As expansion of Indiana’s school voucher program continues, voucher proponents argue that school choice improves efficiency and elevates the neediest students. But new research from doctoral student Yusuf Canbolat looks at how competition induced by school vouchers affects academic achievement in public schools – and found the competitive effect may be limited in the short term and depend on the voucher design.
Canbolat, a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, became interested in school choice during his experiences with the centralized school system in Turkey, where he spent most of his educational and professional life. Since he began to study education policy, he wondered about the extent to which parental choice, school autonomy and competition, the three pillars of current debates on school choice, can remedy the weakness of school systems to improve educational equity and quality.
“Many governments across the globe have launched choice reforms in different forms for the last decades to incentivize competition and autonomy. Yet most of the reforms like school vouchers are targeted to certain student populations, such as students from low-income families or those with special education needs. Therefore, understanding the systemic effect of school choice is not always possible,” he said.
Indiana in particular is an important case for studying school choice. The state has the largest and one of the most established vouchers programs in the U.S. in a time when large-scale choice programs are becoming more broad: about fifteen states created or expanded school vouchers or education saving accounts for students during the pandemic. Understanding school choice in states like Indiana or countries like Chile and Sweden where vouchers are almost universal gives a valuable perspective about the future of other school systems that plan to expand school choice, Canbolat explains.