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The Value of Parental Choice in Education: A Look at the Research

School Choice

The Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4173

Lindsey M. Burke

March 18, 2014

Abstract: Over the past decade, a growing body of empirical research examining the impact of school choice has emerged.  Education researcher Greg Forster, PhD, conducted an analysis of all existing empirical evaluations of school choice programs to date.  According to Forster, 11 out of 12 random assignment studies found that choice improved the academic outcomes of participants; not a single evaluation found that school choice had a negative impact on academic outcomes.

The complete issue brief can be accessed here.


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Potential GOP presidential contender Paul pushing school choice in Chicago visit

School Choice, School Vouchers


Chicago Tribune

As he considers a 2016 run for the Republican presidential nomination, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul acknowledges the GOP must go beyond its base and find ways to grow support or it will be unable to elect a national standard bearer.

On Tuesday, Paul comes to Chicago as part of a two-day Midwest push for school choice, attending a forum co-sponsored by the conservative Illinois Policy Institute at Josephinum Academy, an all-female Catholic high school in Wicker Park.

Paul’s visit to traditionally Democratic Chicago, along with a similar stop the next day in Milwaukee, is an attempt to advocate for an issue that he said he believes resonates with voters in major cities.

“I think our party is not big enough to win national elections unless we are able to do something different. We have to realize that what we have put forward in the past is not attracting a large-enough body of voters,” Paul said.

“So I’m a big believer that we need to go after issues like education, like school choice, and look to come to the larger cities. Chicago would be one city where we (Republicans) haven’t done very well,” he said. “So we need to really look to bring in a new message to new people if we want to have a chance.”

With the closing of dozens of schools and a chaotic education environment over the issues of funding and teacher pension costs, Chicago would seem an unlikely stop to promote an issue adamantly opposed by the Chicago Teachers Union and public school advocates.

Paul, however, said the lack of improvement in public schools has hurt primarily “an African-American audience” in major cities, leaving students with few future job opportunities.

Last year, Paul joined with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., in backing legislation to allow federal Title 1 funds for students from low-income families to travel with the student. Funding would take the form of a voucher or certificate to provide school choice, rather than automatically flow to the public schools. A similar plan was advocated by 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

For the libertarian-leaning Paul, advocating a federal policy on education — traditionally an issue reserved for state and local communities — is a break.

“Right now, we have a large degree of federal involvement and if we’re going to have federal involvement I see no reason why the concept of choice and competition can’t be attached to federal funds,” Paul said.

“I would let it go directly to the poor kids and let them choose which school they want to take it to — public, private or otherwise — and maybe through that innovation and through competition, the schools would get better. I think we can’t just keep doing the same thing and expect a different result,” he said.

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People Want Choice, Not Charity

School Choice


Business World

There seems to be a general perception that children residing in District South Delhi are the most fortunate ones, since they reside in the vicinity of most of the top schools in the whole of Delhi. A lot of people may be considering shifting to South Delhi to score ‘neighbourhood points’, as per the new guidelines issued with respect to school admissions.

Guess What? They Are Wrong

It is ironical that although almost half of the top rated schools in Delhi are located in the South Delhi, yet it has the least number of nursery seats and an even lesser number of private nursery seats in proportion to its population, i.e. less than 3 per 1000 people. It is most difficult to get a child admitted in a school in South Delhi than anywhere else in the state. The situation in District North Delhi is no better either, with an average of 3.2 private nursery seats per 1000 people. On the other hand, District New Delhi has a much better ratio – around 51 nursery seats per 1000 people and 17 private nursery seats per 1000 people. District East Delhi and District North East Delhi are little above 5 private nursery seats per 1000 people. Clearly, private schools are not uniformly distributed across the city. Therefore, the distance criterion does not help the parents of the children seeking admission in these private schools.

Secondly, as per an estimate, there are one lakh private nursery seats and four lakh eligible children. There is an acute demand-supply gap. Number of seats will further go down this year onwards as private schools have to admit 25 per cent children from economically weaker and disadvantaged sections of the society. The government may set up help lines to make this process smooth and efficient but it is impossible to monitor all schools and each and every admission taking place. It will only add to litigation and complaints.

Opening more government schools is not a solution that parents are asking for. Those who advocate for opening more government schools including government school teachers and policy makers send their kids to private schools.

The solution is: address supply gap, get rid of license-permit Raaj. Let there be more choice and competition, i.e. there should be many more private schools. This cannot happen with education being a not-for-profit sector. Which NGO can and will like to invest 50 crores to open a primary school in South Delhi and who will fund such an NGO? First and foremost, the Government must allow for-profit schools so that Corporate India can formally invest in education. Secondly, teacher salary norms should be relaxed so that the operational costs can be lowered. This will make them affordable to majority.

Critics contend that this choice and competition will leave low-income children behind. Unfortunately, government schools have already left them behind. Good news is that having many more private schools will also add to 25 per cent RTE quota seats for low income children. Additionally, the government can give vouchers to low-income children to join private schools. Most people in Delhi need no subsidies or charity; they need quality education which they don’t mind paying for.

Author is an advocate with iJustice – a public interest law initiative of Centre for Civil Society

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School Choice, School Quality and Postsecondary Attainment

Outcomes, Quality, School Choice

David J. Deming, Justine S. Hastings, Thomas J. Kane, Douglas O. Staiger

National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper Series

Working Paper 17438

September 2011

Abstract: We study the impact of a public school choice lottery in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools on college enrollment and degree completion. We find a significant overall increase in college attainment among lottery winners who attend their first choice school. Using rich administrative data on peers, teachers, course offerings and other inputs, we show that the impacts of choice are strongly predicted by gains on several measures of school quality. Gains in attainment are concentrated among girls. Girls respond to attending a better school with higher grades and increases in college-preparatory course-taking, while boys do not.

The working paper can be accessed here.

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Building a sustainable economy through education in Asia-Pacific region

Access to education, School Choice, Vouchers



The Asia-Pacific region in which India is situated has inherent riches in natural resources such as the oil banks in the Gulf counties, export strength of China, intellectual capital of India, and the research, development and production of the Pacific islands. This area has a projection of 7.5 per cent economic growth compared to 2.6 per cent of USA and 1.7 per cent of the European region.

In contradiction, the Asia-Pacific region also accounts for 60 per cent workers in the vulnerable economy, 422 million under the $2-a-day earning mark and 73 per cent of the world’s working poor. Overall, the worker output is still about one sixth of the level of America or the European Union. In addition to the widespread poverty and low productivity, there is persistent inequality between men and women; women earn less than men and are largely in unskilled and informal sectors; there is no social protection for the physically and mentally challenged and old people; no protection against occupational accidents, injuries and against child labour.

What is needed is an inclusive, balanced and sustainable plan in the coming decades for which education is a fundamental tool.

Skill and knowledge are the two driving forces for the economic and social development of any country. Countries with higher skills adapt better to challenges in the working arena. It has also been seen that during the economic downturn, countries with strong skill focus, like Korea, were more insulated than other parts of the world.

Besides the national policy of skill education, the idea of vocationalisation of secondary education was mooted in order to provide young adults with options to choose from, with an aim to improving individual employability. Since 1988, background work in this area with regards to building the curricula, teachers training and NGO funding has been going on. Reported 765 crores have already been spent in creating facilities for ten thousand students.

Vocational learning has always been considered tertiary education, and does not fall in the traditional definition of higher education. Concentrating on the age old apprenticeship style of learning, vocational studies include variety of subjects such as trade, craft, programmes that are technical in nature and are related to engineering, accountancy, nursing, medicine, architecture and pharmacy.

Going beyond vocationalisation of higher education the national policy of skill development aims at providing inclusive opportunities to men, women, rural, urban, organic, inorganic, traditional and contemporary.

Offering modular courses in open architecture of short term duration, its funding is through skill vouchers given to the candidates and it focuses on funding the institutions imparting training after the course is completed. Nearly 23,800 establishments are imparting education to around 2.58 lakh apprentices. Within the next 5 years, over 1 lakh establishments are expected to train over 1 lakh apprentices.

Several organisations such as the Centre for Rural Technology, Society for Rural Industrialisation (SRI) and the flagship National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) besides the Prime Minister’s National Council on Skill Development are all involved in the implementation of such courses.

There is also a focus on improving women participation by nearly 30 per cent by overcoming barriers and facilitating participation, though hostels for women, scholarships, transport, loans and making available newer and contemporary fields like emerging technological services available to women, besides the traditional training in  health, construction and agriculture sectors.

NSDC has already trained nearly 90 thousand people, 80 per cent of whom are employed. With an annual budget outlay of Rs 1000 crores, it has doubled its capacity and enrolment since 2009 and has a target of training nearly 500 million by 2022.

If education is about employability, in order to sustain economic growth and to beat the widespread and rampant poverty, skill development seems to be the last word in achieving sustainability.

Manjula pooja shroff
The writer is  an entrepreneur and educationist

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[Excerpts] Chester Finn on Charter Schools

Charter Schools, School Choice

Manasi Bose

Chester Finn, President of the Thomas B Fordham Foundation in the US and a renowned expert on charter schools was at the CCS office this Thursday to discuss the charter school movement in the US. Following are some excerpts from his talk.

“Charter schools are public schools. They are paid for with public funds and do not charge fees at all to students. They are open to anyone who wants to come to them, there are no pre-requisites for admission or entrance. These schools are accountable for their academic results as measured on the same standards and tests as traditional government schools. They are therefore public in three ways: publically financedopen to the public and publically accountable

“Charter schools are like an outsourcing – instead of building fifty identical schools for the children of the community and having the government run them, you contract with private operators to create and run schools for 300 children between the ages of 6-12 and you give them public dollars to pay for these schools. They are seen as vehicles for creating diversity, choices and competition; also efficiency and accountability.”

“Charter schools are different from private schools. Private schooling must be approved to exist by the state and must follow certain basic rules of safety, fireproofing and so on in order to be licensed to operate. However, with very few exceptions, these schools do not get public money and they do not have to follow the state curriculum or give the state tests. They don’t have to employ certified teachers; they can employ anyone who they want to teach.

Historically, the revenue of private schools has been either parents pay or wealthy individuals (or alumni who previously attended schools) make gifts. There is quite a lot of freedom attached to the private financial support and very few obligations to the government The big shift over the last 20 years has been the beginning of voucher programs and similar initiatives that provide financial subsidies/scholarships to children to attend private schools, who wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise.”

“Charter schools faced resistance, and still do to a degree, from the educational establishment – those that benefit from the current hierarchical bureaucratic structure. This includes teacher unions, the school board association, the administrator’s association, even textbook publishers, the bus drivers – anybody that currently has their job, their status or their income based on the current system.”

“This was all part of the aftermath of the 1983 report ‘A Nation at Risk’, a National Commission study on the performance of American primary and secondary education, which said it was not doing a good job. We spent most of the 1960s and 70s working on issues of equity and access for black children, disabled children, girls, foreign language speaking immigrants etc. We did a good job of providing access to everybody but in 1983 this committee looked at the performance of American schools and said children are not learning enough and we need to do something different. This led to a whole variety of reforms in the US, many of them having to do with academic standards and tests and accountability structures, some of them relating to personnel, teachers in schools, some of them having to do with governance and control and some having to do with new kinds of schools.”

To hear his talk, click here.

This blog was originally published on Spontaneous Order.

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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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School Choice, US, Vouchers

The Friedman Foundation – for Educational Choice



Much current discussion of educational vouchers takes it for granted that their primary aim is to improve education for low-income students in urban areas. That would indeed be one of the effects of the full-fledged adoption of vouchers, and it is certainly a worthy objective, but it is very far from the major objective, at least to this supporter of vouchers.

I have nothing but good things to say about voucher programs…that are limited to a small  number of low-income participants. They greatly benefit the limited number of students who receive vouchers, enable fuller use to be made of existing excellent private schools, and provide a useful stimulus to government schools. They also demonstrate the inefficiency of government schools by providing a superior education at less than half the per-pupil cost.

But such programs are on too small a scale, and impose too many limits, to encourage the entry of innovative schools or modes of teaching. The major objective of educational vouchers is much more ambitious. It is to drag education out of the 19th century—where it has been mired for far too long—and into the 21st century, by introducing competition on a broad scale. Free market competition can do for education what it has done already for other areas, such as agriculture, transportation, power, communication and, most recently, computers and the Internet. Only a truly competitive educational industry can empower the ultimate consumers of educational services—parents and their children.

– Milton Friedman

To read more: http://www.edchoice.org/School-Choice/The-ABCs-of-School-Choice/ABCs-Blue/2014-The-ABCs-of-School-Choice-Blue

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School Vouchers and Student Attainment: Evidence from a State-Mandated Study of Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program

School Choice, School Vouchers
Authors: Joshua M. Cowen, David J. Fleming, John F. Witte, Patrick J. Wolf, and Brian Kisida
The Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 4, No.1, 2013

Policymakers and scholars alike have looked to studies of school choice programs for evidence that students do “better” or “worse” in alternatives to the traditional public sector. Nearly all of these studies have focused largely on the performance of students on standardized tests. Many scholars acknowledge and several actually consider the importance of other outcomes, including the effects of school choice on student and parent satisfaction and civic values (e.g., Campbell, 2008; Dee, 2005; Howell, Peterson, Wolf, & Campbell, 2006; Schneider, Teske, Marschall, Mintrom, & Roch, 1997; Wolf et al., 2009) and the indirect effects of school choice on other socially desirable goals such as racial integration and the narrowing of racial, ethnic, and gender gaps in achievement (e.g., Betts, Rice, Zau, Tang, & Koedel, 2006; Bifulco & Ladd, 2007; Greene, 2005; Neal, 2006; Zimmer et al., 2009). As with other school choice programs, studies of school voucher programs have primarily focused on student test scores. These include evaluations of privately funded programs (Cowen, 2008; Howell, Wolf, Campbell, & Peterson, 2002; Howell et al.,2006) and analyses of public programs (Greene, Peterson, & Du, 1999; Metcalf, West, Legan, Paul, & Boone, 2003; Rouse, 1998;Witte, 2000;Wolf et al., 2013). Some of these studies have also reported to varying degrees on other indicators, often finding large and positive voucher effects on parent satisfaction and views of school safety whilealso reporting small or marginal effects on test scores (e.g.,Witte, 2000; Howell et al., 2006; Wolf et al., 2009).

Perhaps the most important alternative to student test scores as a measure of success in educational policy is attainment: reaching a given level of schooling such as a high school diploma, enrollment in post secondary education, or earning a bachelor’s degree and beyond. Educational attainment is an important indicator for school quality because it may be a direct result of the development of academic and life skills related to a variety of valuable outcomes of interest to policymakers and employers. These include regular employment, aversion to criminal and other dysfunctional behavior, and the generation and growth of personal income and savings. Studies have shown that students who have at least a high school degree can expect higher average life expectancy (Meara, Richards, & Cutler, 2008) and that even 1-year increases in education can reduce the probability of dying in the next 10 years (Lleras-Muney, 2005). College attainment is associated with higher levels of overall health (Wirt et al., 2004) and better health care (Muennig, 2005; Rouse, 2005). Not surprisingly, future wealth is also dependent on educational attainment (Day & Newburger, 2002; Heckman & Carneiro, 2003; Rouse, 2005), and this extends the benefits of higher attainment rates beyond the individual to broader social benefits such as increased tax revenue and economic development (Belfield & Levin, 2007). Beyond pecuniary benefits, governments may also see reductions in crime associated with increases in educational attainment (Belfield & Levin, 2009; Levitt & Lochner, 2001). Although such relationships between attainment and future success may not be surprising, graduation rates are still disturbingly low nationwide, especially for boys and particularly in the nation’s largestschool districts (Greene & Winters, 2006).

Despite such importance, attainment is generally not well studied in the literature on school choice. Several early studies examined the effect of attending a Catholic high school on student attainment (Coleman & Hoffer, 1987; Neal, 1997). These studies generally concluded that students graduated at much higher rates if they attended Catholic high schools, especially if they were urban minorities. Graduation and post secondary enrollment are increasingly of interest in studies of other school choice policies. Most notably, a multi state study of charter schools found large attainment gains for students who moved from traditional public schools to charter schools (Zimmer et al., 2009), and a study of public school choice in Chicago indicated modest impacts of choice on the probability of high graduation (Lauen, 2009). In the school voucher literature, only two studies have examined the association between participating in a voucher program and graduating from high school. A recent experimental evaluation of Washington, DC’s federal voucher program concluded that using a voucher increased the likelihood of high school graduation by 21 percentage points (Wolf et al., 2013). An observational study of a limited set of high schools in Milwaukee reported that they graduated their voucher students at a rate about 12 percentage points higher than the system-wide graduation rate for Milwaukee’s public schools (Warren, 2011).

In this article, we consider data from a state-mandated evaluation of the City of Milwaukee’s large, publicly funded school voucher program. We provide evidence that attainment may indeed be related to the school choices families make, at least insofar as these choices pertain to a voucher-funded private or traditional public school. That Milwaukee is a large, urban school district only adds to the importance of the question of whether school choice boosts the levels of student attainment.If quality of life is directly related to educational attainment, if attainment is a direct result of certain schooling conditions to which a student is exposed, and if these schooling conditions may vary as a result of individual parent and student decisions, then the long-term social and economic consequences of school choice programs may be far greater than the impact of such policies on more transitory outcomes like individual test scores. We proceed with our analysis by describing the state-mandated evaluation on which it was based, and the data and analytical procedures we employ. Next we present basic tabulations and statistical models of high school graduation and post secondary enrollment, and consider reasons why students did not complete a high school degree. We then consider the characteristics of postsecondary institutions attended by voucher or public school students. We conclude by presenting several caveats to this work, and by discussing our results in the context of ongoing and future research on public–private differences in student outcomes.

To read more:


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A renewed model of education

School Choice, School Vouchers



The recently released Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) on rural education in India contains two main findings. First, learning levels among primary school age children in rural India continue to be shockingly low despite a steady increase in education spending under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and the Right to Education (RTE). Second, there has been a steady increase in the fraction of parents abandoning free government schools in favour of fee-charging private schools, with the share of private school enrolment in rural India increasing from 19% in 2006 to 29% in 2013. While reliable annual data does not exist for urban India, the private school share in urban India was estimated at 58% in 2005 (using the Indian Human Development Survey, or IHDS, data), and is likely to be considerably higher in 2013.

The ASER report shows, as do other data sources like IHDS and Young Lives, that students of comparable age and standard in private schools score significantly higher than their counterparts in government schools. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that private schools caused the better performance of their students. First, students in private schools are more likely to come from socio-economically and educationally advantaged backgrounds. Second, they also typically have 1-2 years of extra schooling (lower kindergarten/upper kindergarten) compared with students in government schools. So, the better performance in private schools could simply reflect these other factors and not the actual effectiveness of the schools. Thus, a critical open question for education in India is this: “Are private schools more or less effective than government schools—holding all other factors constant?”

The Andhra Pradesh “school choice” study

Answering this question is crucial for policy. Clause 12 of the RTE requires private schools to reserve 25% of their seats for students from economically weaker sections (EWS), with the government reimbursing private schools for their fees (up to a maximum of per-child spending in government schools). If public money is going to be used to fund private schools, we need to understand whether private schools are more (or less) effective than government schools after holding all other factors constant.

The Andhra Pradesh school choice project, a long-term research study covering more than 6,000 students in 180 villages for four years (2008-2012), was designed to precisely and credibly answer this question. (The study was carried out under my technical leadership by the Azim Premji Foundation in partnership with the government of Andhra Pradesh, with financial support from the Legatum Institute and the World Bank.) Under the project, we invited parents of children in rural government schools to apply for vouchers (scholarships) that would cover all the costs (fees, books, uniforms) for their children to go to any private school of their choice in the village. The project offered the voucher to two cohorts of students starting in class I and class II, and committed to providing the voucher till the completion of primary school (class V).

The key design feature that enabled a statistically valid comparison between government and private schools was that the scholarship was offered by lottery to a randomly selected subset of applicants. This lottery-based selection thus created a treatment group (those who got the vouchers) and a control group (those who did not)—who were identical, on average, on all other socio-economic characteristics and previous school experience except for winning the lottery. Thus, any differences in education outcomes between the treatment and control groups over time can be attributed purely to the change in schooling environment (made possible by the voucher) and will not be confounded by other factors.

What do private schools do differently?

We find that private school teachers have lower levels of education, training, and experience, and are paid much lower salaries (on average, less than one-sixth of government teacher salaries). However, they have much better measures of effort and time-on-task (lower rates of absence, more likely to be actively teaching and to be in control of the class, when measured during surprise visits to schools). Private schools also have a longer school day and year, significantly lower pupil-teacher ratios, and much lower rates of multi-grade teaching (the lower teacher salaries allow schools to hire significantly more teachers per student). Private schools are also more likely to have functioning toilets (for boys and girls) and scored better on measures of school sanitation and hygiene. Overall, we find that private schools are worse than government schools on input-based measures of teacher quality, but that they do much better on measures of teacher effort and active teaching.

Are private schools more effective?

In Telugu and Maths, we find that the lottery winners who went to private schools don’t perform any better than lottery losers. However, we also found that private schools spend much less instructional time on Telugu (40% less time) and Maths (32% less time), and use this extra time to teach more English, Science/Social Studies (EVS), and also Hindi as a third language (which is not taught in government schools). We find positive effects of vouchers on test scores on all of these subjects (large and significant for Hindi). Thus, adjusting for instructional time, we see that private schools are more productive as they are able to deliver equivalent outcomes as government schools on Telugu/Maths even with substantially less instructional time, and used the extra time to deliver better outcomes on other subjects (especially Hindi).

We also find suggestive evidence of important differences in impact by the medium of instruction of the private school attended. In particular, going to an English-medium private school led to worse scores on Telugu, Maths and EVS, but much better scores on English/Hindi (relative to staying in a government school). However, going to a Telugu-medium private school led to better outcomes on all subjects relative to staying in a government school (but less than English-medium schools in English/Hindi). These results suggest that switching the medium of instruction may hurt accumulation of content knowledge (Maths/EVS) for EWS students. This is consistent with evidence from cognitive neuroscience that first-generation learners are best off being taught in their native language (allowing for reinforcement at home), with English being taught as a subject. The results also suggest that private schools may be even more effective when the medium of instruction is not disrupted. These results, though, are only suggestive and a lot more research is needed in this area.

Finally, it is important to highlight that the average cost per student in private schools was only one-third of the per-child spending in government schools. Thus, even though private schools were not more “effective” in improving learning outcomes in the main subjects of Maths and Telugu, they were clearly more “productive” than government schools, delivering similar outcomes at a much lower cost per student.

Implications for policy

These results suggest that both sides of the public versus private debate need to exercise caution in their recommended policy approaches to improve education quality. Advocates of private schools need to confront the fact that the lottery-winners did not learn more in Maths and Telugu compared with the lottery-losers (suggesting that most of the observed differences between public and private schools reflect socio-economic factors). Given the abysmally low levels of overall literacy and numeracy, they also need to recognize that increasing the share of private-schooling, in its current form, is unlikely to solve India’s education quality problem. While private school teachers are clearly more accountable and work harder than their public school counterparts, it is possible that the binding constraint to education quality lies elsewhere—including a mismatch between the curriculum and student learning levels, and an education system that disproportionately values top-performing students and does not care about helping low-performing students to achieve functional literacy and numeracy and realize their full potential. These systemic pathologies afflict both public and private schools and an excessive focus on private schooling as a panacea may divert attention from fundamental issues of pedagogy and learning.

At the same time, the verdict on government schools is even worse. Empirical research on public education in India has clearly shown that increasing inputs (including teacher qualifications, training and salary) has had no impact on learning outcomes. So advocates of pouring more resources into government schools need to confront the fact that private schools are able to achieve equal or superior outcomes using teachers who are less qualified, and paid much less, suggesting that better management, and greater teacher accountability and effort can compensate for lower qualifications and salaries. In other words, private schools may have a pedagogy problem, but public schools have both a pedagogy problem and a governance problem.

Since private schools achieved equal or better outcomes at one-third the cost, the fundamental question that needs to be asked is, “How much better could private management do if they had three times their current level of per-child spending?” Thus, in addition to focusing on improving the effectiveness of government schools at the current level of spending, the results suggest policymakers should be open to experimenting with models of education provision with public funding (to ensure universal access) and private provision (for better school management).

Overall, policy discussions need to move away from debates of “public” versus “private” provision of education, which are (a) too simplistic because averages hide enormous variation within both public and private schools, and (b) not very useful because both systems are unlikely, in their current form, to deliver significant improvements in outcomes. Rather, the focus should be on the design of better education “systems” that aim to deliver superior outcomes by leveraging the strengths of both the public and the private sector while mitigating the weaknesses of the other. Clause 12 of the RTE provides the ideal context in which to have this discussion of education systems.

Karthik Muralidharan (author) is an assistant professor of economics at the University of California, San Diego.

This is the first of a two-part series.

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