Spotlight on graduate research: Impact of voucher school reform in Chile

andrea grs in discussion
 A glimpse of what our DPhil students are working on, as overheard at our 2018 Graduate Research Student Conference at Wolfson College on 25 May 2018.
Andrea Tartakowsky, a final year Social Policy DPhil student, presented on ‘Voucher School Reform and Increased Social Stratification: The Chilean Experience.’
In explaining why she chose to focus her DPhil work on Chile, Andrea noted that it is her own country of origin, but also that it is a country that has been cited by a number of authors as a very particular case due to neoliberal educational reforms introduced during Pinochet’s dictatorship. She herself worked in government programme evaluation in Chile for some years.
The main education reforms from 1981 were decentralisation – devolving control to municipalities - and a move to a voucher system – i.e. a per-student subsidy was given for every student regardless of whether their school setting was public or private. Competition entered the system. The voucher system was unique in the world – the value of the voucher for each student was the same for private schools as well as public ones, and private voucher schools were allowed to select students under their own criteria for more than 20 years. Most private voucher schools were established as for-profit entities. It is estimated that from 1993, more than 50% of private voucher schools started charging fees to parents on top of the voucher. 
Andrea’s research looks particularly at social background, and at disaggregating its different components (social status, social class, parental education) in order to help explore the mechanism by which Chile experienced increased social stratification because of the voucher system. She used 4 birth cohorts to explore this. Her analysis showed that it was parental social status and, especially, parental education which determined choice in which type of school to choose after the introduction of the reform, and contributed to increased social stratification.
The format of the conference meant that Andrea’s presentation was then discussed by Dr Thees Spreckelsen, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Quantitative Methods. Thees commended Andrea on her particularly excellent work in data collection for her research. Because of the way questionnaire data had initially been coded, Andrea had to travel to Chile to dig out the original paper questionnaires to get the information she needed!
Andrea responded to a range of questions to do with her methodology, the intended outcomes of the reforms, and what drove her to want to question whether the educational reforms have produced an improvement in the overall quality of education.
After the conference we caught up with Andrea to ask how she found the experience of presenting to her fellow students and faculty members. “It was great to have the opportunity of presenting my work at the GRS conference. I got very useful comments and feedback from Thees and my fellow students at DSPI that will help me to improve my thesis articles. The GRS conference also gives us the chance to get to know what other graduate students at the Department are working on. This is something very valuable - as doctoral students our work is normally a bit isolated. I would totally recommend the GRS conference to my fellow students that are looking for suggestions and ideas to enrich their research or would like to improve their presentation skills with a very friendly audience.”