Private Education in the the Third World

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.

The Whole Atlantic story here.

Update: Hit & Run covered this story a year and a half ago!

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  • Guy Montag||

    Silly me. I thought this was going to be about DC, NY and CA.

  • ||

    This article certainly resonates with my experience in 2006 when I lived in rural north india for a year.

    The public school system (at least in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where I was) is a total joke. Teaching positions are usually handed out to politically connected people who either don't teach at all, or don't teach during class hours so that students pay them extra for 'tutoring service'.

  • Andy||

    This was also discussed in the Foreign Affairs of July/August 2006, in the article "The India Model" by Gurcharan Das.

    The takeaway is:
    "But what is most remarkable is that rather than rising with the help of the state, India is in many ways rising despite the state. The entrepreneur is clearly at the center of India's success story. India now boasts highly competitive private companies, a booming stock market, and a modern, well-disciplined financial sector. And since 1991 especially, the Indian state has been gradually moving out of the way -- not graciously, but kicked and dragged into implementing economic reforms. It has lowered trade barriers and tax rates, broken state monopolies, unshackled industry, encouraged competition, and opened up to the rest of the world. The pace has been slow, but the reforms are starting to add up."

    It has a lot of interesting success stories of the private sector (and horror stories from the public.) Worth a read if you've got a few minutes. (Linked in my name.)

  • ||

    You mean research that dissents from the scientific (read: politically correct) consensus is not published in respectable journals? There are bureaucratic functionaries happy to see the marginalization of research that undercuts their official mission?

    Color me shocked. I'm sure this could never happen in any other area if science that happens to intersect with public policy concerns.

  • Guy Montag||

    R C Dean,

    That kind of ties in with something my crackpot Geography professor used to say on a different topic.

    She kept saying that the people of India were starving because of "us" and there was a big long "this may seem counterintuitive but . . ." stories to explain it.

    When I mentioned recent reports of India recently becoming an exporter of grains she said that was because they were selling it abroad rather than feeding their people and western farming methods were causing even more people to starve.

    She was also a big pusher of that book Denish D'Sousa tore apart in the early 1980s.

  • ||

    Many parents ... have chosen to ... pay perhaps a tenth of their meager incomes to educate their children privately. They would hardly do that unless they expected better results

    I've seen education from both sides and I can state confidently that the best addition to the system are parents who care and contribute. Nothing else comes close.

    Parents choosing to spend a significant percentage of their income on their kids' education can be assumed to be in that group. So it may not be that the private schools are much better, but that they serve a cohort of parents determined to help their kids at any cost.

  • Andy||

    But it seems to me that something that ALLOWS parents who want a chance to be engaged and involved to do improve their child's education is a good thing. No matter how engaged and involved a parent is, they're not going to be able to help a child in Indian public schools to anywhere near that extent.

  • Dan T.||

    Come on - any of you guys would sooner hire an engineer from Jaypee University than one that claimed to have been educated at some guy's house down the street.

  • Guy Montag||

    Dan T.,

    If he brings his own train he can be educated anyplace.

  • Andy||

    Dan T.,

    That comment is stunningly irrelevant.

    First of all, if I lived in an Indian city where I KNEW teachers don't even bother to show up for class half of the time, and I knew that the private academy down the block held higher standards, I would want a graduate of the private academy. As would just about anyone.

    Second of all, "all of us" would probably also rather hire an engineer from Philips Exeter Academy than West Nowhere High School - I assume this means that public schools are a lost cause?

    Third, we're talking about the ultrapoor here - while, obviously, some amazing success stories will go on a track that is comparing them to an engineer from a school, for many of them, this is just a matter of getting the basic education to succeed in day-to-day life, something they couldn't get in the public system. The "quality of the degree" is rarely relevant.

    Fourth, graduation from a private school is hardly "claiming you were educated at some guy's house down the street."

  • ||

    Is that article freely available for all time? Or are they going to pull it in a couple of days?

    If it is perma-content, I would post it to The Voice for School Choice.

  • ||

    something that ALLOWS parents who want a chance to be engaged and involved to do improve their child's education is a good thing

    No doubt. But two points: First, parents can get involved without anyone 'allowing' them to, today. And their impact on their own child's education is proportional to their effort, even in the 'government schools'.

    Second, I hear a lot of buzz that privatizing education is a magic bullet, that if we could just get government out of the business, the market would let our children flourish. IMO that's wishful thinking. To the degree that we have uninvolved parents today, we'd have them then.

    Private education may be great, but it may not scale as well as its proponents think. Once everyone is in the system, the slackers will be just as numerous as they are now -- the self-selected and motivated families who use private ed now may well be the major (or only) reason for any success it enjoys.

  • ||

    "is starting work on a $100 million project to get funding to these sorts of schools around the globe"

    Isn't half the point here that the incentives & motivations created by the negotiations inherent in a self-funded institution are the basis for its success? Doesn't flooding this market with outside money kind of defeat the purpose?

  • ||

    Dr. Duck:

    Can you name any other service that you feel is best served by a monopoly supplier with a monopoly labor force?

  • Anand||

    Is it just me, or is the permalink URL at The Atlantic rather intriguingly named?

  • ||

    Come on - any of you guys would sooner hire an engineer from Jaypee University than one that claimed to have been educated at some guy's house down the street.

    Dan T.,

    I believe you are missing the point entirely. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, I am not sure.

    They are talking about educating CHILDREN, not college age adults for a degree and professional certification.

  • Guy Montag||

    Second, I hear a lot of buzz that privatizing education is a magic bullet, that if we could just get government out of the business, the market would let our children flourish. IMO that's wishful thinking. To the degree that we have uninvolved parents today, we'd have them then.

    I have not been hearing that buzz. The one I hear is the one about getting the government out of the way of competition. Allowing vouchers and the like. BTW, I have been hearing that "buzz" for over 40 years, but have only been hearing the voucher thing for about 20 or less. Maybe I catch a buzz a lot slower than others.

    A personal experience that I had, with subsidized milk, can be used to compare the effectiveness of private vs. public administration of the exact same program.

    I attended a public school and then a private, porochial school, in the same town in ILL. Milk was .05 per half pint (or less, but I don't remember, still it was the same price both places).

    The public school took orders and money at the beginning of the school day. At lunch, students filed past the milk cart and told the students handing out the milk how many they ordered. No verification. Yes, I actually did cheat a couple of times.

    The private school actually sent the orders by name to the milk room and you got what you ordered and partially paid for.

    Actually, it was quite amazing at the time with all of the fuss about Church/state funding issues that a program that benefitted dairy farmers was able to be enacted at private schools. Well, maybe not that amazing.

  • Guy Montag||

    Anand,

    LOL, yes that is funny.

    I prefer that old-school Libertarian term "gun schools".

  • Andy||

    Dan T.,

    Unless at some point you actually defend a point you make, I'm afraid I'm just going to have to write you off as a meaningless troll.

  • ||

    Can you name any other service that you feel is best served by a monopoly supplier with a monopoly labor force

    What led you to believe that I support the status quo?

    My point was that no matter who is funding education, there's a lot left to fix that has nothing to do with the government.

    I happen to believe that the profit motive can make for less waste. I don't think it can, by itself, make for better schools.

  • Andy||

    Dr. Duck,

    I don't think there's any way to argue with you on (what I see as) your central point. If you have an all-private school system, it depends on parents being willing to move children from failing schools. But if a parent is totally disinterested in his education, they won't. Without some degree of individual passion about education, any system will fail. However, I think it IS accurate to say that the public system allows for situations where even a pretty involved parent can't wring enough out of the school system than private involvement would.

  • ||

    @Andy:

    By 'involvement' I mean much more than making a choice of schools, and I presume by it much more than not being 'totally disinterested'. I put the baseline quite a bit higher than that.

    I think the status quo stinks, for a lot of the same reasons that others think so. But I also believe the situation is way more complicated than public vs private funding.

  • uncle sam||

    Read Inside American Education by Thomas Sowell,and get an idea how many parents may have been misled into thinking their children are doing just fine without much inolvment and how parents who try to get involved may be stymied by the educrats.

  • ||

    If you have an all-private school system, it depends on parents being willing to move children from failing schools. But if a parent is totally disinterested in his education, they won't. Without some degree of individual passion about education, any system will fail.
    ====================================
    Who are these loony parents who don't care whether or not their kids get educated? Don't they know that uneducated people stay poor? Who do they expect to take care of them whent they get old?


    Wait, wait, I'm getting something...

  • Larry A||

    Come on - any of you guys would sooner hire an engineer from Jaypee University than one that claimed to have been educated at some guy's house down the street.

    Depends on the university's reputation.

    The primary reason my parents decided to move from California to Texas was that, at the time (1960), Barstow banks refused to hire Barstow high school graduates because they couldn't do the math necessary or read the documents presented. The situation has not improved.

    Also, the writer's group I belong to, Kerrville Writers Alliance, conducted for ten years a short story contest with categories for grades 5-6 and 7-8. Local home schooled students had an unbroken run of winners.

    First, parents can get involved without anyone 'allowing' them to, today. And their impact on their own child's education is proportional to their effort, even in the 'government schools'.

    I put two daughters through the Kerrville Independent School District. The first one did very well. The second daughter's learning style didn't mesh with the school curriculum.

    Yet every time we tried to contact the school and help we were shot down. The district consistently pulled the rug out from under us.

    One semester our daughter racked up about three times too many class cuts to pass. The school refused to notify us when she left campus, and refused to cooperate in any way with our efforts to get her to attend. We warned her that according to the rules, she would be held back as a consequence for her poor attendance.

    We were wrong. One day, without any notice to or input from us, the school's "attendance committee" called her in and forgave enough absences so she could pass.

    Then, again without any input from us and over our objection, they diverted her into an "alternative campus" advertised as an opportunity to help her graduate early. In reality it was specifically designed to encourage students like our daughter to drop out. But since it was "alternative" her dropping out didn't count on the school's state scorecard. Then after she realized what kind of trap she was in they refused to let her back into the main curriculum and graduate with her classmates, even if she redid all the work she had done in the alternative program.

    The lasting effect is that she'll never step foot in an organized classroom again. The silver lining is that she easily passed her GED test and today is happily married and successfully employed.

    Had I known then what I know now, she would have been home schooled or in a private school.

  • ||

    Come on - any of you guys would sooner hire an engineer from Jaypee University than one that claimed to have been educated at some guy's house down the street.

    I would be intrigued by the guy who claims to have received an university education in a house. I would put a test on both.

  • ||

    When I mentioned recent reports of India recently becoming an exporter of grains she said that was because they were selling it abroad rather than feeding their people and western farming methods were causing even more people to starve.

    this is not so farfetched as it might seem. the first few chapters ofThe Omnivore's Dilemma are worth a read here.

  • Guy Montag||

    this is not so farfetched as it might seem. the first few chapters ofThe Omnivore's Dilemma are worth a read here.

    Unless there is something in there about how growing more food starves people instead of bad government policy starving people, I doubt that it is worth finding.

    Oh, I heard enough big-long-stories from that Prfessor that began with "yes, this is counterintuitive, but . . ." that I prefer a direct link, not a series of inferances.

  • ||

    Dr. Duck,

    I was at a meeting at my child's future school the other day. The gym was full of anxious parents because the district is building a new school & rezoning. There were lots of worried folks & passionate speeches. And I wondered, why are all these people taking it for granted that this is necessary? In what other context do you ever find yourself in this position concerning any other service you receive? I've never had to go, along with 1,000 other concerned parents to the local bicycle shop because they decided to change the design of the training wheels, and try to convince them as part of a political mob that we liked to old training wheels better. I've never had to have an evening-long meeting at Wal-Mart where we begged & pleaded with them to maintain their inventory of pharmaceuticals. It would be absurd to even think about it. In fact, we have charter schools here. And, if we choose a charter school, we will never have that meeting.

    And, to take that idea a step further. Think of all those parents who don't care about their kids' education. Many of them are inner city poor, or poor black folks in the south. There are generations worth of precedents telling them that, regardless of what we might want them to think now, the schools are not a place to put their trust. Now, the only way that their education for generations could be kept under the thumb of bigots would be if those bigots could control the schools politically - if it was up to the bigots how good their kids' education was going to be.

    Imagine if they had had a choice. It's not even about parental involvement, efficiency, or petty choice. It's about having some option besides sending your kid to the school that is funded & run by folks that wish you were dead. The most indifferent parent imaginable would have given their kids something better, had they had the choice.

    Why in the world would we expect anyone to endure an education foisted upon them by the rule of the majority instead of having the power to choose their own fate?

  • ||

    Dr. Duck said: "But I also believe the situation is way more complicated than public vs private funding."

    Undoubtedly, it's complicated. However, no problem is ever solved by adding complexity, which is effectively another way of seeking perfection at the expense of the good.

    Private education seeks to earn what is seen as a subscripton revenue stream (K-12), while the public tax-supported system has no incentive to earn anything, and no accountability for not educating its charges. Seems like a good place to start solving the problem.

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