Nuggets of amber occasionally reward patient beachcombers who wade through miles of cold, gray clay on the southern shores of the Baltic Sea. Nuggets likewise await the patient reader who wades through this dense, repetitive private-school apology.
Sixteen years ago, James Tooley, a professor at the University of Buckingham and the former director of the E. G. West Centre at Newcastle, wrote an essay that in 2009 became a pathbreaking book, The Beautiful Tree, which awoke the world to the reality of low-cost but effective private schools thriving in some of the poorest slums of the developing world. Many such schools, Tooley revealed, were outperforming expensive but inefficient state-run schools. So original was the work that Education Next saw fit to use its most telling episodes as the cover story for its Fall 2005 issue. The essay even won a prize, as Tooley is wont to remind us.
Tooley’s Tree has been sturdy enough to weather stern criticism from state school defenders, international organizations, and Nobel Prize winners. Now, Tooley offers an extended reply.