NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Education Reforms Work In Brazil

February 17, 1998

The success of administrative reforms in education in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais should be of particular interest to American parents fed up with poor public school performance.

As of 1991, the Minas Gerais school system was in a shambles:

  • Some 61 percent of students who began school at age 7 never completed the eighth grade.
  • The 39 percent who did graduate repeated an average of four grades, and only 3 percent of all students were able to finish eighth grade without repeating a grade.

When the state's education minister proposed reforms including massive decentralization of the bureaucracy, as well as empowering parents in local school governance, teachers went on an 83-day strike. The teachers lost.

The education minister increased spending, set an annual budget allowance for each school, and granted them autonomy in administrative and curriculum matters. Perhaps most importantly, he set up a local board of parents, teachers and students over the age of 14 to govern each school.

  • Only teachers, not civil servants, may apply for the job of principal, and applicants must take a written test -- one of the most contested points in the teachers' strike.
  • Each applicant who passes the written test then must make an oral presentation to the parents on how he or she intends to manage the school.
  • The parents then vote on which candidate is best and extend the new principal a three-year mandate.

The results in Minas Gerais "have been outstanding," according to a World Bank observer. Since 1992, math scores have more than doubled, and eighth grade graduation rates have climbed 47 percent. The number of primary school graduates going on to secondary school has more than doubled since 1991.

Source: Mary Anastasia O'Grady, "A Brazilian State Shows How to Reform Schools," Wall Street Journal, August 15, 1997.


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