After the publication of our op-ed on the AJC Get Schooled blog, the president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and the Cato Institute wrote letters refuting the essay.
Here is our response, specifically to the Cato Institute’s claim that the essay included untruths.
We acknowledge that in Chile, like in the United States, the debate over what counts as data, how data is interpreted, and the measures that are used to indicate educational achievement and improvement is ongoing and often influenced by broader political and economic ideologies and goals. That being said, we respond below to questions about specific claims made in our essay.
First of all, our statement is that there’s no “clear” evidence that students’ scores have improved. This is quite relevant, since a main idea inspiring the “Chilean experiment” was to show that a private, market based education would be “clearly” superior. It is this that the last 3 decades failed to show. Controlling for socioeconomic variables, there are no big differences between the private and public system in the SIMCE. Moreover, there are some public schools, e.g., the “Instituto Nacional”, that select students as much as private schools do and that, interestingly, do better than most of the latter in standarized testing.
According to former consultant to the Ministry of Education (and one of the leading Chilean researchers in the area) C. Bellei, not only do we not have empirical grounds to assert that private schools have been more effective than public schools; furthermore, he says, the outcomes of studies have tended to be biased in favor of private schools, in such a way that the latter may happen to be less effective. At any rate, the average difference between private and public schools is so small that they are close to be irrelevant.
Now it is true that Chile has shown a certain improvement in his relative position in PISA scores. But (1) this may say less about Chilean improvements and more about other countries’ relapse; and (2) these results are controversial among researchers anyway. Additionally, standarized testing is neither the only nor the best way or criterion to determine the quality of an educational system, it is simply the way favoured by market-oriented systems. Another criterion that could be used is equity and inclusion. In particular, there is increasing agreement among educators and researchers that diverse, heterogeneous schools are better that homogeneous, segregated ones. The following is an excerpt from the conclusions of a recent empirical analysis of the socioeconomic status school segregation in Chile:
“Summarizing, we found that the magnitude of the socioeconomic school segregation in Chile was very high and tended to slightly increase during the last decade; we also found that private schools – including voucher schools – were more segregated than public schools; and we estimated that some educational market dynamics (i.e. privatization, school choice, and fee paying) accounted for a relevant proportion of the Chilean SES school segregation. We interpret these findings as broadly consistent with our hypothesis that links SES school segregation and marketoriented mechanisms in education, which is additionally supported by recent international reports based on PISA 2009 (OECD 2010a) and handbook chapters specialized on these issues (Gill and Booker 2008), which demonstrated that larger private school participation on educational market is not coupled with improvement on the average national standardized test scores but it is strongly related to more segregated and unequal educational systems” (“Socioeconomic school segregation in a market-oriented educational system. The case of Chile”. Published in the Journal of Education Policy, 2014, Vol. 29, No. 2, p. 233).
All in all, and beyond the different possible interpretations of a same set of data (which is always possible in social science), what we have to acknowldedge is that the privatization of education is far from being the panacea once sold by the advocates and designers of the Chilean neoliberal educational model. The fact is that after 30 years Chilean people are not convinced by such a model and, moreover, they are massively demanding, not any change, but a radical change. The US should learn something from this.
All our best,
Stephanie and Alfredo
Advocates of the Privatization of Education and making public education a “free market”:
Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice (Georgia folks – does this list look familiar?): http://www.edchoice.org/School-Choice/What-is-School-Choice
Cato Institute: http://www.cato.org/