A few months back, I pointed mutineers at a new book – The Beautiful Tree – which documented the surprising success of very low cost, unchartered, private schools in India. Although some charged as little as $1-$2 per child, per month and they solidly outperformed their government counterparts –
The results from Delhi were typical. In mathematics, mean scores of children in government schools were 24.5 percent, whereas they were 42.1 percent in private unrecognized schools and 43.9 percent in private recognized. That is, children in unrecognized private schools scored nearly 18 percentage points more in math than children in government schools (a 72 percent advantage!), while children in recognized private schools scored over 19 percentage points more than children in government schools (a 79 percent advantage).
In a blog post over at the ever-excellent Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok provides some detail on one of the reasons for the utterly poor government school performance, teacher absenteeism –
Spot checks by the World Bank, for example, indicate that on a typical day 11% of teachers are absent in Peru, 16% are absent in Bangladesh, 27% in Uganda and 25% in India.
Even when teachers are present they are often not teaching. In India, where a quarter of the teachers are absent on any particular day, only about half of those present are actually teaching.
p>The reason they are able to get away with this is a, uh, textbook case of public choice economics — when teacher’s paychecks are determined by bureaucrats and politicians, their energy shifts from teaching towards politicking & lobbying –
The problem is not low salaries. Salaries for public school teachers in India are above the norm for that country.
…Teachers are literate and they vote so they are a powerful political force especially where teacher unions are strong. As if this were not enough, in India, the teachers have historically had a guarantee of representation in the state Legislative Councils so political power has often flowed to teachers far in excess of their numbers. As a result, it’s virtually impossible to fire a teacher for absenteeism.
p>For comparison, private teacher salaries clock in at “one-fifth to one-tenth of government salary levels.”
p>Still, I’d argue that the real secret to private school success isn’t simply the lower cost, it’s the local accountability and competition that’s intrinsic to parents directly purchasing services from local, entrepreneurially run schools.