Schools for the poor are the obsession of James Tooley's book, "The Beautiful Tree." An education specialist with a severe case of wanderlust, Tooley had always believed that in developing nations, the upper classes attend private schools while the poor rely on public ones. But during a drive through the slums of Hyderabad, India, in 2000, he came across an unexpected phenomenon: an unending line of small, no-frills private schools catering to poor kids.via Cato
Tooley began seeking out and finding private schools for the poor across the developing world, interviewing students, principals, parents and officials in China, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Somaliland and beyond. Parents everywhere cited similar reasons for paying the small fees for private schools rather than sending their kids to state schools. For some, especially in rural areas, the public schools were too far from their homes. To others, teachers and administrators in private schools seemed more attuned to their concerns. And despite the foreign aid and state spending on public school facilities, many parents simply felt that their children learned more in private schools. "What's the point of having such nice buildings," asked a mother in a fishing village in Ghana, "if learning doesn't go on?"
The officials Tooley encountered in his travels often denied the existence (much less the superiority) of private schools for low-income children. "There are no private schools for the poor," a bureaucrat in China's Gansu province told Tooley, "because the People's Republic has provided all the poor with public schools. So what you propose to research does not only not exist, it is also a logical impossibility."
Undeterred, Tooley spent years surveying private schools across the developing world. He found that, on average, they had smaller class sizes, higher test scores and more motivated teachers, all while spending less than public schools. With the zeal of a convert, Tooley invokes the market's "invisible hand" to explain why private schools perform better: When parents pay the fees that keep a school afloat, he reasons, the school becomes more accountable to them. Tooley blasts development experts for recognizing the problems with public education and still insisting that more investment in public schools is the way to go. "Why wasn't anyone else thinking that private schools might be part of a quicker, easier, more effective solution?" he asks.
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