NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 1, 2006

For many years, school choice programs have been at the center of the education reform debate and many Americans are now convinced that the education of disadvantaged children would suffer if the government did not run schools and if poor parents were allowed to make choices, says Andrew Coulson of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

However, according to studies of impoverished villages and urban slums in India, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya, school choice programs are actually beneficial, says Coulson.

  • On average, 75 percent of the students in these areas attend tuition-charging private schools.
  • More than one out of every six private school students pay less than full tuition and one in 14 attends private school for free.
  • These private schools spend far less per pupil (their teachers' salaries are roughly one-third of those in the public sector), but the schools usually enjoy lower rates of teacher absenteeism and comparable facilities and teacher satisfaction.
  • Most importantly, the private schools significantly outperform their government-school counterparts academically -- even after controlling for differences in student characteristics between the two sectors.

These results are consistent with U.S. education research that finds that inexpensive private schools serving the poor in the United States produce achievement and graduation rates that at least equal, and usually surpass, those of the highest-spending neighborhood public schools, says Coulson.

Moreover, all those concerned with improving the state of American education should feel compelled to expand access to independent schools by the most effective means possible, including the use of education tax credits; if we do so, we will begin to catch up with the generosity already on display in the Third World, says Coulson.

Source: Andrew J. Coulson, "'Poor Choices' Yield Better Education," Viewpoint on Public Policy, no. 2005-29, October 3, 2005.

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