Markets in Everything: US Public Schools

by on March 10, 2012 at 3:09 pm in Economics, Education | Permalink

Reuters: Across the United States, public high schools in struggling small towns are putting their empty classroom seats up for sale.

In Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, and Lake Placid, New York, in Lavaca, Arkansas, and Millinocket, Maine, administrators are aggressively recruiting international students.

They’re wooing well-off families in China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Russia and dozens of other countries, seeking teenagers who speak decent English, have a sense of adventure – and are willing to pay as much as $30,000 for a year in an American public school.

The end goal for foreign students: Admission to a U.S. college.

So far the numbers are small. US high schools do outperform those in many other countries but the quality is modest relative to other developed countries and it’s hard for me to see this as a boom market. Nevertheless, I think I will warn my teenager that an exchange program with South Korea is an option.

Hat tip: Daniel Lippman.

1 derek March 10, 2012 at 3:36 pm

The best part about these schemes is that some lucky person gets the job of sales and promotion and gets to travel the world on the tax payer’s dime.

Another data point for my theory that Canada-US swap bad ideas with a 15 year lag time for implementation.

2 gwern March 10, 2012 at 4:11 pm

My family hosts exchange students through a founation; we get very little out of it (although the private school gets their full tuition). Apparently we’re not allowed to be paid, which I found curious because in reading about South Korea, I had learned that many South Koreans study in Canada, where they paid the host families something like $1k+ per month.

So, markets in nothing…

3 Rahul March 10, 2012 at 9:45 pm

Do exchange students have to pay the $30,000 fee (or whatever is the un-subsidized amount) to the schools too? Or are exchange students covered on taxpayer dime?

4 gwern March 11, 2012 at 11:32 pm

In the South Korean cases, I believe their families were paying for it. (South Korean spending on education, private & public, is famously high.) In our case, it’s a little more complex – the families pay for varying amounts. Our current student’s family pays nothing, with the foundation paying the private Catholic school tuition, but we’ve speculated this is because he is Swedish and the foundation president is Swedish (or something like that, I forget); our previous two families’ all picked up some/all of the tuition.

5 dearieme March 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm

My daughter did exchanges to Germany, France and Portugal. She preferred Portugal.

6 liberalarts March 10, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Dearieme: what did she like about Portugal? The food, the people? I am curious, because it is on my short to medium list for potential vacations. I am not into beaches, so it has to be interesting.

7 PFOJ March 10, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Who wouldn’t love South America?

8 dearieme March 11, 2012 at 7:25 am

She was probably lucky with the family she stayed with in Coimbra who were clearly lovely people and coped with her not speaking Portugese. The Portugese do seem, in general, to be nice people to be among. (My only visits have been to Madeira, which is a lovely spot.) Her Munich experience was a mixed bag whereas my experience in Germany has been pretty good (She speaks German whereas I have only a much depleted ability to read it.) About her Normandy visit…. aargh! Doesn’t stop me liking France, mind. (She and I both speak French.) But I’ve never stayed en famille in France or Germany. After she graduated she lived with a family in Costa Rica for a month to learn to speak some Spanish. She is very fond of that family too.

If you want a view of Portugal you could always ask Tim Worstall.

9 steve March 10, 2012 at 4:44 pm

You might think twice about Korea Alex. Students from there complain about the extreme rigidity of their system.


10 q March 10, 2012 at 4:53 pm

That’s the joke, Steve.

11 Rahul March 10, 2012 at 9:43 pm


12 Jim March 10, 2012 at 5:17 pm

You say on the basis of the PISA scores that US schools are not very good. However if you look at the results by racial classification US students do extremally good. The South Korean population has an average IQ of 108. A large percentage of the US school population consists of blacks and mestizos. After adjusting for the demographic differences the US school system comes out looking very good. Interestingly US blacks outperform the students in most Middle Eastern countries.

13 Jason March 10, 2012 at 5:22 pm

Indeed, students of Korean descent in the US score as well as Korean students, a result that is lost in the PISA results before demographic correction.

14 Steve Sailer March 10, 2012 at 11:42 pm

I broke out 2009 PISA reading scores here:

Asian-Americans outscored all Asian countries and trailed only the city of Shanghai.

White-Americans outscored all traditionally white countries except Finland.

Hispanic-Americans outscored all Latin American countries.

African-Americans would likely have outscored all black countries, but the only even semi-black country to participate in PISA was part-Indian Trinidad, which African-Americans outscored handily.

15 KM March 11, 2012 at 3:08 am

Well, you would have to do the same for each country of comparison then as well (e.g. Sweden is now on average 20% non-Swedes, probably even higher among adolescents, with most immigrants coming from the Middle East). Finland is here really an exception, since they more or less admit no immigrants…

16 Anon. March 10, 2012 at 7:20 pm

I’m pretty sure any private school doing IB in those countries, for $30k per year, would achieve far better U.S. college placements compared to any public school.

17 Ricardo March 11, 2012 at 5:30 am

Exactly, this is a total rip-off. Many developing countries have international schools primarily for the children of Western expats but they also admit local children who have families willing to shell out. I bet most of these exclusive international schools charge less than $30,000.

18 Peter A March 11, 2012 at 7:45 am

In Vienna the 3 major international schools (American, Vienna and Danube) run about 18K EUR/year, so somewhat less than $30,000. They are also attracting large numbers of Russian families who are moving to Vienna just to get their kids into these schools with a view to college in the US or UK.

19 Bill March 10, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Is the effort by public school districts recruiting foreign school districts any different than public universities recruiting foreign college students?

20 Andrew' March 11, 2012 at 7:44 am

Yes. Worse.

21 Thomas March 10, 2012 at 8:29 pm

In many states, including my own, that money would be well spent: graduates of high schools in my state get in state tuition at the state universities, regardless of their citizenship. Spend $30,000 and you can save about $60,000. In other states, the savings are likely to be larger.

22 Steve Sailer March 10, 2012 at 11:43 pm

So, one year at an American public high school makes you a resident of that state for purposes of getting a tuition subsidy for four years at that state’s flagship public university? Sweet …

23 john March 11, 2012 at 5:22 am

Or you can own property in some states, in texas I made a lot of money selling one acre plots of land in west texas to students in my dorm.

24 Anthony March 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm

I *think* California requires the students’ *parents* to be residents. On the other hand, if one works for a big multinational, and has the money to send a kid over to the U.S. for an exchange program, it might not be too hard to get one parent posted to the same state for work, for residency purposes.

25 chuck martel March 11, 2012 at 12:03 am

Northern European schoolkid hockey players are recruited to play in US high schools.

26 Foobarista March 11, 2012 at 12:16 am

In China at least, it’s actually cheaper to send kids to the US than it is to send kids to an “international” school in China – and these schools are typically located in the biggest, and most expensive, coastal cities. There are lots of people in China with cash who don’t live in Beijing or Shanghai and a desire to send their kids overseas to learn English and get into a Western university. (They wouldn’t typically send their kids to a non-English-speaking country.)

Public schools in China vary wildly in quality, and are all intensely into “teaching to the test” to prepare for the make-or-break “Gao Kao” national college-admissions exam.

27 Tracy W March 11, 2012 at 4:37 am

My NZ high school (public, or state if you’re British) was doing this back in the ’90s.

28 Andrew' March 11, 2012 at 7:44 am

Hey you guys who don’t belief that government is fundamentally evil…WTF?

29 msgkings March 11, 2012 at 1:48 pm

I’m not sure ‘evil’ means what you think it does.

30 Floccina March 12, 2012 at 9:44 am

Whether USA students score the best in the word or not depends on how you look at the data.
What I have learned recently and want to share with you is that once we correct (even crudely) for demography in the 2009 PISA scores, American students outperform Western Europe by significant margins and tie with Asian students.

I think that this shows how little school quality matters for tests like PISA, rather that USA schools do well. Do the test measure anything important (other than IQ), you could look a quality of life in a country to judge the education of a country but that would leave much out. IMO the question that we need to ask is what information and skills are most need for people to have a good life and what is the most efficient way to get that information and those skills into people.

31 gasb March 12, 2012 at 6:03 pm

There were large numbers of Chinese and Korean nationals in the high school where my kids went to school in east LA county. And in many cases the kids (and their families, or some part of their family) came over as early as elementary school to get a head start on learning the language. There were even some instances of the kids coming over by themselves to go to high school. Some family friend would act in loco parentis to sign papers and meet with school officials.

All with the intent of getting into a University of California.

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