Poor pay for private schools

Private schools are educating the very poor in India, China, Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria, reports Clive Crook in The Atlantic. James Tooley, a British professor, found 60 percent of schools in the Hyderabad slums are private. Tuition is low and some slots are offered at free or reduced rates, subsidized by slightly less poor parents.

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.

Better results are what they get. After comparing test scores for literacy and basic math, Tooley has shown that pupils in private schools do better than their state-school equivalents — at between a half and a quarter of the per-pupil teacher cost. In some places, such as Gansu, China, the researchers found that private schools serving the poor had worse facilities than comparable state schools; in Hyderabad, they were better equipped (with blackboards, desks, toilets, drinking water, and so on). Regardless, the tests so far show that private-school students do better across the board.

Tooley’s work is financed by the private Templeton Foundation. The “aid and development industry” isn’t interested in private education, writes Crook. They want universal public education or nothing.

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