Clive Crook of The Atlantic has a good story about James Tooley, an unfairly ignored education researcher at England's University of Newcastle Upon Tyne.
Tooley has looked at education in super-poor areas of India, China, Ghana, and elsewhere throughout Asia and Africa. What he found was a wide-ranging, inexpensive, and effective system of private schools delivering education to the wretched of the earth in a way that slipped free of bureaucracy, class structures, and politics. Writes Crook,
On the whole, dime-a-day for-profit schools are doing a better job of teaching the poorest children than the far more expensive state schools. In many localities, private schools operate alongside a free, government-run alternative. Many parents, poor as they may be, have chosen to reject it and to pay perhaps a tenth of their meager incomes to educate their children privately. They would hardly do that unless they expected better results.
By most or all measures, the kids at the private schools outperform those attending vastly better appointed public schools in the same areas. Tooley is starting work on a $100 million project to get funding to these sorts of schools around the globe, which might be a better development tool that dumping tens times that amount into normal channels.
So why isn't Tooley's work better known? Crook supplies a disturbing answer:
Tooley has been publishing his research in education journals but has also written for libertarian and conservative think tanks. Unfortunately, these associations have pushed him further outside the development mainstream. Perhaps most alienating, his findings (as he notes) conform very well to the views of the late Milton Friedman, who spent the last years of his life arguing that publicly funded vouchers and a market of privately run competing schools were the way to fix another education system in urgent need of repair: America's. All the more reason why, so far as some development officials are concerned, Tooley's obscurity is welcome.
Update: Hit & Run covered this story a year and a half ago!