kitchen table math, the sequel: private schools for the poor

Sunday, June 21, 2009

private schools for the poor

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.

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.

Schools, Weddings and Funerals on $2 a Day
By Carlos Lozada
Friday, June 19, 2009 8:27 PM
via Cato


sporn said...

There's always the option of using private tutors to keep standards up. With a private tutor you can concentrate on the weaker subject areas (for example maths lessons) without having the continual expense of a fee paying private school.

LynnG said...

Any idea what the % of students in poor and developing countries go to private v. public schools?

palisadesk said...

Any idea what the % of students in poor and developing countries go to private v. public schools?

In some "poor and developing" countries" it is 100%, for the simple reason that public schools are a)not available at all, or b) not available in that region, or c) not affordable.

In those cases, however, families often have to select only one child to educate, and that child may have to leave school if the family needs his (it's usually a he) wages or cannot afford the fees.

Many families in my school population have immigrated from countries where public education is not available, period. If available, it is in the cities and not in rural or mountain villages.

An uplifting read on one American's campaign to change this situation is Greg Mortensen's Three Cups of Tea

See here

SwitchedOnMom said...

Thanks for posting this! I recently had the privilege of attending a TED talk and this phenomenon (small private schools in very poor communities) was referenced in one of the presentations. Something I definitely want to look into more.

Catherine Johnson said...

Hi sporn!

The problem with that approach, I found in middle school, is that school takes up so much of the child's time that it becomes very difficult to 'afterschool.'

You can also run into a lot of resistance from the kids, and it takes skill many of us don't have to manage that effectively. (After I read Don't Shoot the Dog I concluded that positive reinforcement techniques are the answer but positive reinforcement isn't simple or obvious to use ---)

On the other hand, and this is another post I need to get up, I now think that ALEKS may work as a supplemental curriculum....

I'm trying it out this summer and possibly next school year, too.

Catherine Johnson said...

I've got Three Cups of Tea!

Better move it up to the top of the list.

(I think my agent handled that book.)

Ben Calvin said...

My wife thinks very highly of Three Cups of Tea. It slipped off my to do list of books to read. Guess I should try to get back to it.

ChemProf said...

I was reading "The Great Brain", by John D. Fitzgerald, and it suddenly occurred to me that the western public school at the turn of the century is basically the same as these private schools. For those who don't know the series, it is about kids growing up in a tiny town in Utah around 1900. Up to sixth grade, they attend a one room school house, and the town collects taxes enough to pay a single teacher. The school board is made up of parents, and they can hire or fire the teacher, and of course there is no school administration. The details are discussed because the kids hatch a plan to make it look like the teacher is a drunkard to get him fired, but there is a kind of parental control that we've moved very far from in the last century.

Anonymous said...

Small, agile, accountable and transparent versus large, immobile, unionized, and Kabuki.

Seems like a no brainer to me.

lgm said...

I would love to see a rule that no retired educators can serve on the school board and that the administrator' or teachers' unions cannot fund any candidacy. Too late for that though.

Anonymous said...