The Aggregate Effect of School Choice: Evidence from a Two-stage Experiment in India
We present experimental evidence on the impact of a school choice program in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh (AP) that provided students with a voucher to finance attending a private school of their choice. The study design featured a unique two-stage lottery-based allocation of vouchers that created both a student-level and a market-level experiment, which allows us to study both the individual and the aggregate effects of school choice (including spillovers). After two and four years of the program, we find no difference between test scores of lottery winners and losers on Telugu (native language) and math, suggesting that the large cross-sectional test-score differences between public and private school students on these subjects mostly reflect omitted variables. However, private schools spent significantly less instructional time on Telugu and math, and instead taught more English, science, social studies, and Hindi. Averaged across all subjects, lottery winners scored 0.13σ higher, and the average causal impact on test scores of attending a private school was 0.23σ. Further, the mean cost per student in the private schools in our sample was less than a third of the cost in public schools. Thus, private schools in this setting deliver (slightly) better test score gains than their public counterparts, and do so at substantially lower costs per student. Finally, we find no evidence of spillovers on public-school students who do not apply for the voucher, or on private school students, suggesting that the positive impacts on voucher winners did not come at the expense of other students.
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This paper was revised on October 8, 2014
Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w19441
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