Book Review: Really Good Schools

“James Tooley has taken his argument about the transformative power of low-cost private education to a new and revelatory level in Really Good Schools. This is a bold and inspiring manifesto for a global revolution in education.”
Niall C. Ferguson, Milbank Family Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University Almost overnight a virus has brought into question America’s nearly 200-year-old government-run K-12 school system—and prompted an urgent search for alternatives. But where should we turn to find them?

Enter James Tooley’s Really Good Schools.

A distinguished scholar of education and the world’s foremost expert on private, low-cost innovative education, Tooley takes readers to some of the world’s most impoverished communities located in some of the world’s most dangerous places—including such war-torn countries as Sierra Leone, Liberia, and South Sudan. 

And there, in places where education “experts” fear to tread, Tooley finds thriving private schools that government, multinational NGOs, and even international charity officials deny exist. 


Because the very existence of low-cost, high-quality private schools shatters the prevailing myth in the U.S., U.K., and western Europe that, absent government, affordable, high-quality schools for the poor could not exist.
But they do. And they are ubiquitous and in high demand. Founded by unheralded, local educational entrepreneurs, these schools are proving that self-organized education is not just possible but flourishing—often enrolling far more students than “free” government schools do at prices within reach of even the most impoverished families.

In the course of his analysis Tooley asks the key questions:

  • What proportion of poor children is served?
  • How good are the private schools? 
  • What are the business models for these schools? 
  • And can they be replicated and improved?

The evidence is in. In poor urban and rural areas around the world, children in low-cost private schools outperform those in government schools. And the schools do so for a fraction of the per-pupil cost.

Thanks to the pandemic, parents in America and Europe are discovering that the education of their children is indeed possible—and likely far better—without government meddling with rigid seat-time mandates, outdated school calendars, absurd age-driven grade levels, and worse testing regimes. And having experienced the first fruits of educational freedom, parents will be increasingly open to the possibilities of ever-greater educational entrepreneurship and innovation. 

Thankfully, they have Really Good Schools to show the way. “In the fascinating and provocative book, Really Good Schools, James Tooley applies his immense learning about low-cost, entirely-private schools around the world to develop a daring and truly thought-provoking proposal along those lines for the United States. . . . Check it out.”
Chester E. Finn Jr., Distinguished Senior Fellow and President Emeritus, Thomas B. Fordham Institute; former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education

“His pathbreaking and superbly written book, Really Good Schools, provides the essential understanding of how low-cost, private schools extend access to high quality education for the poor. . . . This makes Really Good Schools utterly essential reading!”
Sir Anthony F. Seldon, former Vice Chancellor, Buckingham University; Co-Founder, Institute for Contemporary British History James Tooley is Vice Chancellor (President) of the University of Buckingham in England, where he also serves as Professor of Educational Entrepreneurship and Policy, and is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute. He was formerly Director of the E. G. West Centre and Professor of Education Policy at Newcastle University upon Tyre, and temporarily Global Head of Low Cost Schools for GEMS Education. He received his Ph.D. in education from the University of London, and he has previously taught and researched at the Universities of Oxford and Manchester, Simon Fraser University, and University of the Western Cape, South Africa.

Landmark school choice law covers 90% of the students in one state

Karma is coming calling for the disgraceful teachers’ unions that have kept children from attending school for a year in much of the country. Successfully shaking down the federal government for nine figures’ worth of additional funding, they have ignored the science that says young children are at almost no risk from COVID. The cost to children and to the nation is unfathomable, with child suicides soaring and the future ability to function in a complex technological society impaired for a generation of future citizens.

It is my fervent hope that the selfishness, greed, and indifference to the welfare of children of the unions will finally break the monopoly of government school bureaucracies and see parents free to use taxpayer funding for the education of their children at any school of their choice. Let the bloated, inefficient bureaucracies of the government schools compete with focused, efficient private schools — existing and yet to be founded — that are not tied to lowest common denominator standards and not force-feeding left wing hate-America garbage like the 1619 Project.

The first such victory just happened…in West Virginia. And surprise, surprise, there is so far very little media attention. However, Jayne Metzgar of The Federalist covers the big news:

Last week, with very little noise or fanfare, the West Virginia legislature passed the most expansive Education Savings Account program in America. While ESAs in most states are only open to a small percentage of children, the new West Virginia Hope Scholarship will be available to 90 percent of schoolchildren in the state. Every child currently enrolled in public school is eligible, plus those newly aging in.

“It’s a game-changer,” says Garrett Ballengee of the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy, a conservative think tank and proponent of the bill. “If you add up every single ESA utilizer in the rest of the country, there are only about 20,000 of them. The Hope Scholarship will automatically open it up to ten times that many children in West Virginia alone.”
Applicants for the Hope Scholarship will receive 100 percent of their state education dollars — $4,600 annually — in lieu of public schooling. (County and federal funds will remain in the system.) The scholarship is usable for private school tuition, homeschool curriculum, or other education expenses. Gov. Jim Justice, a vocal opponent of ESAs as recently as 2019, has signaled he’s likely to sign.

There is an interesting history to the choice battle in West Virginia, which Metzgar covers. Previous efforts at choice legislation had been stymied by the power of unions. But the teachers’ unions overplayed their hand, including brief strikes closing down the schools, a tactic that is meaningless during COVID shutdowns.

I’ve seen estimates that thanks to the school shutdowns, over 11% of families are now homeschooling, more than doubling the previous share of homeschoolers. That’s a significant constituency, and now that teachers have lost much of the public affection they had previously enjoyed, an activist base can push for similar laws in other states, starting with the reddest among them.

In addition, in West Virginia, acting locally, parents can organize and demand that local funding going to government schools be made available for choice at private schools. It’s going to be hard for local politicians, face-to-face with parents at school board and town council meetings, to defend a monopoly for the teachers who have abandoned the children for a year, despite no scientific reason to do so. Parents forced to give up jobs and turn their lives upside-down to take care of kids no longer in schools are not going to listen to pap about protecting the public schools.

Once that local funding becomes available, watch for a massive defection from the government indoctrination camps, starting in West Virginia. Many of the best teachers would gladly flee the inflexible and arrogant bureaucracies that characterize government school systems, where holders of “doctor of education” (Ed.D. degrees like the one “Dr. Jill Biden” holds) earn large six-figure salaries making rules for the classroom teachers.

Once put on an equal financial footing with the failing government schools, focused, efficient private schools can outperform them on practically every metric.

Free the children from grip of greedy, self-interested government bureaucrats and their union co-conspirators in the destruction of our children’s future.

American Thinker