School Vouchers: An evaluation of their impact on education outcomes

20 Jul 2006

A report by Andrew Macintosh and Deb Wilkinson on the likely impact of proposed school voucher schemes has found that they could adversely affect education outcomes and would be expensive to implement. For several years, conservative think tanks and their supporters have been campaigning for the introduction of a school voucher scheme in Australia. Under a voucher scheme, parents would receive government funding on a per child basis, which they could spend on a public or private school of their choice. Supporters of vouchers argue that by providing parents with greater choice, promoting competition and encouraging greater autonomy in the management of schools, vouchers would lead to improvements in teaching standards, student outcomes, parental satisfaction and equality of opportunity.

The evidence on the effects of vouchers

The difficulty for voucher advocates is that they are asking for a radical change to the structure of the school sector, but are unable to point to any persuasive evidence on the supposed educational benefits of these schemes. The main pillars of their case are that: voucher-induced competition would raise teaching standards and improve academic outcomes at both public and private schools; vouchers would generate a more cost-effective school sector; and vouchers would provide parents with greater choice. The only one of these arguments that is supported by the available evidence is that vouchers would increase parental choice, although these benefits would probably be largely confined to middle and high income earners.

Not only are the claims about the benefits of vouchers largely unsupported by the available evidence, but the research that has been undertaken also indicates that voucher schemes could have a number of adverse effects and that they are likely to be expensive.

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