Are Bad Public Schools Public “Bads”? Test Scores and Civic Values in Public and Private Schools1

Type Report
Title Are Bad Public Schools Public “Bads”? Test Scores and Civic Values in Public and Private Schools1
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2010
Enrollments in private schools have exploded in many low-income countries during the last decade and now exceed 20 percent of primary enrollments in countries like India and Pakistan. The majority of these schools are small-scale, low cost enterprises that effectively do not face any regulatory oversight or receive any government subsidies. This key feature offers a unique opportunity to evaluate the outcomes benefits (or lack thereof), not of vouchers or public support, but of a pure market model of educational provision. We combine data on household and school locations with test-scores from Pakistan to provide instrumental variables estimates of public-private differences in test-scores and civic values. Since tests were administered by the research team in strictly controlled conditions, we are able to rule out the possibility of cheating. Our instrumental variables estimates show that test-scores of equivalent children in private schools are 0.8 to 1 standard deviation higher (depending on the subject) than those of their public school counterparts. Furthermore, and surprisingly, children in private schools also have better civic skills; they are better informed about Pakistan, more "pro-democratic," and exhibit lower gender biases. Finally, the cost of educating a child in a private school is 40 percent lower than in a government school without factoring in administrative costs. This cost saving is equivalent to 5 percent of total village consumption expenditures in the sample. Adding in administrative costs could inflate the cost difference 2 times or more. These results argue for a reassessment of the fundamental model of education delivery in low-income settings, where governance and accountability problems in public schools are common.

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