A growing number of students in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are enrolled in private primary or secondary schools. The World Development Report 2018 (on which I was a co-author) highlighted an array of potential benefits and risks associated with broad provision of basic education by the private sector. “The key challenge for policy makers is to develop a policy and regulatory framework that ensures access for all children, protects families from exploitation, and establishes an environment that encourages education innovation. Managing a regulatory framework to achieve this is difficult: the same technical and political barriers that education systems face more generally come into play.”
This is the thirteenth in our series of posts by students on the job market this year.
A standard result in industrial organization is that competition increases consumer welfare by incentivizing firms to lower prices and increase quality. Yet, education may be very different since: (1) a child’s learning depends on the match between the child and the school and (2) not all children are equally responsive to their learning in a school when they make enrollment decisions. Once these conditions are explicitly modelled, under plausible assumptions, an increase in competition can lead schools to increase their focus on wealthy, high ability children at the expense of poorer children. In my job market paper, I formalize this intuition and then combine a structural model of school choice with quasi-experimental results to show that increasing competition in a schooling market increases inequality in test-score gains by 0.1 standard deviations.
The posts are getting longer, so it’s probably a good time to call a halt, but at least you had the weekend to read Kevin Watkins‘ response to Justin Sandefur on private v public education provision. If you have even more time, it’s worth reading (and relishing) the whole exchange: Justin post 1; Kevin post 1; Justin post 2 and now this.
Thank you for the response. I’d also like to thank Duncan for setting up the discussion, along with the many people, on both sides of the debate, who have contributed their ideas and experiences. Whatever our differences, I think all of us share a conviction that decent quality education has the power to transform lives, expand opportunities, and break the cycle of poverty. There is no greater cause, or more important international development challenge, than delivering on the promise of decent quality education for all children.
Everyone enjoyed last week’s arm-wrestle on public v private education, so in a titanic struggle for the last word, Justin Sandefur (right, in the private corner) and Kevin Watkins (in the public one) are back for another go. Seconds out, round two…..
Thanks for your reply. You are of course quite right that I wear a Pearson corporation logo on a chain around my neck to ward off evil spirits, I can’t stand (or understand) solutions with multiple steps and regularly visit my local medium to have a chat with the sadly departed Milton Friedman. But despite all that, I want to contend that we agree on almost all the necessary ingredients for a constructive policy discussion. I’ll end with where I think our core disagreements are.
After reciting the familiar evidence on the learning achievement problems in poor countries, Justin Sandefur offers an even more familiar ‘one-stop’ solution – a market-based fix, with low-fee private schools, vouchers, and the apparently talismanic Pearson corporation leading the way to a better, smarter future. It seems that only for-profit school providers and corporate entrepreneurs know the secret of raising education standards of marginalized kids in poor countries, and that public provision is part of the problem rather than part of a potential solution.
Nothing in the research cited by Justin makes the case for his prescriptions. Let’s start by being clear about our differences.
Public v Private provision of education is a hot and divisive topic. So let’s get started. Today, CGD’s Justin Sandefur (right) puts the case for private. Tomorrow Kevin Watkins of the Brookings Institution responds. Be warned, their posts are pretty long and very passionate. Fasten seatbelts please:
While traveling in Pakistan a couple weeks ago, I took advantage of a brief flicker of electricity to check my twitter feed, and found this from Duncan.
After years of watching broken public school systems fail to educate their children, parents in Pakistan and many other parts of the developing world have taken matters into their own hands. Low-cost private schools are growing by leaps and bounds, especially in rural areas. The number of private schools grew by nearly ten-fold in Pakistan from 1983 to 2000, reaching about 35% of public enrollment, doubled in India from 1993 to 2003, and tripled their enrollment share in Kenya from 1997 to 2006 — at the same time fees were abolished in Kenyan public schools!