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The “Developing” Achievement Gap: Colombian Voucher Reform

Peabody Journal of Education: Issues in International Education, Vol. 89, No. 1

Jonathan M. B. Stern, Vanderbilt University Peabody College


The achievement gap in many developing countries is defined in terms of rich/poor and public/private. The prevailing explanation for the “developing” achievement gap is an underfunded, inefficient, and/or inadequately supplied public school sector. Via an analysis of a Colombian voucher experiment, this article examines the extent to which income-contingent vouchers can narrow the achievement gap and provide a cost-effective method for increasing secondary school enrollments. Despite structural and implementation flaws, which diminish the program's impact on achievement and enrollments, its successes strengthen the argument that implementing an income-contingent voucher program can help narrow the achievement gap in developing countries. To cost-effectively increase enrollments, however, significant modifications and expansions to the program would be necessary—as explained in the conclusion of this article.


Jonathan M. B. Stern is a Pre-Faculty Fellow and Research Associate at Vanderbilt University, where he recently completed his PhD in International Education Policy and Management. His research revolves around the assessment of programs and policies designed to provide educational opportunities to traditionally underserved students. Much of his recent work has been focused on examining the impact of low-cost private schools on access and educational attainment. He holds a master's degree in International Educational Development from Teachers College, Columbia University and a bachelor's degree in Public Policy and American Institutions from Brown University.