Thursday, November 09, 2006

Private Schools for the Poor

I recently heard a talk, accompanied by a video, by James Tooley, who has been studying private schools in poor countries—not private schools for the rich but private schools for the poor.

The results sound extraordinary. In slum areas of countries such as Nigeria it appears that a majority of poor children are being educated in private schools, charging on the order of five dollars a month. Parents are willing to pay that because they believe they are getting, in various ways, a better education for their children than in the free public schools. Tooley tested a random sample of both private and public school children, and confirmed that opinion; the children going to the (inexpensive, slum) private schools consistently tested higher than the children going to the public schools.

His talk reminded me of E.G. West's fascinating book Education and the Industrial Revolution, where he describes a very similar pattern among the English working poor in the early 18th century—in that case with no free public schools available.

As a libertarian I found the talk, and the accompanying video, encouraging, not merely because it provides evidence to support my beliefs but because it suggests that, however difficult the push for libertarianism may be in the political arena, we have allies--billions of human beings applying their intelligence to living their lives as best they can, frequently below the radar of their governments.

19 Comments:

At 2:36 AM, November 10, 2006, Blogger Gabriel Mihalache said...

A link? A video? A summary? Where can we find out more?

 
At 4:46 AM, November 10, 2006, Blogger Charles Pooter said...

The state will crowd-out these efforts, probably with money from the UN, and standards will decrease.

 
At 7:57 AM, November 10, 2006, Anonymous aldel said...

Clearly the students in the private schools are a self-selected group (or selected by their parents), and so they'd do better than the public school students even if the private schools themselves were just as bad... although, of course, just by having the better students, the private schools become better schools. Which is one of the reasons I think it might be a good idea to allow public school students to drop out at any age, instead of forcing them to stay until they're 16.

 
At 1:09 PM, November 10, 2006, Anonymous Adam Selene said...

So perhaps the answer to U.S. education is to *cut* public funding for schools.

Costa Rica has private schools for every budget -- ranging from $20/mo/student to $1500/mo/student, most in the $100-200 range. In all cases they are better than the public schools.

 
At 2:05 PM, November 10, 2006, Anonymous Arthur B. said...

In the US some people can afford to pay for the public school via taxes AND a private school. Some can't afford both, so they have to go to public schools... So yes cutting the funding of all public schools would actualy benefit the poors in the US.

 
At 10:42 PM, November 10, 2006, Blogger David Friedman said...

Gabriel Mihalache asks for a additional information. I believe what I saw was part of a video shown at some point on BBC, but I don't know if there is a way of getting copies. But Google found me James Tooley's home page, with references to his published work and some links.

http://www.ncl.ac.uk/egwest/tooley.html

 
At 6:14 AM, November 11, 2006, Blogger Mike Huben said...

I love the way these discussions turn into exercises in libertarian confirmation bias.

Public schools are one of the most strongly progressive public policies, which is probably why libertarians oppose them. Do a back-of-the-envelo
pe calculation. If you are poor, your rent is $10,000 per year, and 30% of your rent goes to property taxes, you are paying only $3000 for all local government services. Roughly 40% of that goes to schools: $1200. And the fact is that it costs more to properly educate children of the poor than children of the rich because they bring more problems that obstruct education.

Fully privatized education will not ever produce the progressivity that government funded education does.

 
At 7:01 PM, November 11, 2006, Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

Progressive is a fuzzy term. The early American public school advocates advertised public education as a way to keep the population docile, not educated. Socialise them to follow orders from their corporate and government masters, don't aim high, don't be creative, and for God's sake, don't think for yourself.

It is a bizarre world indeed where so-called progressives idealise Prussia.

- Josh

 
At 8:16 PM, November 11, 2006, Blogger Mike Huben said...

Josh, there's nothing fuzzy about the way I used progressive: my example shows that I mean it in a redistributive sense. The poor get more than they pay in.

Jefferson was proposing public schooling long before Prussia. The example of Prussia showed that not only was universal public schooling economically feasible, but it was going to be important for competitive purposes.

Doubtless some pointed out that public schooling might make the populace less anarchistic. So does property ownership. Big deal. So just how anarchistic are you, Josh? Are you rocking the boat hard with your blogging?

 
At 10:23 PM, November 11, 2006, Anonymous Adam Selene said...

Another note is that private schools *compete*. We just switched our children to a school 200 meters north of the one they were attending. Their new school is much newer, better managed and growing rapidly; their last school has a dwindling student body (in part due to mismanagement by its alcoholic director).

They had attended a public that was grossly mismanaged by its director, the wife of a politician. It has a growing student body; there is no performance/management feedback loop for public schools.

 
At 10:26 PM, November 11, 2006, Anonymous Adam Selene said...

You can completely ignore the funding issue -- a voucher system can be tax funded on equal terms (same burden, same redistribution) as the current system; yet still have all the benefits of diversity and competition between "privately" run schools.

 
At 10:53 PM, November 11, 2006, Anonymous Adam Selene said...

Regarding funding alternatives for education; what if the burden of funding education were removed from the taxpayers, but instead of being transfered to the parents; is instead transfered to the children being educated?

How would that be accomplished? Schools would have the option to charge a % of future income in their student contracts. For example, 0.5%-1.5% of future income of each student for each year of education.

(This would work best in a system where existing payroll/income taxes are reduced to a minimum.)

Until this revenue from future graduates kicks in, schools could be tax/voucher funded on a declining basis and/or they could borrow against this future income stream.

What I really like about this idea (along with schools privately run) is that schools would have a very strong performance incentive. The better their graduates perform (measured by income), the more the school makes in the future. You might even see venture capital funded schools, specializing in certain fields or high IQ students.

The only loser in this scenario is special/remedial education; which could remain tax funded.

The other thing I really like about this, is that it potentially allows children to make their own educational decisions in cases where parents don't give a d*mn. They have their own "credit" to pay their own tuition, they just need to find a school that believes in their potential.

 
At 10:54 AM, November 12, 2006, Anonymous b-psycho said...

Y'know the definition of a "public" school used to be more loose than it is now...

 
At 12:22 PM, November 12, 2006, Blogger Mike Huben said...

"You can completely ignore the funding issue -- a voucher system can be tax funded on equal terms (same burden, same redistribution) as the current system; yet still have all the benefits of diversity and competition between "privately" run schools."

First, vouchers are libertarian bait-and-switch schemes. Within the LPUSA, it is widely discussed as a first stage before eliminating state funding.

Second, we'd probably see the same sort of bad results that we've seen with Bush's faith-based social service initiatives: wasteful cronyism that does a much poorer job than the old system because it is unsupervised.

Alternatively, we might have all the private diversity of a Walmart-dominated town.

"there is no performance/management feedback loop for public schools." Feeling out of touch with reality lately? Of course there is a feedback loop: it's called the elected school board.

"Schools would have the option to charge a % of future income in their student contracts. For example, 0.5%-1.5% of future income of each student for each year of education."

Ah, let's force our students to make lifelong economic decisions well before they can possibly understand them. Not to mention poor information about the relationship of present education to future income. Oh, and let's sentence those with low ability to low investment in their education, even if it is more socially beneficial to invest more. For example, teaching a retarded student to live independently is far more expensive than teaching an ordinary student, but costs much less than caring for him throughout his life.

 
At 6:14 PM, November 12, 2006, Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

osh, there's nothing fuzzy about the way I used progressive: my example shows that I mean it in a redistributive sense. The poor get more than they pay in.

Then you've not said much at all. If the government provided free shoes, most likely they would be uncomfortable and shoddily-made (see Union, Soviet). If they were paid for with a tax on the rich, shoe provision would be "progressive", even though the shoes were shoddy, much worse than the shoes the poor pay for. Saying that public schooling is a progressive policy, in its strictest sense, says little about if it's any good.

So just how anarchistic are you, Josh? Are you rocking the boat hard with your blogging?

You've confused me with someone who thinks this is a team sport. I'm here for me, not any movement.

- Josh

 
At 2:27 PM, November 13, 2006, Blogger Mike Huben said...

What's the matter, Josh? Can't admit that I was right and precise in my use of progressive and my history?

So instead you attempt to side-track the argument. Well, you'd lose that too: US public education is the same quality as US private education once you control for the significant student variables. N ot very surprising: there's a revolving door for teachers and administrators between public and private schools. And most private schools really do litttle different in the way of education except that some pander to bigoted parents who don't want their kids to mingle with other races or religions.

Get some facts about the subject: they're a lot better to reason with than comparisons to soviet shoes.

 
At 1:49 PM, November 14, 2006, Anonymous Alex said...

"Josh, there's nothing fuzzy about the way I used progressive: my example shows that I mean it in a redistributive sense. The poor get more than they pay in."

This does not apply in the UK, where the cost of educating a child through the state system has two elements. The first is tax. The second is higher accommodation costs.

State schools, like private schools, vary enormously in quality. In state schools, the most important selection criterion is proximity to the school. Therefore, property prices in catchment areas of good state schools are bid up . Generally speaking, the poor do not have access to good state education because they cannot afford these inflated property prices.

How does the system work in the US?

Recently, a few faith-based private schools have opened, catering for the needs of the poor. The concept is not popular with the educational elites: these schools do not subscribe to the secular dogma of the progressives. However, it is remarkable how many of the poor make sacrifices to enroll their children in these schools. This is not snobbery: many inner city state schools in are rife with violence.

 
At 3:06 PM, November 19, 2006, Blogger Allen said...

I love Huben's arguement for the lack of differnce between public and private education performance. That is, if you take out all the ways they're different, they're the same. I suppose one can argue that Southwest Airlines isn't anything special if you take into account they pay their 737 one of the if not the highest per hour rate in the US. So they have low turnover and more productive pilots. And their fuel hedging not only allows them to budget and plan with a lot of certainty on how bad those costs could be but in fact helps them make a profit because their costs for fuel have been lower. But it's really doesn't work in the end. Because it doesn't acknowledge that as an organization as whole they put into place policies, actions and corporate culture to make all those things possible. THe differences among private schools and public schools isn't as simple as private and public. Their are are variences withing those 2 broad categories, too. Too deny the complexity of the differences is more or less the same approach to the issue that Bill O'Reilly has to global warming.

 
At 11:35 PM, February 17, 2007, Anonymous Pablo said...

It would be good to have more information on such a system. If you are poor and sent your kids to a good public school equals to any private schools system then you have done your job as parent.

 

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