Thoughts on economics and liberty

Can any government school ever beat for-profit schools for the accountability of teachers?

Extracts from James Tooley’s The Beautiful Tree:

One private school proprietor whom I got to know really well was Mohammed Anwar of M. A. Ideal High School in Hyderabad, India. I discovered that he had installed, at not inconsiderable expense, an admittedly rather primitive closed-circuit television (CCTV) system throughout his school. On his desk was a monitor, and in many classrooms a small video camera. While he worked in his office, he could switch the view to any classroom to see what was happening.

Anwar had done something that was incredibly rational in his context. His major problem was teacher accountability—and the major difference between his school and the government schools was that the parents expected him to effectively solve this problem. Having an efficient way of keeping an eye his teachers’ activities was his solution.

teachers’ accountability to him was the key to his accountability to parents.

Private school owners, of course, seemed to easily monitor their teachers’ performance on a day-by-day basis. Even without CCTV (and Anwar did this too), they walk around their schools constantly, checking on teachers’ attendance or whether they were teaching. They check on how often children mark their exercise books. They follow up on parents’ complaints, such as a teacher’s absence or a child’s difficulty in grasping a lesson. They can easily reward teachers who perform well, whose children get good grades in public exams for instance.

In another school in Hyderabad, the school owner uses a simple computer program to monitor the children’s improvement in class. He can see if very low-performing children’s standards are initially raised and can reward this, even if those children still aren’t performing as well as others.

what incentive do school owners have to reward teachers in this way? They know that good teachers will be snapped up by other private schools, if they think they can get higher salaries elsewhere or believe they are not being appropriately rewarded. And of course, school owners can always be discretionary, in ways that are impossible in the state system

Sanjeev Sabhlok

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