The post below is by guest blogger Mike Goldstein.
Disclosure first: from 2013 to 2016 I served as chief academic officer at Bridge International Academies, which operates elementary schools in Africa and India. I still volunteer there, as an advisor and “host parent” for some Bridge alumni who’ve won full scholarships to American boarding schools. So please take my views with a grain of salt.
That said, I thought Nicholas Kristof said it well last month in the NY Times:
<<I understand critics’ fears (and share some about for-profit schools in the U.S.). They see handing schools over to Bridge as dismantling the public education system — one of the best ideas in human history — for private profit.
But I’ve followed Bridge for years, my wife and I wrote about it in our last book, and the concerns are misplaced. Bridge has always lost money, so no one is monetizing children. In fact, it’s a start-up that tackles a social problem in ways similar to a nonprofit, but with for-profit status that makes it more sustainable and scalable.
More broadly, the world has failed children in poor countries. There have been global campaigns to get more children in school, but that isn’t enough. The crucial metric isn’t children attending school, but children learning in school.
Here in Liberia in the village of Boegeezay in Rivercess County, I dropped in on a regular public school that officially had 16 teachers assigned to it. Initially, I saw four; a couple more trickled in hours later.
…In contrast, the Bridge schools I visited were functional. The teachers can themselves read. School begins on time, at 7:30 a.m., and continues until 3:30 instead of letting out around noon, as at many government-run schools. And students have books.>>
In the USA, there’s a healthy debate about traditional schools versus choice/charters/vouchers/reform. One aspect: to the consternation of some reformers, many American parents are satisfied with THEIR nearby public school, even with low academic results.
In my experience, though, that is not typically true with Liberian parents. The typical family craves a different option.
Some years ago, after RCTs showed that KIPP kids indeed had large achievement gains, when controlling for who attended, the AFT Shanker Institute blog conceded that KIPP was perhaps a good thing, and wondered what might be learned from those schools.
My hope is that if similar RCTs show large gains for Bridge kids, that the debate similarly shifts. We shall see.
More backstory on the politics here.