The United States has recently been experimenting with charter schools (private, for profit schools ranging from the elementary level through high school). This is a significant departure from the publicly funded model that has been in place since the founding of the country. As our politicians wrestle with the viability and effectiveness of these schools as an alternative or outright replacement for the public model, are there proven private systems in place today around the world? That is:

  • Are there examples of private, for profit schools that achieve higher educational attainment levels for their students, higher graduation and placements rates, etc. around the world?

  • What is the most common model around the world (public, private, hybrid)?

UPDATE: I am specifically interested in private, for profit, schools below the college/university level. There are substantial differences between the a system of mandatory elementary education and the voluntary system we see at the college and university level.

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    Could you please clarify what would constitute "proven" to you, and what exactly you mean by "system"? Most modern proponents of private alternatives never ever aim at "outright replacement" of public model (if you disagree, please provide a supporting notable quote), and as an alternative, I would personally consider even a single private school that functioned for a decade "proven".
    – user4012
    Dec 20, 2012 at 22:29
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    Keep in mind, there was education before there were public schools en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Ancient_Rome Dec 20, 2012 at 22:47
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    @DVK please take a look at my edit. The question is really about the viability and effectiveness of charter schools and their ilk. As such, religious schools that don't operate for a profit and university/colleges that are voluntary are a bit out of scope for my intended question. Dec 21, 2012 at 15:27
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    @MichaelKingsmill - could you please explain why universities being voluntary somehow makes them bad example for private educational institution when the larger topic of discussion is voluntary charter schools? Nobody's forced to attend a charter school in any of legitimate proposals I've ever seen.
    – user4012
    Dec 22, 2012 at 3:28
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    While your question is certainly a good one, two foundational claims that you assert are factually incorrect 1. Charter Schools are NOT the same as 'PRIVATE FOR PROFIT' (as your question implies) Charter Schools ARE Public Schools. publiccharters.org/get-the-facts/public-charter-schools AND 2. Public education does not go back to 'the founding of the United States. It wasn't until the late 19th century that public schools outnumber private schools and not until well into the 20th century that public schools were 'normal'
    – Cos Callis
    Jul 19, 2017 at 14:35

3 Answers 3


Are there examples of private, for profit schools that achieve higher educational attainment levels for their students, higher graduation and placements rates, etc. around the world?

Yes. I think user4012's answer sums that up well.

However, you seem to also be asking about:

The United States has recently been experimenting with charter schools

Keep in mind that they are two different types of entities. A purely private school is just that...a business that can charge what it needs/wants for the services it renders. Obviously that means certain schools can achieve significant advantages over public schools in terms of funding, facilities, staffing, etc.

A charter school operates under a different set of rules, however. A charter school is private, but chartered under the local school district--meaning they still follow the school district's budget (typically coming from the state) restrictions.

Essentially, a charter school is a private school that has to operate with a public school budget.

Research has shown that charter perform no better, and often worse than their public school counterparts. Minnesota has the longest history with charter schools going back to 1991.

In 2017 one of many studies from the University of Minnesota came out that concluded:

Previous research from the Institute has shown that Twin Cities charter schools suffer from a high degree of racial and economic segregation, while producing mediocre academic performance. The new report demonstrates that both trends continue unabated: of the 50 most segregated schools in the region, 45 are charters. After controlling for demographic factors, academic proficiency in charter schools tends to be slightly lower than in traditional public schools.

This doesn't mean there aren't charter schools that outperform public schools, or vice versa, but collectively, they have not been able to materialize the results that charter school proponents had hoped.

Keep in mind this is research about MN specifically. Most research on charter schools as taken place in MN due to the longevity of the system there. Results, of course, may vary in other states.

Related, MN--as well as many other states--has also implemented Magnet schools. A magnet school, like a private school, can choose its own methods of educating. Unlike a charter school, a magnet school is fully run by the school district. Both magnet schools and charter schools exist primarily to offer choices in the types of education methods available. Alas, the Brookings Institute points out that there isn't nearly as much research going into Magnet schools which makes it hard to single them out of the overall public school pool for comparisons to the charter model.

  • @notstoreboughtdirt possibly. I'll try and do more digging. The other research I recall seeing said just the opposite...scores were below public schools on average. But I suppose locale could play a big factor too
    – user1530
    Oct 13, 2017 at 18:36
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    fyi: Magnet schools can't really be compared apples-to-apples to charter schools in that charter schools take all kids (including disadvantaged ones, often) while magnet schools skim the cream of the crop, at least the ones I'm familiar with.
    – user4012
    Oct 13, 2017 at 19:04
  • @user4012 I don't know where you live but that's not how it worked in MN. Both charter and magnet schools are public schools and open to anyone that wants to go, space permitting. There are schools for advanced placement students, though.
    – user1530
    Oct 13, 2017 at 19:12
  • Also, your answer ignores 2013 CREDO study (especially the most spectacular and meaningful part, the tremendows posttive difference in impact on Latino ESL and poverty-Black student demographics). I added CREDO info to my answer
    – user4012
    Oct 13, 2017 at 19:12
  • @blip - if it's open admission it's not "magnet" by any definition of magnet school I'm aware of. Magnet schools ONLY admit top performing students (e.g. Stuyvesant or Broochlyn Tech or Bronx Science in NYC)
    – user4012
    Oct 13, 2017 at 19:14

Yes, there are plenty of proven private schools.

  1. Since you edited the question to restrict to secular, secondary schools, here's an example for you:

  2. First, pre-K education have been private in USA, always. Proven and successful as a private institution.

    An argument may be made about whether pre-K is considered "educational". What I was referring to were specifically pre-K schools as opposed to "daycare" where the goal is to simply park a child for the day; as I'm only familiar with the former.

    While I would not make a blanket statement about every pre-K institution in the USA, the ones I am personally familiar with from personal evaluations all had a level of education for its pre-K graduates matching or exceeding a typical grade 2 in American public school (including simple multiplication and fluent reading at Grade 2 level).

  3. College/university system was private in the USA from inception. To this day, all the top level institutions are private despite some fairly respectable city/state ones evolving to compete with them over the last century.

    US World & News Report rankings (considered the "main" ranking system for US universities, or at leas the one most people think of when they think rankings) lists 10 of the top 10 as private.

  4. Obviously, religious schools are private. While some only teach religious subjects, many offer full range of academic curriculum.

  5. In general, there are plenty of private schools around the world. Since copy/pasting from a very large Wikipedia article seems rather pointless, I will merely provide a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_school . Sweden is a particularly frequently cited example.

  6. As a newer answer mentioned charter schools, I'd be remiss not to mention CREDO studies (done by Standord U).

    E.g. 2013 study found that:

    • Overall, it showed charters out-performing TPS by .01 standard deviations in reading and scoring about the same as TPS (public schools) in math

    • However, that "almost same" result masks the truly important statistic, which is impact specifically on the most unsuccessful public school demographics (ESL Latino and poor Black students). In those 2 segments, charter schools performance far outstripped public schools:

      We also find differing impacts among various student groups, as summarized in the Table 19 above. The biggest impacts are among Hispanic students who are English language learners; they gain 50 additional days of learning in reading and 43 additional days in math from charter attendance per year. Black students in poverty at charter schools gain 29 additional days in reading and 36 additional days of learning in math. ...Students in poverty, English language learners, and special education students all benefit from attending charter schools as well. Because these are students generally considered to be underserved by the TPS system, higher quality educational options for these groups are of particular interest.

Considering the fact that there are both private and public schools in India, USA, post-USSR Russia, UK and Germany, I would venture to guess (without bothering to add up populations) that a hybrid model seems to be the most prevalent. I'm guessing the only super large country with purely public model may be PRC.

Moreover, it seems that what most politicians are wrestling with is not whether a concept of private school system is "proven", but with the pressure from public school lobby which rightfully sees private schools as a threat to both their funding and their position of power.

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    There are a lot of public pre-k programs in the country, and your evaluation is anecdotal at best. What measure are you using to evaluate the quality of universities? The answer to the question likely is "No, no large society has a purely private education system" but you never actually answer the question here.
    – JNK
    Dec 20, 2012 at 23:34
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    @JNK - in my county, I am not aware of even a single public pre-K program. There are dozens of private ones just in the surrounding 3 towns. As far as "anecdotal", even one would be enough to answer the question.
    – user4012
    Dec 21, 2012 at 13:12
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    This is my point - you are basing this entirely on your own limited experience. There is public pre-k in my township and in most of the surrounding towns here as well. You also don't say how you define "top" university.
    – JNK
    Dec 21, 2012 at 13:16
  • @JNK - Also, ranking US universities is such a public knowledge that it's quite disingenuous to ask that as if it's something that's not public knowledge or subject of debate. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… shows all rankings. colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/rankings/… is the "main" one, and top 10 are ALL private
    – user4012
    Dec 21, 2012 at 13:16
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    Just bear in mind these things change over time, and we do have a lot of international traffic.
    – JNK
    Dec 21, 2012 at 13:31

The short answer is "no", there are not proven alternative models, even without further specification.

When one specifies that one is limiting the alternatives to "private, for profit, schools", this is even more true. The vast majority of private schools (all religious schools and almost all secular private schools; keep in mind that charter schools are government schools although sometimes managed by an outside company pursuant to a contract with the public school system) at all levels are "non-profit".

"For profit" educational institutions, pretty much across the board, grossly underperform relative to non-profit and government run schools, and there a very few examples indeed of high performing for profit schools. For example, none of the schools identified by @user4012 are "for profit" even though many are private. In higher education, for profit schools are the bottom feeders of the marketplace and charge high tuitions for exceeding poor results.

In K-12 you see basically the same thing (i.e. mediocre performance by "for profit" schools), except that "for profit" K-12 schools are much less common and have a much smaller market share than "for profit" higher educational institutions.

There are private and charter schools that consistently perform well relative to public schools with comparable student bodies, as other answers have noted. Almost every major metropolitan area has at least one or two of them.


  1. There aren't very many of them (certainly much less than 5% by either number of schools or student body proportion in a metro area and realistically closer to 1%-2% measured by share of overall students in the age group in the area).

  2. There are very few cases indeed of the good work of those high performing schools being reproduced in a consistent and reliable manner. Often a flagship school will perform well but efforts to make another school on the same model do not achieve the same results. Even if it can manage one or two successful sister schools, finding the "secret sauce" to consistently mass produce these high performance schools has been pretty much completely elusive.

  3. Often, sustained high performance involves factors not available to competing public schools or to the educational system as a whole. Some of the more common factors, include, but aren't limited to:

a. Requiring more time from students than other schools (longer school years, longer days).

b. Engaging in behavior modification programs that can't be implemented without full parental and student consent and buy-in, which mandatory public schools can't achieve.

c. The right to swiftly remove students who are not succeeding in the program. This can work in a particular school but not for the system as a whole as there is an obligation to educate everyone.

d. Financial subsidies from some source not available to other schools (e.g. religious subsidies from a sponsoring institution, endowments, high tuition, corporate loss leader investments). It's amazing what one can do with money although it translates much less directly into outcomes than most people would intuitively think.

e. Securing outstanding educators and educational administrators by whatever means possible, that are scarce in the labor markets or educators and educational administrators (i.e. maybe there are 5 people in 100 who make their living as teachers and principals who are profoundly more competent than everyone else in the field and whichever school gets them will perform well, but there aren't enough of them to go around).

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    Note that charter schools are not government run in the US. They are privately run.
    – user1530
    Oct 14, 2017 at 21:38
  • @blip You are incorrect. For example, in Denver, Colorado, where I live, there are absolutely government run charter schools. They do have more autonomy. But, they are government funded, part of the same admissions process, and subject to many of the same limitations as ordinary public schools. Some are governed by groups of teachers, some by secular non-profits.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 15, 2017 at 22:44
  • Funding != 'run'. Perhaps we're debating semantics, but the appeal/intent of a charter school is that it is not run by the school district. Rather, it is chartered by the school district...giving permission for it to be run by an independent leadership. Magnet schools are government run.
    – user1530
    Oct 15, 2017 at 23:21
  • So, I read up a bit on Colorado's charter schools. They do make the line a bit fuzzier. It looks like they are governed independently to the extent the particular charter allows. I have a hunch the definition of charter school perhaps varies quite a bit from state-to-state (or even from charter to charter).
    – user1530
    Oct 15, 2017 at 23:24
  • "The right to swiftly remove students who are succeeding in the program" - Did you mean students who aren't succeeding? That's usually the strong case for charter/private schools that I've seen anyways, the ability to remove problem children from the not problem children. Oct 16, 2017 at 14:04

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