Findings from a systematic review of the evidence
Education vouchers, a demand-side financing intervention involving the public subsidy of private schooling based on the number of eligible voucher students per school, generally aim to expand parental school choice, which is often promoted to increase competition in the school system. Opponents of vouchers argue that private schools do not necessarily provide a higher-quality education; affluent families with more social capital and access to voucher programme information are more likely to find the best schools; and it is very difficult to set up effective systems of accountability to guard against 'cream skimming' and sorting. In this paper, the authors report on a systematic review of evaluations of education voucher programmes in developing countries.
They identify 2 studies that met the inclusion criteria - one examining the Colombia PACES programme and the other evaluating the Quetta, Pakistan Urban Fellowship programme. They also identified 4 quantitative studies on the Chile voucher system that did not meet our criteria for inclusion in effect size estimates but were examined to shed light on possible theory, implementation and context issues. Given the very small number of studies that met our inclusion criteria, they provide the results in a narrative fashion, rather than through meta-analysis. Both the Colombia and Pakistan programmes increased private school enrolment amongst the countries' poorest income groups, thus probably improving equity. The Pakistan programme resulted in girls being educated for less than it would have cost for the government to create public school spaces, while the Colombia programme cost rather more, but will most likely prove cost-effective in terms of long-term economic gains.
Clearly, more rigorous research in developing country contexts is necessary to determine whether the gains from these two programmes can be replicated and enhanced and to elucidate the many issues surrounding vouchers. Pilot programmes employing random assignment or lotteries should be accompanied by rigorous impact evaluation. This approach would enable governments to design innovative initiatives and target resources most efficiently and equitably.
There is a protocol for this systematic review
Morgan, C.; Petrosino, A.; Fronius, T. A systematic review of the evidence of the impact of school voucher programmes in developing countries. EPPICentre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, London, UK (2013) iii + 92 pp. ISBN 978-1-907345-45-6