School failure is greater in state-run schools - IDESA

Report Nº: 80021/03/2019

School failure is greater in state-run schools

The APRENDER 2017 tests show that state-run schools have worse results than private schools. This implies that poor people have access to an education of lower quality. Improving the management of state-run schools and methods of financing public education could prevent this serious social inequality. The teacher unions, accompanied by political leaders and social research […]

The teacher unions, accompanied by political leaders and social research centers, insistently demand increases of the investment in education. In the current context of recession and fiscal crisis, the proposal is extremely difficult to implement. But its weakest point is that it overlooks that investment in education has grown considerably in the last decade. Currently it ranges between 5% and 6% of GDP, a comparable level in relative terms to advanced countries. In parallel, these demands –focused on pressing for more public funds– systematically evade the analysis of how the education system is financed and administered and, consequently, what its results are.

According to the statistics of the National Ministry of Education, of every 100 young people who start high school, only 40 finish it timely. Another 10 finish it late. That half of young people do not finish high school is a very frustrating result in terms of school retention.

On the quality side, data from the APRENDER 2017 tests were recently disseminated, which allows to measure the knowledge acquired by the other half of the young people who manage to finish high school. According to this source, it is observed that:

  • In language, 46% of young people in state-run schools do not reach the satisfactory level, while in private schools, 22% do not achieve it.
  • In mathematics, 78% of young people in state-run schools do not reach the satisfactory level, while in private schools 53% do not reach it.
  • 90% of youth of low socioeconomic status go to state-run schools.

These data show that quality of basic education is generally low and with broad differences according to the type of school. In state-run schools, half of high school graduates have reading limitations and 8 out of 10 do not master maths. In private schools a reasonable performance in language and better in mathematics is observed, although they are not saved from mediocrity. These differences have very negative social consequences since 90% of vulnerable youth go to state-run schools. In other words, the visible performance gap between state-run and private schools reproduces and deepens the social gaps.

Part of the difference in the results is explained by the fact that private schools tend to specialize in children and young people of medium and high socioeconomic levels who live in less adverse contexts than poor children. But another very important factor is the difference in management rules. A private school director can hire, fire, evaluate and reward their teachers, in addition to having better infrastructure and educational kits, while the directors of state-run schools are subject to rigid and bureaucratic rules of public management that induce and reward mediocrity among teachers.

State-run schools are not going to improve with more resources but by changing management rules and the methods of educational financing. In management, it is very important that the directors become professional and have the possibility of managing the human and physical resources to be responsible for their results. In financing, complementary to the above, low-income families must be given the freedom to opt for a private school with state funding. This could be implemented with vouchers granted to the low income families so they can choose a private school, if they want, and the state will pay the fees upon delivery of the voucher. This scheme is used in countries with different cultures, such as Sweden and Chile, with educational results that are a lot better than the ones Argentina is showing.

The National Ministry of Education can help educational quality. Maintaining the evaluations –for example the APRENDER tests– and providing technical assistance. But what definitely goes against educational quality are the federal programs that interfere in local functions, such as those destined to construction and repairs of schools and the provision of school equipment with federal funds, because they induce inefficiency, neglect and dilution of responsibilities at the local level.


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