Public-private partnerships are being increasingly supported and advocated for, ideologically and financially, as an approach to educational reform in many countries across the world. Proponents suggest that non-state involvement in the education sector has the potential to bolster international Education for All efforts, improve school governance, increase accountability to students and parents, and improve student cognitive outcomes at a lower cost than providing all basic education services through the state.
Although the political support for these partnerships from various financial institutions and reform advocates is extensive, empirical evidence investigating achievement and equity impacts on students is greatly lacking. This dissertation adds a much-needed empirical voice to the debate. I perform a quasi-experimental examination of state education finance and provision practices across 17 countries using data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009.
Using methods of propensity score matching to reduce the private sector selection bias and hierarchical linear modeling to estimate effects, accounting for a nested data structure, I investigate differences in student cognitive outcomes and equity between public and private education sectors. The work addresses three primary questions: (i) to what extent do students in publicly-funded private schools perform differently than students in public schools?, (ii) to what extent is student socioeconomic status associated with achievement differences?, and (iii) to what extent does student achievement depend upon the school-level characteristics of choice, competition, autonomy, and accountability? This third question deals with a prominent model for engaging the private sector in education, seeking to explain effective education provision through these four key criteria, which are theorized to improve student learning outcomes.
The findings of this study somewhat contradict much of what is currently understood about public-private partnerships in education. Much of the current research shows that public-private partnerships have small performance advantages over traditional public schools. The results of this quasi-experimental empirical assessment provide evidence that, holding student and school socioeconomic indicators constant, students in public schools in a number of countries outperform students in publicly-funded private schools. Where these differences occurred, however, they were small, and in the majority of cases there was no difference in performance between public and private schools.
In terms of student performance, I find no evidence of systemic inequity in either school sector. That is, low-income students appear to perform at equal levels in public and publicly-funded private schools. However, there is broad cross-country evidence of social discrimination in private sector school access. Enrollment in a private dependent school is associated with higher student socioeconomic status in 13 of 17 countries and publicly-funded private schools are more likely to discriminate in admissions by student academic ability.
Keeping these equity findings in mind, I assert that government policy can be used to mitigate inequalities of opportunity through access to public and private school services. This notion entails a more modern view of the state, in which government is not recognized as sole education provider but assumes a larger supervisory capacity focused on regulating learning and guaranteeing equitable educational opportunity.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. April 2013. Major: Educational Policy and Administration. Advisor: Dr. David W. Chapman. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 188 pages, appendix p. 186-188.
Baum, Donald Rey.
Cross-national impacts of public-private partnerships on equitable student achievement: a quasi-experimental assessment using PISA 2009.
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