Concession schools are a model which has produced a lot of criticism, especially from teachers, who disagree with the Bogotá School District to submit a right, such as education, to private institutions to manage public funds. In Bogotá, 34,000 students go to concession schools, (4% of Bogotá students).
Although previous studies have provided positive results regarding the quality of the model, a group of researchers of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal) Urban Studies Institute (IEU, for its Spanish acronym) –formed by human sciences, educators and economists– focused on identifying the elements which influence these results.
The main conclusion is that an all-day or complementary school schedule has been a determining factor for better academic results. This means students spend more time at school (from 7 am to 3 pm), and this is how the concession model was first implemented in Bogotá, in 1999.
The IEU study was carried out during a year and compared 22 concession schools with the same number of public schools which do not operate under the same model. For this, they worked with people of similar characteristics and economic condition, school size, and school closeness. The totals were:
The goal of the research project was to assess the impact of the school’s student achievements and the operation of the school. Using methodological tools such as the results of the Saber (knowledge) and Ser (citizen competences) and applying their own test to selected students and focus groups, the researchers obtained results such as that year-end approval rate in concession schools was 94%, and 86% in public schools.
Professor and Co-director of the study, Edna Cristina Bonilla Sebá said, “We discovered that concession schools have greater support for students; if the students are having bad results they receive support, while this support is inexistent in public schools”.
Regarding school desertion, a structural aspect of the program at any school; the study says that concession schools have an average desertion of 0.47%; whole public schools have 4%.
All with respect to access to higher education, again concession schools (49%) have greater numbers of alumni entering universities than public schools (40%).
More time at school means better citizen education
Spending more time at school also allows having better results in citizen competencies, cohabitation, and school environment, that those in the public school system.
In order to measure citizen competencies, they applied a test asking children if they knew what was a Citizen Supervisor, which were the participation mechanisms or if they had any idea what a Mayor did.
Furthermore, they asked if they knew anything about recycling or if they knew what street signs were for and other aspects which allowed them to become cognizant of how good citizens they were.
The result was 0.54 of an evaluation between 0 and 1. In other words, children in concession schools have an average knowledge of citizenship, and also higher than in public schools. “If the school schedule is extended the gap will surely close,” say the researchers.
Although Bogotá invests double the funds in education than the rest of the country, it still lags when compared to Latin America and the world. While Bogotá allocates US $1,136 per student a year, Chile allocates US $3,000 and Luxemburg US $17,000 per child/a year.
Greater independence for principals
Another thing which favors quality and concession school achievements is the manner in which they are managed: Bureaucracy seems most prevalent in public schools.
For instance, replacing a retiring teacher in a public school can take days while the School District appoints a new teacher, while in the concession school it can take just a few days.
“Some public school principals complain that to change a light bulb they need to ask the school district.” The study concludes, “The independence of concession schools, as well as decision making, and school management, favors quality and achievement, so the proposal is for public schools to have greater decision margins.
Convergence between public and concession schools
Bonilla highlights on the need to reduce the gap between concession and public schools, so the successes of the former can be applied to the latter. However, she has doubts over this confluence.
“There is no clear evidence of confluence between them, although the ideal scenario is for this gap to close. However, they noted that the gap is greater during the first years of school and closes in the last years of high school.
The disadvantage of concession schools
The occupational situation of teachers in this school model is its main disadvantage. There is a large turnover of teachers as they are hired for only 10 months a year and the salaries are lower, as opposed to public schools where teachers are hired indefinitely.
Other research projects criticize the religious character of some of the schools, as in the last bid allotted in December of 2016, 14 of 22 schools were assigned to religious communities.
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