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Comparing Public, Private and Market Schools: The International Evidence

Competition, Private schools, Public Schools

Andrew J. Coulson

Journal of School Choice 3:31-54


Would large-scale, free-market reforms improve educational outcomes for American children?  This question cannot be reliably answered by looking exclusively at domestic evidence, much less by looking exclusively at existing “school choice” programs.  Though many such programs have been implemented around the United States, none has created a truly free and competitive education marketplace, being too small, too restriction laden, or both.  To understand how genuine market forces affect school performance, we must cast a wider net, surveying education systems from all over the globe.  The present paper undertakes such a review, assessing the results of decades of international research comparing market and government provision of education and explaining why these international experiences are relevant to the United States.

The full paper can be accessed here.

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Private School Chains in Chile: Do Better Schools Scale Up?

Private Franchises, Private schools, Public Schools

Gregory Elacqua, Dante Contreras, Felipe Salazar & Humberto Santos

Cato Institute

August 16, 2011

There is a persistent debate over the role of scale of operations in education. Some argue that school franchises offer educational services more effectively than do small independent schools. Skeptics counter that large, centralized operations create hard-to-manage bureaucracies and foster diseconomies of scale and that small schools are more effective at promoting higher-quality education.  If there are policies that would make it easier to replicate the most effective schools, systemwide educational quality could be improved substantially.

Access the complete policy analysis here.

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Vouchers, Public School Response, and the Role of Incentives

Public Schools, School Choice, Vouchers

Rajashri Chakrabarti

Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Staff Report no. 306

October 2007

Revised November 2010

Abstract: This paper analyzes the incentives and responses of public schools in the context of an educational reform. The literature on the effect of voucher programs on public schools typically focuses on student and mean school scores. This paper tries to go inside the black box to investigate some of the ways in which schools facing the Florida voucher program behaved. The program embedded vouchers in an accountability regime. Schools getting an “F” grade for the first time were exposed to the threat of vouchers, but did not face vouchers unless and until they got a second “F” within the next three years. In addition, “F,” being the lowest grade, exposed the threatened schools to stigma. Exploiting the institutional details of this program, I analyze the incentives built into the system and investigate the behavior of the threatened public schools facing these incentives. There is strong evidence that they did respond to incentives. Using highly disaggregated school-level data, a difference-in-differences estimation strategy, and a regression discontinuity analysis, I find that the threatened schools tended to focus more on students below the minimum criteria cutoffs rather than reading and math. These results are robust to controlling for differential preprogram trends, changes in demographic compositions, mean reversion, and sorting. The findings have important policy implications.

Access the full paper at:


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Classroom Divisions

Private schools, Public Schools


The Economist

THERE can scarcely be two words in Kenya that cause more resentment than “school fees”. It is now more than ten years since charges for state primary schools in east Africa’s biggest economy were abolished by law. Yet it is an open secret that education is not truly free. In fact, fees are rising. Dorcas Mutoku, a policeman’s wife whose two sons attend a public primary school in the capital, Nairobi, has found that levies have simply been renamed. She has to find the equivalent of $35 for a one-off “signing-on” fee, and pay almost as much again for admission fees. End-of-term exams, uniforms and books cost at least another $10 per child.

Kenya’s parents will get their day in court on February 21st, when a lawsuit will be heard that accuses Jacob Kaimenyi, the education minister, and Belio Kipsang, his top civil servant, of failing to implement the law. Musau Ndunda, head of the national parents’ association, which is bringing the suit, says the government is guilty of “extraordinary doublespeak” when its officials ask why anyone would pay to send their child to school. Adding to Mr Ndunda’s frustration is his awareness, shared by many thousands of Kenyan parents, that the illicit fees are not being spent on better books and facilities but are merely padding the incomes of school administrators, none of whom—as far as he can tell—has been prosecuted.

Kenya has made steady progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals to lessen poverty that were set by the UN in 2000. Foreign aid has poured into Kenya’s state education system, bringing the country as close as any in sub-Saharan Africa to achieving universal primary schooling. In the past decade about 4m new pupils entered the classroom; nearly nine out of ten school-age Kenyans under 11 are now in education.

But the row over the continued imposition of fees, and concerns over plummeting standards, make many observers wonder if the money has been wisely spent. Mwangi Kimenyi, a Kenyan economist at the Brookings Institution, a think-tank in Washington, DC, says that donors and governments have broadened access to school at the cost of creating a “dysfunctional public-education system where millions of children are attending school but are not learning”.

The goal of wider enrolment, he argues, was “poorly conceived”, as it has failed to keep up standards. A World Bank report in 2013 found that Kenyan teachers were absent almost half the time. And pupils in Kenya’s state schools received on average little more than two hours of instruction a day. Another study found that only one-third of public-sector teachers scored at least 80% when tested on the curriculum they are meant to teach.

The big beneficiaries are Kenya’s private schools, where enrolment has tripled from 4% of pupils in 2005 to 12% at the latest count. They have to compete for pupils, can sack bad teachers, and offer tuition at relatively modest rates. Research by Brookings under its “Africa Growth Initiative” found that the fees for two-thirds of children in Kenyan private schools are lower than in the supposedly free state system.

Bridge International, a chain of local low-cost private schools, puts its cost per child in primary school at one-fifth of the $350 it estimates as the total real combined cost for parents and the state in the public system. “We’ve shown you can do a lot more with a lot less in the private sector,” says Shannon May, a co-founder. It is time, she adds, for big foreign donors to consider helping the private-education sector and for African governments to acknowledge and welcome its role in taking some of the strain off the state.

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