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When Schools Are the Ones that Choose: The Effects of Screening in Chile


  • *Direct correspondence to Dante Contreras, Department of Economics, Universidad de Chile, Diagonal Paraguay 257, Santiago, Chile 〈〉. The authors are grateful for the comments made by Felipe Barrera, Gregory Elacqua, Sebastián Gallegos, Cristóbal Huneeus, Osvaldo Larrañaga, Karthik Muralidharan, Christopher Neilson, Valentina Paredes, Harry Patrinos, Claudia Sanhueza, Pablo Serra, and Emiliana Vegas. They are also indebted to the participants at the Seminar of the Department of Economics, Universidad de Chile, LACEA-LAMES, and the World Bank. They express their gratitude to the funding provided by FONDECYT No. 1071123. They also are grateful for the funding granted by Iniciativa Cientifica Milenio “Centro de Microdatos” Proyecto P07S-023-F. Any error or omission is the sole responsibility of the authors. Dante Contreras will provide all data and coding information to those wishing to replicate the study.


Objective. The voucher scheme introduced in Chile in 1981 allows for-profit private subsidized schools to choose their students. The objective of this article is to present evidence of this practice and examine its relationship with academic performance using information from the 2005 SIMCE test, in which parents were asked about the admission requirements for their children's schools. We present evidence indicating that student selection is a widespread practice among private subsidized schools.

Methods. Using OLS and after controlling for a series of selection criteria and the segmentation effects that they produce, the evidence indicates that there are no differences in results between public and private subsidized education.

Results. Our results show that a student attending a school that uses selection criteria obtains 7–9 percent higher results in standardized mathematics tests than a student from a school that does not use selection.

Conclusion. The main conclusion of this study is that the basic belief behind the voucher system in Chile that competition will lead to better quality of all schools is not being met.