by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education
Several months ago, we described how PISA results show that, when it comes to the question of private versus public schooling, it’s the students who make the school. Both private schools and public schools with student populations from socio-economically advantaged backgrounds benefit the individual students who attend them. But PISA results also showed that there is no evidence to suggest that the proportion of private schools in a country, in and of itself, is associated with higher performance of the school system as a whole.
In most PISA-participating countries and economies, the average socio-economic background of students who attend privately managed schools is more advantaged than that of those who attend public schools. The PISA team wanted to find out why some school systems seem to be better than others at minimising the socio-economic differences that are often apparent between publicly and privately managed schools.
The team’s findings have just been published in Public and Private Schools: How Management and Funding Relate to their Socio-economic Profile. What the team found out is that the prevalence of privately managed schools in a country is not related to greater or lesser degrees of difference between the socio-economic profiles of public and private schools; but the level of public funding to privately managed schools is.
There are many ways of providing public funding to privately managed schools. One of these is through vouchers and tuition tax credits, which assist parents directly. If school vouchers are available for all students, they could help to expand the choice of schools available to parents and promote competition among schools. School vouchers that target only disadvantaged students can make admission to schools more equitable, which ultimately has an impact on the prospects in life for all children and contributes to social cohesion; but they have a limited effect on expanding school choice and promoting competition among schools overall. When researchers analysed data from PISA 2009, they found that school systems that offer vouchers to all students tend to have twice the degree of socio-economic differences between publicly and privately managed schools as systems that offer vouchers only to disadvantaged students.
Crucially, the results also show that those countries that have smaller socio-economic differences between publicly and privately managed schools also tend to show better overall student performance. That means that policy makers—and ultimately parents and students—do not have to choose between equity/social cohesion and strong performance in their school systems. The two are not mutually exclusive.
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