Tufte's Economics Classes Blog

The Controversial School Voucher Issue

An issue that has become more prevalent lately is that of the declining education that is received in public schools across America. I recently watched an interview in which various European high school students were given an exam from the United States which most American students seemed to struggle with. Not only were the European students exam scores incredibly higher but when asked to comment on the American exam a typical response was, “the test was very easy; if American students can not do the exam then they are very stupid.” In many countries in Europe, government funding for students is tied to the individual student and will follow them to the school they choose to attend. This creates competition amongst the schools, resulting in increased efforts in order to earn the students’ registration. Unlike public schools in America where there is great difficulty in removing a poor performing teacher, in Europe the teachers must perform well in order for the school to remain competitive and stay in business. This creates great incentive for administrators to only hire and keep teachers who perform well. The issue of introducing school vouchers across America would serve to move the country to greater resemble the competitive system found in Europe. There are still some downfalls associated with the voucher system, but would those downfalls provide a greater cost-benefit analysis in comparison to the current declining system?


Ole said...

I agree with parker on this one. Public schools, like any school, as good as they are, there is always room for improvement. I think it would be economically efficient to be able to choose where one could send their children. Since the government is messing with the economy anyways and says here is where your kids will be taught based upon where you live, then we ought to be able to choose where the money is spent and where our children should go. By doing this, it will only make the schools want to improve based upon the money they could get if they hired the better teachers, hence drawing more students.

noah said...

I'm not completely decided on this issue. I think the voucher system has the potential to raise the overall quality in our education system, but I wonder if the system would by abused by parents who will take their kids out of public schools claiming to home school them in order to pocket the voucher money.

I completely agree that it is too difficult to get rid of substandard teachers in public schools. I think we should fix this problem before we worry about vouchers.

Blake said...

I actually had to do a project last semester in which I had to research the benefits of school vouchers, and I must say they are abundant! While I have my reservations about completely privatizing K-12 education, I can definitely see the merit behind vouchers. I especially favor them for students with various disabilities who are often left to fall through the cracks in public schools. With vouchers, I believe such students could be catered to more, ultimately helping them to excel in their educational pursuits.

Dr. Tufte said...

Noah: would you have a problem with home schooling if it produced better test scores (because it tends to)?

Other than that, I'm going to recuse myself - I've done funded research on this issue

Matthew said...

Dr. Tufte said that home schooling tends to produce better test scores. I believe that this can be true, but only if the kids are home-schooled correctly (sticking the kids in front of a TV while the parents pocket the money is NOT good homeschooling). Of course kids are going to be better students if their moms are involved in their academic lives and pushing them scholastically. If all moms would be that involved with their public-schooled kids, I think we'd have an even better result – great academics AND social skills. I think one of the biggest elements affecting this is parent involvement.

Dr. Tufte said...


The next step then is what sort of incentive scheme produces the best results.