Andhra Pradesh School Choice Project

Researcher: Karthik Muralidharan (UC San Diego)
Location: India

A prominent trend in India in the past two decades has been that parents are enrolling their children in fee-charging private schools in increasing numbers. The Andhra Pradesh School Choice Project provided disadvantaged children in rural areas of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh with opportunities for school choice by offering scholarships (paid by vouchers) that allowed them to switch from public school to a private school of their choice. Over the course of five years, all students in the villages where the scholarship program took place were administered a annual test to measure whether the private schools actually improved the test scores of students. 

Students who received vouchers to attend private schools spent more time in school—on average 26 more minutes per day. This was a seven percent increase above the average of six hours and 23 minutes among students in comparison villages. However, these students did not spend more time studying or doing homework. Households that received vouchers did not increase expenditures on education. This suggests that any changes in test scores were due to changes at school, not changes at home.

Across all subjects, voucher lottery winners scored 0.13 standard deviations higher than their counterparts. While government schools spent 70 percent of instructional time on math, Telegu, and English, these subjects accounted for less than 50 percent of instructional time in private schools. As private schools achieved similar results in math and Telegu with less instructional time and used the extra time to improve test scores in other subject areas, they were more productive than public schools.

Taken together, these results support policies that use government funds to send poor children to private schools. Private schools achieved similar test scores in basic subjects with less instructional time and used the remaining time to increase test scores in other subjects. Furthermore, the schools achieved these results at a much lower cost and without disadvantaging the students who remained in public schools.

The Azim Premji Foundation implemented the program in India. The evaluation was led by Innovations for Poverty Action.

Publications

Muralidharan, Karthik and Venkatesh Sundararaman. "The Aggregate Effect of School Choice: Evidence from a Two-Stage Experiment in India." The Quarterly Journal of Economics first published online February 27, 2015. doi:10.1093/qje/qjv013 doi: 10.1093/qje/qjv013.