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School Choice and Academic Performance: Some Evidence From Developing Countries
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Professor James Tooley
Professor Pauline Dixon
Tooley J, Bao Y, Dixon P, Merrifield J
Journal of School Choice: International Research and Reform
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There is widespread concern about differences in the quality of state-run and private schooling. The concerns are especially severe in the numerous developing countries where much of the population has left state-provided schooling for private schooling, including many private schools not recognized by the government. The fees charged by the private schools serving the poor are quite low and they seem to yield better results, but many analysts dispute and insist that private sector quality is unacceptable, and that the only route to universal access to quality schooling is increased investment in state-run provision. Because those claims and counterclaims have seen little scientifically rigorous evidence to support them, this article analyzes data from schools serving the very poor in randomly selected schools in Lagos, Nigeria; Delhi, India; and Hyderabad, India to compare the performance of unrecognized private schools, state-recognized private schools, and zero-tuition, state-run schools. The authors' econometric analysis, which controls for socioeconomic factors and selection bias, shows that children enrolled in private schools significantly outperform children enrolled in the state-run schools despite much greater teacher salary expenditures in the latter. The recognized schools do not consistently fare better than the unrecognized schools. Given those results, and chronic frustration with efforts to improve state-run schools, reform advocates should consider shifting their focus to improvement of private schools, and expand access to them.
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