Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Private Schools Bring Accountability to Education

In a recent blog I noted the rise of private "cram schools" in New York, for which even poor families were sacrificing to get a better education for their children. I had mentioned that this phenomenon had gained serious momentum in India and some parts of Africa, and now here’s an article from the Oct. 29 Financial Times with the details: "Private schools can bring education for all".

James Tooley, professor of education policy at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, writes:

"What is the main advantage that private education has over state schools? The Probe Report put it succinctly: accountability. The private schools, the report said, were successful because they were more accountable: ‘the teachers are accountable to the manager (who can fire them), and, through him or her, to the parents (who can withdraw their children)’. Such accountability was not present in the government schools, and ‘this contrast is perceived with crystal clarity by the vast majority of parents’."

For more on Tooley’s work and that of the E.G. West Centre, which Tooley directs, see
their website
. Vouchers anyone?

Discussions - 1 Comment

Crammer schools’ accountability was mostly on target, but one important piece was not mentioned, at least in the excerpt: the investment of the clients -- parent and child. Already possessed of a vision of achievement leading to parting with some cold cash, the parent comes to the table definitely outcome-oriented, and will support and otherwise strongly encourage his child to be more than a passive learner. This writer currently teaches in a California public school, and I am often struck by the absence of mention of this component in discussions of vouchers, charters etc. Although a member of the teachers union (California is a closed shop state) I cannot say that I feel threatened by vouchers, and I can certainly understand the desperation of parents whose children are assigned by geography to poor academic environments. Once again, however, an extremely important ingredient in charter and voucher school successes is the investment of the clients. Those schools select for the caring parent. Public schools are forced to accept students dropped off for processing, as it were, with almost no home support for active learning. You might be surprised to know how many public school teachers are out there longing for classic subject matter, for discipline and order, for an environment in which we could actually teach those subjects in which we trained ... As for teacher accountability, most good teachers, after all, teach well not in obedience to their administrators but out of the strong moral and intellectual pleasure in excellence. As actors bloom with a good audience, we teachers are inspired and ultimately best-rewarded by our students’ desire to acquire more knowledge. And as for the fortunate students whose parents are able to place them in enriched circumstances, the objective quality of the school pales beside the gift they already have -- parents who have got the big picture, that education is the story of the questing hound, not the force-fed goose.

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