Unregistered Private Schools . . .

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James Tooley writes an inspiring article about Private Schools for the Poor worldwide.

He and a team of researchers have gone into the slums of Hyderabad, India; Ga, Ghana; Kibera, Kenya; Gansu Province, China; Delhi, India; and Lagos, Nigeria. In the report, however, he shares the results only of the first four locations, since the data for the last two locations is still being analyzed.

"In each country I visited, officials from national governments and international agencies that donate funds for the expansion of state-run education denied that private education for the poor even existed," Tooley says. "In each venue, however, I struck out on my own and visited slums and villages and there found what I was looking for: private schools for the poor, usually in large numbers."

If development experts acknowledge that the schools do exist, then their next line of attack is as follows:

It is a common assumption among development experts that private schools for the poor are worse than public schools. This is not to say that they have a particularly high view of public education. Indeed, the World Bank’s World Development Report 2004: Making Services Work for Poor People calls public education a “government failure,” with “services so defective that their opportunity costs outweigh their benefits for most poor people.” Yet this just makes the experts’ dismissal of private schools for the poor all the more inexplicable.

The Oxfam Education Report published in 2000 is typical. While the author acknowledges the existence of high-quality private providers, he contends that these are elite, well-resourced schools that are inaccessible to the poor. As far as private schools for the poor are concerned, these are of “inferior quality”; indeed, they “offer a low-quality service” that is so bad it will “restrict children’s future opportunities.” This claim of low-quality private provision for the poor has also been taken up by British prime minister Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa, which recently reported that although “Non-state sectors … have historically provided much education in Africa,” many of these private schools “aiming at those [families] who cannot afford the fees common in state schools … are without adequate state regulation and are of a low quality.” . . .

They . . . point out that private schools employ untrained teachers who are paid much less than their government counterparts and that buildings and facilities are grossly inadequate. Both of these observations are largely true. But does that mean that private schools are inferior, particularly against the weight of parental preferences to the contrary?

Tooley replies:

We tested a total of roughly 3,000 students in each setting in English and mathematics; in state languages in India and Kenya; religious and moral education in Ghana; and social studies in Nigeria. All children were also given IQ tests, as were their teachers. Finally, questionnaires were distributed to children, their parents, teachers, and school managers, seeking information on family backgrounds.

Our analysis of these data is still in progress. However, in all cases analyzed so far—Ga, Hyderabad, and Kibera—students in private schools achieved at or above the levels achieved by their counterparts in government schools in both English and mathematics (see Figure 3).



SOURCE: Author’s calculations based on original research and local government figures

Clearly, in every category, the private schools, including, most especially, the unregistered schools, did better than the public schools. Except in one case.

In Kebera, Kenya, the private schools' English scores were somewhat worse.

And Tooley's perspective? "[T]he fact that private schools served a far more disadvantaged population" ought to be counted in their favor in such a way as to completely dissolve any supposed superiority.

I urge you to read Tooley's complete report to gain a better sense of whether you would want to agree with him. And anyone concerned about quality education would be well-advised to pay attention to Tooley's research results.

Not only as a taxpayer, but as a homeschooling dad, I particularly appreciate Tooley's conclusion:

The evidence from developing countries might challenge the claim, made by school choice opponents, that the poor in America cannot make sensible and informed choices if school choice is offered to them. It may also stimulate debate about whether public intervention crowds out private initiative, a question raised by the findings from Kenya. If a public school is failing in the ghettoes of New York or Los Angeles, we should not assume that the only way in which the disadvantaged can be helped is through some kind of public intervention. In fact, we have already embarked on programs that support private initiative, with government support, with vouchers and charter schools. The findings here suggest this alternative approach may be the preferable one.

Above all, the evidence should inspire those who are working for school choice in America: stories of parents’ overcoming all the odds to ensure the best for the children in Africa and Asia, stories of education entrepreneurs' creating schools out of nothing, in the middle of nowhere. If India can, why can't we?


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