouchers are very significant and they benefit all children right across the social spectrum.
The study by US education expert Greg Forster*, published in Economic Affairs**, by the Institute of Economic Affairs, examines the large body of empirical evidence that arises from the US school choice programme which now encompasses 13 states. This programme has radically freed the education sector from the heavy hand of government regulation and has raised standards. The following results have been highlighted by the study:
Voucher programmes raise standards across the board for those who participate in them this effect is particularly marked amongst those groups whose educational outcomes were the lowest in state schools.
Allowing parents to take their children away from state schools leads to a dramatic improvement in the quality of education as stronger incentives to perform drive up the quality of provision.
Racial segregation in schools is less marked where voucher programmes are used because the school a young person attends is not as dependent on where the person lives.
Contrary to popular belief that education choice will lead to intolerant minorities setting up their own schools, civic values and tolerance were better promoted in voucher-funded schools than in state schools.
Better services for disabled people were provided in private schools funded by vouchers than in state schools.
Voucher systems save government money because a better quality education can be provided more cheaply in private schools funded by vouchers than in government-run schools.
These results arise from randomised experiments or other methods of a very high degree of scientific rigour. This is made possible by the particular nature of the school choice programmes in the US. Commenting on the findings, Philip Booth, Editorial and Programme Director of the Institute of Economic Affairs said, The message is very clear. If the UK government really believes in high quality education and social inclusion then it must embrace voucher systems or some other mechanisms for ensuring that parents can choose a private education for their children. Tired arguments that voucher systems will create social division or allow intolerant minorities to set up their own schools must be rejected on the basis of this evidence.
*Dr Greg Forster is a senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.
**Vouchers and school choice: the evidence,
, Vol. 28, No. 2, pp. 42-47, Institute of Economic Affairs, £7.50.