Introduction: Marked-oriented strategies have increasingly been proposed as an effective and efficient way to increase both quality and equity in education. Academic and political discussions have attempted to predict the most probable consequences that market incentives could have on educational systems. A key issue on those analyses has been the comparative study of the public and private schools' effectiveness in terms of students' academic achievement. In this paper, I critically review the research about whether Chilean students attending private schools obtain greater learning outcomes than their peers studying at public schools. Chile constitutes a paradigmatic case to the public/private schools debate, and research on its experience might shed light on such a controversy. Its nationwide school-choice system finances both public and private subsidized schools under the same funding system, a particular type of voucher program. Compared to the small-scale of the majority of the U.S. voucher and school-choice programs, the Chilean situation is a particularly attractive case to study. Paradoxically, previous research on Chilean education has obtained very contrasting findings. The paper begins with (I) a brief description of the Chilean education; then, it reviews the research on both (II) systemic effects of school-choice and (III) private/public schools' effect. Section (IV) analyzes some key methodological issues that account for the contrasting findings of previous research; and sections (V), (VI), (VII), (VIII) and (IX) provide empirical evidence about the consequences of the identified methodological limitations. A final section summarizes the main conclusions of the analysis, elaborates some interpretative hypothesis, and states some educational policy implications.
Prepared for the Program on Education Policy and Governance conference: "Mobilizing the Private Sector for Public Education," co-sponsored by the World Bank and Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, October 5-6, 2005.