World Bank Touts Public-Private Partnerships in Education

I’d like to belatedly recommend a useful report released by the World Bank in April decribing how public-private partnerships are being used around the world to develop school facilities and education programs and boost education access, equity, and student learning. From the press release:

According to the new report�The Role and Impact of Public-Private Partnerships in Education�these public-private partnerships (PPPs) are being used progressively more to boost education access, equity, and student learning.

“Governments in both developed and developing countries are seeking to leverage the capacity and expertise of the private sector in education and forge these public/private partnerships that make education spending go further, especially during these times of economic crisis,” says Beth King, the World Bank’s Director for Education. “In some OECD countries, more than 20 percent of public expenditures are now being transferred to private education institutions, while a number of developing countries also subsidize private schools via teacher salaries and textbooks or per-pupil grants.” […]

The new report specifically examines those public-private partnerships in which developing country governments drive national education policy and provide the subsequent financing, while turning to private sector organizations to deliver education services under contract. Such contracts typically specify the quantity and quality of education services to be delivered, establish an agreed price and term, and feature both performance rewards and non-performance sanctions.

The Role and Impact of Public-Private Partnerships in Education finds that:

  • Publicly funded private schools are providing high-quality, low-cost education. In certain studies, the educational achievements of students in these schools have been higher than those of students in publicly-operated schools.
  • Enrollments in private education institutions has grown enormously over the past 15 years. Between 1991 and 2004, enrollment in private primary schools grew by 58 percent, compared to only 10 percent in public primary schools. Globally, approximately 113 million students are currently enrolled in non-government schools, 51 million of which are studying at the secondary level.
  • More than 90 education public-private partnership programs exist in 50 countries around the world. These programs serve both high- and low-income families OECD countries spend an average of 12 percent of their education budgets on privately managed education institutions.
  • In the Netherlands, all education is publicly financed—including the private schools in which more than two-thirds of all Dutch students are enrolled.
  • Colombia uses a number of different types of public-private education partnerships. Its targeted voucher program, for example, provides places in private secondary schools for more than 100,000 students from poor families. In Bogotá, 25 concession schools are being managed by private operations on 15 year contracts. These public schools have been granted autonomy and a per-pupil payment by the government.
  • In Bangladesh, the Non-Formal Primary Education Program of the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) reaches over 1 million poor children. Launched in 1985 with 22 one-room schools; by 2007 it was serving more than 1.5 million children in more than 20,000 preprimary and 32,000 primary schools. Together, these schools account for 11 percent of all primary school children in the country.

There is growing evidence to suggest that contracting the private sector to deliver education has benefits, including greater efficiency, increased choice, and wider access. The latter finding particularly holds for households that have been poorly served by traditional delivery mechanisms. According to report co-author Harry Patrinos, “In general, private management of public schools can be efficient and can yield improved academic performance. Despite being controversial, vouchers have also been found to improve academic outcomes, especially for the poor.”

The full World Bank study is available here. Given the widespread state and local fiscal woes and the growing recognition that public education in the U.S. is failing to keep pace with our peers in the increasingly competitive global economy, there are a number of lessons within the WB report that U.S. school systems could stand to learn from.

For more on the current state of public-private partnerships, charter schools and education reform in the U.S., see the Education and Child Welfare update in Reason Foundation’s Annual Privatization Report 2009.

Reason Foundation’s Education Research and Commentary