Research & Commentary: Study Details the Positive Impact of Chile’s National School Choice Model

Published May 9, 2018

A new report from EdChoice looks at Chile’s universal program of school vouchers, finding the nation has outpaced all other Latin American countries on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam and, contrary to the claims of critics, is not increasing socioeconomic segregation at a rate out of the ordinary for the region.

In The Chile Experiment: Comparing Chile’s Free School Choice Model with Quasi-Monopoly Educational Systems in Latin America on Academic Outcomes and School Segregation, author Mariano Narodowski, professor of Education at Universidad Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires, Argentina, discusses the country’s free school choice program, where parents are given a voucher to send their children to any public or private school that meet the state’s regulatory criteria. These schools “are given autonomy for pedagogic and administrative decision making, and they compete for a share of total enrollments.”

Under this system, Chile scored higher than any other Latin American country on the latest round of the PISA exam in 2015. Inaugurated in 2000, PISA tests 15-year-olds in mathematics, reading, and science every three years. Since the first examination in 2000, Chile’s math scores have jumped from 384 to 423, science scores from 415 to 447, and reading scores from 410 to 459. Chile’s average score of 443 points on PISA 2015 dwarfed its nearest Latin America competitors, Costa Rica and Mexico, which both averaged 416.

Chile’s success on PISA is reinforced by its performance on other examinations. As Narodowski notes, “in the 1997 United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) assessment of students, Chile ranked third—behind Cuba and Argentina—but was ranked first in the latest assessment of Latin American and Caribbean countries. According to the 1999, 2003, and 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) assessments, Chile was the only Latin American country to participate, and between 1999 and 2011, improved its performance, moving closer to the overall average and achieving meaningfully better results than other countries with similar economic development.”

Chile’s academic results because of its voucher system mirror the success of private school choice programs in the United States. In May 2016, EdChoice released examined 100 empirical studies of private school choice programs, 18 of which used the “gold standard” of random assignment to measure outcomes. The evidence shows private school choice programs clearly have a positive impact on the academic performance of participating students at a lower cost than public schools. Private school choice programs also benefit public school studentsdecrease segregation, and improve civic values and practices, according to the study.

Based on the existing data, the educational benefits of school choice programs in general, and for Chilean and American students in particular, it is likely that an expansion of the programs at the state level would reap even more positive results. The goal of public education policy in the United States should be to allow all parents to choose the school best suited to meet the unique needs of their children.  School choice programs require every school to compete for every student who walks through its doors, thus ensuring every child has the opportunity to attend a quality school.

The following documents provide more information about private school choice.

The Chile Experiment: Comparing Chile’s Free School Choice Model with Quasi-Monopoly Educational Systems in Latin America on Academic Outcomes and School Segregation
This report from EdChoice examines the available achievement and segregation data of Chile’s school choice-based system compared to Latin American countries with similar socioeconomic structures and common educational histories, but with traditional education systems.

Protecting Students with Child Safety Accounts
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Vicki Alger, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and research fellow at the Independent Institute, and Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson detail the prevalence of bullying, harassment, and assault taking place in America’s public schools and the difficulties for parents in having their child moved from a school that is unsafe for them. Alger and Benson propose a Child Safety Account program, which would allow parents to immediately have their child moved to a safe school – private, parochial, or pub­lic – as soon as parents feel the public school their child is currently attending is too dangerous to their child’s physical or emotion­al health.

Education Savings Accounts: The Future of School Choice Has Arrived
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Policy Analyst Tim Benson discusses how universal ESA programs offer the most comprehensive range of educational choices to parents; describes the six ESA programs currently in operation; and reviews possible state-level constitutional challenges to ESA programs.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
This paper by EdChoice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

2017 Schooling in America: Public Opinion on K–12 Education, Parent Experiences, School Choice, and the Role of the Federal Government
This annual EdChoice survey, conducted in partnership with Braun Research, Inc., measures public opinion and awareness on a range of K–12 education topics, including parents’ schooling preferences, educational choice policies, and the federal government’s role in education. The survey also records response levels, differences, and intensities for citizens located across the country and in a variety of demographic groups.

Apples to Apples: The Definitive Look at School Test Scores in Milwaukee and Wisconsin for 2018
This second annual peer-reviewed study from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty compares school academic performance across Wisconsin and finds students participating in the state’s private school choice programs are outperforming their traditional public school peers in math and reading proficiency, as well as on standardized tests such as the ACT.

Competition: For the Children
This study from the Texas Public Policy Foundation claims universal school choice results in higher test scores for students remaining in traditional public schools and improved high school graduation rates.

The Public Benefit of Private Schooling: Test Scores Rise When There Is More of It
This Policy Analysis from the Cato Institute examines the effect increased access to private schooling has had on international student test scores in 52 countries. The Cato researchers found that a 1 percentage point increase in the share of private school enrollment would lead to moderate increases in students’ math, reading, and science achievement.

The School Voucher Audit: Do Publicly Funded Private School Choice Programs Save Money?
This report by Jeff Spalding of EdChoice provides a program-for-program breakdown of school voucher costs and savings. On the whole, Spalding says these programs have provided a cumulative savings of $1.3 billion since 2007, or roughly $3,400 per pupil.



Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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