First ever school voucher programme with large negative impacts

NBER recently released a study on voucher programme in Louisiana called Louisiana Scholarship Progarmme (LSP).

LSP participation substantially reduces academic achievement. Attendance at an LSP-eligible private school lowers math scores by 0.4 standard deviations and increases the likelihood of a failing score by 50 percent. Voucher effects for reading, science and social studies are also negative and large. The negative impacts of vouchers are consistent across income groups, geographic areas, and private school characteristics, and are larger for younger children.

Most studies on vouchers show either positive or no effect. This is the first study in my knowledge which showed negative effects. Several hypothesis have been proposed,

1. Quality of public system alternatives

 even if the quality of voucher-participating private schools was identical in every city, they would all show different effects depending on the academic effectiveness of the publicly funded alternatives. 
2. Curriculum mis-alignment between private schools and the assessment tests of evaluation.

This demonstrates the importance of design of voucher systems which this blog argued earlier. Design can make or break the voucher idea and we need more research on this aspect. In Indian context, we haven't even progressed ahead of the zeroth stage, agreeing to experiment the voucher idea. In the absence of initiative from governments, researchers can play crucial role by building such evidence by testing the idea across multiple contexts.

On Delhi government's order to remove 62 types of admission criteria to schools

"Directorate of Education vide its circular dated 8/12/2015 directed all the Private Unaided Recognized Schools to develop and adopt criteria for admissions for the 75% Open Seats to Entry Level Classes for session 2016-17 which shall be clear, well defined, equitable, non-discriminatory, unambiguous and transparent."

After schools uploaded the criteria, the Delhi government reviewed them and passed an order scrapping 62 admission criteria (please read the full list of criteria). This has led to a wide debate on the merits and demerits of such decision. This discourse demonstrates five aspects of reform narratives in education.

First, the discourse and debate on this decision is symptomatic of the general debate on private school regulations in India, a debate which is influenced by headlines without getting into details and the one loaded with biases. Some responses to this decision came within few minutes after the decision was announced, substantiating this observation. It is humanely impossible to study the 62 criteria within few minutes and comment on them.

As this blog has argued earlier, private schools are subject to unreasonable regulations. Private schools find it expensive in terms of money, time and efforts, to adhere to these regulations. Private schools and those championing their cause thus feel that any new regulation is going to a burden on them, painting all the regulations with same brush, which is reflected in the discourse.

The 62 criteria can be divided into broadly three categories – frivolous (submitting two photographs, ID proof etc); discriminatory (parental occupation, smoking and eating habits of parents etc); possibility of misuse (mandating use of school bus etc). Unlike now, an honest, informed and productive debate on this would have been a debate on the desirability of each of the 62 individual criteria or as per their category and not decide base on generic arguments.