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Really Good Schools
Global Lessons for High-Caliber, Low-Cost Education
James Tooley (Author)
List Price: $29.95
Price: $25.50
Discount: $4.45 (Save 15%)

You may pre-order this title now and we will ship it to you when it is available.
James Tooley (Author)

Hardcover • 424 pages • 15 figures • 16 tables • 6 x 9 inches • Index

ISBN-13: 978-1-59813-338-7

Publication Date: Mar. 30, 2021

Publisher: Independent Institute

Hardcover (ISBN 978-1-59813-338-7)
eBook Coming Soon
Really Good Schools
Global Lessons for High-Caliber, Low-Cost Education
James Tooley (Author)
List Price: $29.95
Price: $25.50
Discount: $4.45 (Save 15%)

You may pre-order this title now and we will ship it to you when it is available.

Hardcover • 424 pages • 15 figures • 16 tables • 6 x 9 inches • Index

ISBN-13: 978-1-59813-338-7

Publication Date: Mar. 30, 2021

Publisher: Independent Institute

Hardcover (ISBN 978-1-59813-338-7)
eBook Coming Soon


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 India and such war-torn countries as Sierra Leone, Liberia, and South Sudan. 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.

Why? 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.

Ubiquity, affordability, quality, value for money, equity, choice, and sustainability—these are the seven categories by which schooling should be judged, according to Tooley. In every instance, one is forced to conclude that low-cost, non-governmental, entrepreneurial education, as practiced by the poor around the globe, contains the key to their rise to prosperity and leadership positions within their own respective cultures. Alarmed by recent government barriers in education, Americans can now find hope in the triumph—in the face of acute adversity—of these remarkable schools.

Because of 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.


Table of Contents


Part 1: A Global Revolution

  1. Ubiquity and Affordability
  2. Quality and Value for Money
  3. Equity and Choice
  4. Sustainability and the Rise of Educational Entrepreneurs
  5. Education and Domination

Part 2: Reclaiming the Framework of Education

  1. Great Expectations
  2. The Unbearable Burden of Learning
  3. Five Problems in Search of a Solution
  4. A Thought Experiment in Educational Freedom
  5. A New Measure of Education

Part 3: Off to America

  1. Some Problems with American Education
  2. The Theory and Practice of School Vouchers
  3. Why Milton Friedman Changed His Mind
  4. Two Types of School Choice
  5. Education as Spontaneous Order

List of Tables
List of Figures
About the Author


“Ten years after his pioneering book The Beautiful Tree, 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. The deeply researched first part of this volume makes the compelling argument that decentralized, self-organized teaching and learning offer the best hope for children in the poorest parts of the world, from Kenya to Ghana, from Liberia to Nigeria, from Gujarat to Gansu. But Tooley wants us to understand that we in the developed world—with our sclerotic systems of public education, our over-priced private schools for the wealthy, and our insufficient schemes for reform—also have much to learn from the spontaneous order of the countless slum schools he has visited. This is a bold and inspiring manifesto for a global revolution in education.”
Niall C. Ferguson, Milbank Family Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University

“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. En route, he engages in lively virtual arguments with both Charles Murray and Milton Friedman! Check it out.”
Chester E. Finn, Jr., Distinguished Senior Fellow and President Emeritus, Thomas B. Fordham Institute; Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution; former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education

“Based on James Tooley’s extensive knowledge of educational systems in developing countries from around the world, 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. Reading this book will allow educators and parents, academics and students, school reformers, policymakers, and the general public, at last to have the proven and authoritative know-how to allow children to transition from failing government school systems in the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere, into inexpensive, first-rate schools. This makes Really Good Schools utterly essential reading!”
Sir Anthony F. Seldon, former Vice Chancellor, Buckingham University; Co-Founder and first Director, Institute for Contemporary British History; President, International Positive Education Network

“Based on remarkable and fascinating, personal, worldwide experience and meticulous research—both conveyed with engrossing detail—James Tooley’s book Really Good Schools reveals the surprising successes of low-cost private schools pioneered by conscientious entrepreneurs (including himself) in the slums of developing countries where resources are frequently scarce, and danger often lurks. Careful to acknowledge and respond to critics, Tooley makes the case for the comparative advantage of low-cost private schools that merits respect and serious attention. Really Good Schools has relevance to both those interested in international development as well as to readers in advanced nations that are experiencing educational ferment given the social and economic problems of contemporary times, including the threat to educational attainment posed by the coronavirus pandemic.”
Donald A. Downs, Alexander Meiklejohn Emeritus Professor of Political Science, Law and Journalism, the Glenn B. and Cleone Orr Hawkins Emeritus Professor of Political Science, and Co-Founder of the Center for the Study of Liberal Democracy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison

“Here in Really Good Schools is perhaps the most beautiful and neglected story in the world. Unremarked and unreported, low-cost private schools have sprung up to serve some of the poorest places on Earth. For 20 years, Professor Tooley has been seeking to bring this heartening development to wider notice. He has travelled the shantytowns of Africa and India. He has found ultra-cheap independent schools even in China. Again, and again, he has heard how slum-dwellers make sacrifices to avoid the listless and perfunctory education offered in government schools. Here, in his most complete analysis of the phenomenon, he examines why it continues to expand, despite the disdain of Western aid agencies and the outright hostility of local authorities. And he ponders how some of the principles of self-organized learning might be imported into the United States and other wealthy nations. I guarantee that, after reading Really Good Schools, you will feel more cheerful.”
Lord Hannan (Daniel J. Hannan), former Member, European Parliament; bestselling author and columnist, Sunday Telegraph and Washington Examiner

“In Really Good Schools, James Tooley presents a compelling argument for education in contradistinction to schooling, a difference seemingly lost in the bureaucracies of public education. He identifies the possibilities and promise of private education as a ground-up spontaneously ordered enterprise that can serve even the lowest income individuals more effectively than can the Administrative State.”
John W. Sommer, Knight Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of North Carolina at Charlotte; former Dean, School of Social Science, University of Texas at Dallas

“In Really Good Schools, James Tooley takes us on an adventure across some of the most difficult parts of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, revealing the extraordinary revolution of low-cost private schools taking place. But he also takes us on a journey back to the West, to Britain and America, to show the relevance of his findings for education there too. Really Good Schools is a manifesto for educational freedom—the emancipation of education, as he calls it—and how we can move towards it.”
Lord Lingfield (Sir Robert G. W. Balchin), Chairman, Commission on Special Needs in Education; former Pro-Chancellor, Brunel University; Founder Chairman, League of Mercy; Chairman, Centre for Education Management; former Director-General, St. John Ambulance; author, Choosing a State School: How to Find the Best Education for Your Child

“I strongly support the idea of expanding the affordable independent sector: variety in education is the spice of life especially in this drearily conformist age. So, more ammunition to James Tooley and from his book Really Good Schools.”
Lord Robert J. A. Skidelsky, Emeritus Professor of Political Economy; University of Warwick

“The author of The Beautiful Tree has done it again. His truly unique and exceptional book Really Good Schools is another must-read about how some of the most disadvantaged people on earth are taking matters into their own hands to provide great, low-cost educations for their children. But, Tooley goes much further in Really Good Schools and provides a new clarion call for those who believe in the power of education to empower individuals to live their best lives—a call for education-choice supporters to recognize and embrace the notion of ‘self-organized learning environments’ in order to reclaim the education of youth from those who prize uniformity and government control over schooling.”
Benjamin Scafidi, Professor of Economics and Director, Education Economics Center, Kennesaw State University

“Dr. James Tooley has uniquely challenged all of us with his revelations on low-cost private schools. Really Good Schoolsis atrailblazer for a grassroots transformation of education and illuminates the rewards that follow a system that is left in the hands of those closest to children. Tooley takes us with him in his journey, exploring the privatizing of education across the world, and through his clever insights, leads us into a new world that will change the course of education for generations to come.”
Jeanne R. Allen, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Center for Education Reform

“Well-read, well-travelled, and thoughtful James Tooley has created compelling starting points for a lot of critical conversations. Tooley imagines that his, ‘task is simply to write it all up, in the hope of inspiring and motivating others to get involved.’ In Really Good Schools, he has written it all up, and it is inspiring, but he is far too modest. He has discovered and directly demonstrated that freedom and entrepreneurship can produce excellent, low-cost schools that very few others thought possible, even when they have already existed, against long odds, right under their noses.”
John D. Merrifield, Professor of Economics Emeritus, University of Texas at San Antonio

“In Really Good Schools, Tooley reminds us through vivid examples from across the globe that we don’t have to turn to government for education; that even in the poorest and most remote areas, it is private schools, not public schools, serving the needs of families. And when so many continue to insist that ‘accountability’ comes from government oversight, Tooley shows yet again how market-based education creates the ultimate form of accountability by making schools responsive to the needs of parents. His book on the promise of low-cost private education comes at a pivotal moment: the COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered public schools and led many families to turn to private options. At a time when the pandemic has given us the opportunity to rethink the structure of education, Really Good Schools provides a must-read guide.”
Lindsey Burke, Director, Center for Education Policy, Institute for Family, Community and Opportunity, Heritage Foundation

Really Good Schools picks up on James Tooley’s previous revelations about the wondrous and (at the time) unknown existence of low-cost private schools and sketches a future built on them. This underlying structure of a radically different education system breaks out of Mumbai and heads for America. It not only builds a case for a new future but artfully dissects the arguments of those still holding hope for making today’s schools better. Warning: this is not a book to be skimmed but one to be intellectually grappled with.”
Eric A. Hanushek, Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution

“James Tooley is an invaluable authority on private schooling. In Really Good Schools, his advice on the provision of accessible, affordable school choice options has never been more timely or necessary.”
Frederick M. Hess, Resident Scholar and Director of Education Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute

Really Good Schools provides an interesting review of educational entrepreneurship around the world.”
Kent Grusendorf, Senior Fellow and Director, Center for Education Freedom, Texas Public Policy Foundation; former Member, Texas House of Representatives and Texas Board of Education; former Chairman, Texas House Public Education Committee

“There is no one who matches James Tooley when it comes to giving a global perspective on the widespread availability of well-performing and low-cost private schools serving children from Africa to India. Importantly, his research gives him the unique ability to analyze why similar low-cost private education is not plentiful in the U.S. and to challenge American education reformers to rethink some of their basic assumptions. Tooley does not merely challenge, however, as he also gives hope for U.S. parents by laying out a business model for low-cost private schools in America. Really Good Schoolsis a must read for all those interested in expanding and improving the education options for children.”
Lance T. Izumi, former President, Board of Governors, California Community Colleges

“James Tooley, rightly celebrated for his discovery and promotion of private schools serving the poor in Africa, India, and China, now in Really Good School argues that the logic of his findings could transform education in America and Britain. Tooley would abolish government’s role, even in the form of support for vouchers and charter schools, allowing a ‘spontaneous order’ of education to emerge through the decisions of entrepreneurs and parents. A stimulating reading for a time when, as he points out, COVID-19 has brought much of formal schooling to a standstill and invites its reinvention.”
Charles L. Glenn, Professor Emeritus, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Boston University

“In the midst of a pandemic, many parents in developed countries have become keenly aware of the inability of government-operated schools to educate their children. In response, these parents are struggling to form affordable and effective micro-schools. The wonderfully readable book by James Tooley, Really Good Schools, has arrived at exactly the right time to offer models and lessons from how parents in developing countries have managed to succeed in educating their own children without state assistance.”
Jay P. Greene, Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Education Reform, University of Arkansas

Really Good Schools is a valuable follow up to James Tooley’s remarkable 2009 book, A Beautiful Tree, which showed us that in some of the world’s poorest slums, with dreadful public schools, a large share of students were enrolled in small private schools started by local entrepreneurs. In this innovative book, Dr. Tooley updates the reader with more case studies and research on this bottom-up educational phenomenon and suggests potential lessons for the U.S. Really Good Schools makes an important contribution to policy discussions regarding school choice and education reform.”
Michael J. Podgursky, Chancellor’s Professor of Economics, University of Missouri-Columbia

James Tooley’s work documents the ubiquity of low-cost private schools in the poorest countries and poorest villages of the world. It is hard to read this book and do nothing. Really Good Schools illustrates both the deep-seeded desire for education that exists among humans regardless of income and the many efforts by private individuals to help the poor who otherwise would not be educated.”
Eugenia F. Toma, Wendell H. Ford Professor of Public Policy and University Research Professor, Martin School of Public Policy & Administration, University of Kentucky

“James Tooley has done it again. With Really Good Schools: Global Lessons for High-Caliber, Low-Cost Education, he has produced another excellent volume on how the power of markets and choice can help drive high-quality school options for poor families. The global revolution of low-cost private education that he profiles shows us how school-reform entrepreneurs across the world are achieving genuine equity. Really Good Schools is a must read for citizens, school leaders, and policymakers alike who want to embrace a larger vision of how to make equality of educational opportunity real for the kids who need it most.”
Jamie Gass, Director, Center for School Reform, Pioneer Institute

“In the well-trodden field of education studies, it is rare enough for a researcher to supplement the public’s understanding of a well-known issue. But in an earlier book, James Tooley revealed a massive, striking, largely unknown phenomenon: the existence of ultra-low cost, high-quality private schools in developing countries. Now in Really Good Schools, Tooley expands his descriptive and empirical research to other developing and war-torn countries, while offering a thoroughgoing reflection on the significance of this still under-studied reality. Interesting enough on its own terms, Tooley’s book has acquired an unexpected aspect in the wake of COVID-19—might we see the rise of such schools within developed countries like the United States? Tooley argues, persuasively, that it’s possible. For it to happen, would-be entrepreneurs, policymakers, and parents would be well-advised to learn the lessons that Tooley teaches.”
Max C. Eden, Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute


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