Thoughts on economics and liberty

The poor are not stupid. For-profit low cost private schools are simply better.

I’m studying some extracts from Tooley’s The Beautiful Tree once again. These findings deserve wider attention (Note that I’ve “jumbled” up some comments from various parts of the book to bring the entire story together)

Children in Private Schools Outperform Those in Public School

Poor parents are not “ignoramuses.” Parents knew they were onto something when they chose private over government schools…. Poor parents were keen education consumers when they chose private over public schools. … Other things being equal, for poor parents class size appears to be a key factor in their choice of private schools. Average class sizes were smaller in private schools than in public schools. In Delhi, the pupil-teacher ratio was three times higher in government than private unrecognized classes.

In the vast majority of cases in all areas, both types of private schools, unrecognized and recognized, were either superior to government schools in providing these inputs, or there was no significant difference between school types

private schools were much more likely to be English medium than government schools. Only 3 percent of government schools were English medium,

private schools were not operating on a level playing field. No wealthy outside agencies were assisting them. Even so, often they do better.

On all the indicators explored, government schools, in general, performed worse than both recognized and unrecognized private schools—and remember, unrecognized schools where the ones particularly criticized by development experts::

  • Class sizes were smaller in both types of private schools than in public schools.
  • Both types of private schools had higher teacher commitment—in the percentage of teachers teaching when our researchers called unannounced.
  • Only on one quality input—the provision of playgrounds—were government schools superior to both types of private schools across all studies. [why do people like Professor Lewin suggest that only schools that are up to his Western standards are acceptable? That’s not what parents believe.]
  • Children in both types of private schools in general scored higher on standardized tests in key curriculum subjects than did children in government schools. This remained true even when we controlled for an array of background variables, to account for differences between children in public and private schools.
  • The higher standards in private schools were usually maintained for a small fraction of the per-pupil teacher cost in government schools.

Government schools are very likely to have more extensively trained and educated teachers than private schools. [But] these untrained teachers are far more likely to show up and teach than their more heavily trained counterparts in government schools.

In all cases that teaching commitment was highest in the recognized private schools, followed closely by unrecognized private schools. In all cases, it was lowest in the government schools:

Does their lack of training make any difference to student achievement—a key indicator of their effectiveness? It turns out that it does not. In all the studies, the same pattern was found for the “raw” mean scores, with private recognized schools achieving the highest, followed by private unrecognized and government schools achieving the lowest scores. children in unrecognized private schools scored nearly 18 percentage points more in math than children in government schools (a 72 percent advantage!

private schools were in fact educating their children to a much higher English standard than what children might pick up naturally in the local community, through radio, television, and advertisements, for instance—which is perhaps what the tests were measuring in children in government schools.)

In no case did I find, even on this measure (which might, in any case, seem to be excusing the government schools for large class sizes), that the private schools had more resources per pupil than the government schools

Public schools in Delhi were spending nearly two and a half times as much per pupil as unrecognized private schools.

Private schools are outperforming public schools, usually for a fraction of the cost.

public schools are also supported by a mammoth and expensive bureaucracy. Private schools have no such financing behind them.

interested readers can consult the academic papers on my website to explore the range of statistical methods used and the results obtained (


school fees in both public and private schools were approximately equal.

students in the for-profit private schools achieved higher scores than those in both the nonprofit private and public schools. T

of all schools in our Chinese study, the for-profit private schools performed the best—so much for the criticisms of the development experts against the profit motive in education


Sanjeev Sabhlok

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