In the past year, public education in America has been placed under scrutiny like never before. Millions of dissatisfied parents throughout the country have protested, filed lawsuits, crowded school board meetings, and expressed their frustrations with a public education system that has overwhelmingly failed in delivering the adequate instruction they demand for their children. But what can parents and citizens do to change it?
Dr. James Tooley is the world’s leading expert on low-cost private education and in his most recent book, “Really Good Schools: Global Lessons for High-Caliber, Low-Cost Education,” he provides a manifesto on how to build innovative and affordable private schools free from government control. Using his two decades of experience researching education in developing and war-torn countries from Africa to India, Tooley is able to persuade his readers of the advantages of low-cost private schools compared to schools operated and funded by the government. He explains:
Low-cost private schools offer a route to providing educational opportunities for all. A spontaneously arising education system that is ubiquitous, sustainable, and scalable, of higher quality than the alternatives, the preferred choice of parents, fair to girls (and disadvantaged students), and affordable to the poor, cannot be diminished.
Tooley’s low-cost private schools are not to be confused with the type of “school choice” proposals such as charter schools and voucher programs, which he argues have found limited success serving only about 7% of kids in America. Rather, his version of a low-cost private school operates completely outside of the state—independent of government funding—free from top-down central planning and constraints. What he calls “educational freedom” or “education by the people, for the people.”
Readers may be skeptical of Tooley’s unfettered, free-market driven approach, yet he meticulously addresses his criticisms whether they’d be from the likes of teachers unions or Charles Murray. Further, Tooley explains how the types of schools we desire are unattainable and unscalable under our current government-operated framework. Traditional public schools are crippled by bureaucracy and unions, whereas school choice options that do offer hints of innovation face their own set of government obstacles restricting their growth. Therefore, the only viable option Tooley envisions is to ”reclaim education from the state, to arrive at true educational emancipation.”
Through his thoughtful reasoning and rigorous evidence, Tooley is able to leave his readers with all certainty that if thousands of quality, low-cost private schools can be built in impoverished areas such as Hyderabad, India and Monrovia, Liberia, then the same can be done in America. As our nation looks to solve our educational crisis the only way they know how—by spending billions—Tooley gives us a better alternative for a fraction of the cost. He even offers a detailed model of what it could actually look like in Philadelphia and evaluates which cities throughout our country that would be most friendly to the creation of these schools.
For those unsatisfied with the current state of education and unimpressed watching their children’s zoom classes—Tooley offers a playbook for how to create something better. No matter what kind of school you imagine would best serve our students of the future, in Tooley’s writing you will find the research and development, blueprint, and inspiration needed to build your school brick by brick.
The lessons in “Really Good Schools” could not be any more timely in a day and age when parent dissatisfaction with their children’s schooling could not be higher. To anyone motivated to disrupt the current education model and provide parents with an alternative to the public school system that has failed us in the past year—this book is your call to action.