Ancell Scheker Mendoza
Doctoral Student, University at Albany-SUNY
PROPHE Working Paper #8
Program for Research on Private Higher Education
Educational Administration & Policy Studies
University at Albany, State University of New York
1400 Washington Ave
Albany, New York 12222
This working paper reviews concepts and categories developed in private higher education research, analyzing their applicability to lower levels of education. Most specifically and prominently, the paper uses the three waves of private growth identified in Latin American higher education—Catholic, elite, and demand-absorbing—and categories of finance, governance, and function to analyze new and prior private growth in primary and secondary schools in the Dominican Republic.
For Latin American private higher education, Levy (1986a) identified certain patterns of growth. The private sector expansion began with Catholic universities, followed by some elite secular universities, and lastly a boom of secular institutions that absorb a growing demand that the public sector could not satisfy. This pattern was confirmed for the Dominican Republic (Levy, 1991). Like some other Latin American nations, the Dominican Republic did not have a private university until the 1960s, the first being a Catholic university. Later, other private institutions emerged, two of them classified as institutions for the elite. The great demand for higher education facilitated the proliferation of many private institutions. In the last decades, the private higher education sector growth in the Dominican Republic has been remarkable. More than 60% of the enrollment is in private higher education institutions. Hence private higher institutions in Dominican Republic have emerged in three waves, following the regional patterns for Latin America, each one with a relatively distinctive role and its own rationales and dynamics. Has primary and secondary private education followed a similar pattern of growth? Such an inter-level question has not hitherto been studied in any country.
Thus, this working paper analyzes causes of the non-higher education proliferation of the private sector and identifies parallel patterns of growth to those found in private higher institutions. However, differences are also found. Contrasts are presented and may facilitate understanding the characteristics of each level (see appendix 1) as well as the distinction between private and public institutions.
Purpose and Scope
The Dominican Republic’s education (indeed Latin America’s) is now very much divided into two sectors: private and public. This reality, long established in literature on private higher education, holds at lower levels of the educational system (“schools”) as well. The extraordinary growth of private schools, especially since the last half of the twentieth century, has reshaped the educational configuration in the Dominican Republic. Over the years private education has grown in response to changing economic and social needs, a lack of public funding for expanded public education, and insufficient government flexibility to respond to emerging needs (Wolff et al., 2005). Private Dominican schools account for 15% of enrollment in primary education and 22% in secondary education (SEE, 2005). However, the State and scholars have often ignored it. The lack of understanding of the private sector role and the lack of a system-wide vision may negatively affect the decisions made to expand and improve education. For both scholarship and policy, a deeper analysis of the Dominican private sector is needed.
The objective of this paper is to explore concepts and categories developed in higher education research and use some of the key patterns observed in private higher education institutions to analyze lower levels of education. The hypothesis is that these analytical categories are relevant and useful to understand the features of private primary and secondary education in the Dominican Republic . This analysis attempts to contribute to our understanding of private education and the distinctiveness between private and public schools in the Dominican Republic by comparing the patterns of private education growth for higher education institutions to those for schools .
Analysis of higher education institutions reveals serious ambiguities between the terms private and public (Levy, 1986b). There are different criteria to distinguish private institutions from public institutions, but there is evidence of increasing private-public blurring. According to Levy (1986b) greater definitional clarity may help us better assess what differences private-public distinctions make, how actors can take advantage of them, and how public policy can affect them. Public-private ambiguity is a reality in higher education (notably in the United States). However, is this the case for primary and secondary education? Is this the case in the Dominican Republic?
For Latin American private higher education, Levy (1986a) has identified certain patterns of private growth. In the Dominican Republic this pattern was confirmed (Levy, 1991). Like some other Latin American nations, the Dominican Republic did not have a private university until the 1960s, the first being a Catholic university. Later, other private institutions emerged; two of them classified as institutions for the elite. The great demand for higher education facilitated the proliferation of several private institutions. Recently, the private higher education sector growth in the Dominican Republic has been remarkable. More than 60% of the enrollment is in private higher education institutions. Hence, in the Dominican Republic as in much of Latin America, private higher education institutions have emerged in three waves, each one with a relatively distinctive role and own motivations. Has primary and secondary private education followed this pattern?
Furthermore, investigating the origins and growth as well as issues of finance, governance, and function, with regard to each sector (public and private), will help us to understand the differences and interactions between them. It is not possible to understand the growth of the private sector without considering public growth and what happens in the public sector. Studying public-private distinction could uncover some myths about private and public schools and orient educational policy.
In addition, using categories developed for higher education in primary and secondary education may reveal some similarities across levels as well as factors that influence both and determine common patterns and characteristics. This could allow us to see a broader picture of the educational sector and the interconnections and dynamics of historical, socio-cultural, and economic aspects that shape the characteristics of the educational system (school and higher education levels). Furthermore, some policy questions may be similar and, even though answers and alternatives could vary, these categories could be useful to describe the characteristics of private and public sectors and assess their distinctiveness. It will also help us to contextualize public-private debate.
This working paper is an attempt to utilize and adapt these analytical categories to a different educational context. There are very few studies about private schools in Dominican Republic and none of them has used this approach. Lack of information and reliable data are a limitation for this analysis. However, available official documents of the Secretaria de Estado de Educación and research on the history of Dominican Education and on private education will be studied .
It appears unprecedented to analyze primary and secondary education applying theories and categories used in higher education; however, exploring private primary and secondary levels within a higher education framework could be an interesting approach, not only to build the identification of commonalities across levels and policies, but to better understand their differences. At the same time, we believe that these categories are broad enough to allow a valuable analysis of the different levels and sectors of education.
The main purposes of this essay are:
- To identify the causes for private education growth in the Dominican Republic.
- To utilize the three waves of private growth identified in Latin American higher education -Catholic, elite, and demand-absorbing- to analyze private growth in primary and secondary education in the Dominican Republic.
- To utilize the categories of finance, governance, and function to understand public and private distinctions in Dominican schools.
Accordingly, the present work is organized in three main sections. The first section will analyze the reasons for the proliferation of private education (primary and secondary levels) in the Dominican Republic; the second section will consider three waves of private growth (wave 1 -Catholic, wave 2 –elite, and wave 3 -demand absorbing); and the third one will study the distinctiveness of public and private schools regarding finance, governance, and functions. Finally, conclusions will be drawn from the findings.
I- Proliferation of Private Schools in the Dominican Republic
A historical perspective
Privatization is a growing global phenomenon. However, privatization processes depend on the history, traditions, and values as well as the economic and social changes experimented by a country. In the case of the Dominican Republic, private growth is related to the socio-political changes and the different characteristics and roles assumed by the government historically. In addition, we cannot properly understand the growth of the private sector without understanding the growth of the public sector.
The origins of the Dominican “private” sector go back to the nineteenth century. A public educational system was established by the Constitution shortly after independence from Haiti in 1844. Instruction was supposed to be different from the one received in the colonial period and during the Haitian domination in order to build the Dominican nation. However, the expansion of schools was limited because of political instability. After another four years (1861-1865) under Spanish government, the Republic was restored and a new Law of Public Instruction was approved. Private and public schools existed in the chief municipalities. Most of the private schools were established by religious congregations and foreigners from Cuba and Puerto Rico (SEECYT, 2005). There was still a fused relationship between the State and the Catholic Church.
Since the 1880s, a secular and scientific model of instruction was assumed following the orientations of the educator Eugenio Maria de Hostos. Public schooling was expanded and some advancement was achieved. The Normal School was created and later the Instituto de Señoritas was established by Salome Ureña to train female teachers. The separation between State and Church became clearer and, consequently, so did the separation between private and public schools.
New civil wars affected the country, as did a significant economic crisis, and the United States intervened and occupied the Dominican Republic from 1916 to 1924. Under the US administration the educational system was restructured. New laws were approved to establish educational levels and the curriculum for each level – primary (elementary and middle school), secondary (high school, normal school and vocational), and university-. A National Council of Education was established along with a General Superintendence and Departmental Boards of Instruction. Under the American occupation the public system was supported.
Upon the arrival of General Rafael Trujillo to the presidency, education was reformed to serve as a way of propaganda and indoctrination for the dictatorship (1930-1961). In 1932, the Secretaria de Educación, Bellas Artes y Cultos was created. The General Education Act established three educational levels (maternal, primary, and secondary) and set the administrative structure and the inspectorate services. It was under the dictatorship of Trujillo that educational system was strengthened and public schools expanded. Public schools were recognized by their prestige and general quality. Education was seen as a responsibility of the State.
During this period some private schools existed, most of them belonging to Catholic congregations. In addition, the first American school was established in 1933 especially for the children of American residents in the country and the diplomats. Other non-religious private schools were small, and some opponents of the regime preferred to send their children to these schools to protect them from political indoctrination. Groups from high socioeconomic background usually attended private Catholic schools; some of them were run by alien congregations. However, by the end of the dictatorship it is estimated that the State had a quasi-monopoly of education and only approximately 24 private schools were operating in the country (Murray, 2005). A lack of data hinders the possibility to know accurate numbers and the distribution in school enrollments. By that time, there was only one public university (Universidad de Santo Domingo) in the country.
Between 1960 and 1970 more religious schools were created supported by the Concordat between the Catholic Church and the Dominican State . This period after the end of the dictatorship was very unstable. From 1961 to 1966, the country suffered a coup d’etat of its first democratic elected government, a civil war, and a second occupation of the United States. The confusion and disorder that characterized those years affected immensely the public education system.
In the 1970s a great expansion of private schools started (Murray 2005), not of Catholic schools but of schools owned by private proprietary . An exceptional growth in the private sector was registered in this period, even though the public sector also grew. The government elected for the period 1978-1982 saw this proliferation with concern. The diagnosis of the situation of the Dominican education (SEEBAC, 1979) expressed that the State had been too liberal regarding private education. It was in this period that the Department of Private Schools was created.
In 1979, the State Secretariat of Education recognized that the increase in private education was due to the lack of public schools to satisfy the demand, insecurity in some public schools, poor conditions of public school buildings and lack of instructional resources, and the weakening in the authority of the public school teacher. However, they saw with great concern the stratification of social classes, the profit made by the owners of private schools, and how the disproportionate growth was affecting the educational responsibility of the State.
In the educational diagnosis of 1985, the “problem” about private education was not mentioned. Apparently, the government assumed that it was not possible for public schools to satisfy the demand of education and that the private sector was needed to absorb that demand. Some regulations were established, but the State did not assume a controlling role. Therefore, new kinds of private schools emerged.
However, the public sector had also grown significantly. Enrollment rates in primary education increased from 62% in 1970 to 83% in 1981, and 87% of students attended public schools (SEEBAC, 1985). Nevertheless, the diagnosis of the educational sector of 1979 indicated that by the 1975-76 school-year there were 602 private schools in urban areas and 376 of them were in the National District. More than half of the students in the capital city of Santo Domingo attended private schools. Privatization was an urban phenomenon. There were private primary schools in almost every capital of each province but private schools proliferated significantly in the major cities of Santiago and Santo Domingo.
The 1990s economic, social and political crisis affected tremendously the educational system. Public spending in education decreased from 2.8% in 1970 to just 0.97% of the GDP in 1991 (Alvarez, 2004). As the result of those spending cuts teacher salaries were reduced drastically and no spending was made on basic educational inputs. The process of deterioration of public education arrived at its apex at the beginning of the 90s.
A positive reaction to this crisis was the development of the Ten-Year Education Plan (Plan Decenal) with the participation of different sectors and stakeholders supported by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). The Plan Decenal carried out a wide diagnosis of the situation of education and proposed several solutions. As a result of this Plan, a new curriculum was implemented in 1995 and a new Law of Education was approved in 1997. This law established new functions and a new structure for the system. Since its approval, many regulations have been developed to enforce the Law and several projects and programs have been implemented to improve and modernize the educational system. This Plan had the clear intention to rescue the public schools and improve their quality, and did not consider the role of private schools. After ten years, in spite of the effort and the relative improvement of certain conditions in the Dominican public schools, everyone that can afford it chooses to go to a private school.
By the year 2003, the country had around 2000 private schools (SEE, 2003) with 20% of the total enrollment. In the city of Santo Domingo the private sector enrolls more than 50% of primary education students and 72% of the schools are private.
Causes of private sector growth
The proliferation of the private sector has several reasons and distinctive characteristics. According to some studies about Dominican private schools (Murray 2005 and Flores 1996), the central cause is the deterioration of public education. From Murray’s perspective, the chaos following the fall of the dictatorship, the political instability and internal conflicts within public schools mobilized the upper and middle class to look for alternatives in the private sector. Furthermore, the decrease in the quality of public schools pushed even lower-income families to enroll their children in private schools when possible. Murray identifies four reasons for the collapse of the public system: over-centralization, politicization, syndicalism, and non-compliance of the law and professional norms .
In contrast, Flores (1996) argues that the cause of the deterioration of public schools is the reduction in the budget of education accompanied by a rapid urbanization of the population. The population grew from 3.2 million in 1960 with only 40% of urban inhabitants to more than 7 million in 1990 and 60% of urban inhabitants. This tremendous growth was not accompanied by the investment needed to establish urban schools. The deficit in school buildings and the decline in teachers’ salaries which led to the exodus of good teachers, contributed to the decrease of the quality of education. Because of the agricultural crisis, the urbanization process, and changes toward a more democratic culture, schooling was seen as a way for social mobility. The demand for education grew, but the response of the State was insufficient.
In addition, private school growth was possible because of the lack of regulations. According to the 1979 analysis of the educational sector (SEEBAC, 1979) any person or group could establish a school. The system did not have mechanisms to control or even to know how many private schools were created each year. This situation confirms the assumption that central policy often does not create, design, or even anticipate emerging private sectors (Levy, 2002).
In summary, several factors influenced the proliferation of private schools in the Dominican Republic: new democratic freedom, rapid urban growth, internal conflicts within public schools, decrease in the quality of public schools, low public investment in education and lack of school buildings. In addition, a demand for innovation, high technology and diversity also encouraged private sector growth.
In the case of higher education, conflicts between the government and the public university, politicization, and massification of education also led to the growth of private institutions. Higher private institutions were established in the 1960s and have continued to grow since, especially in urban areas.
Theories that explain private expansion
Some existing theories support the probable causes of private schools proliferation in the Dominican Republic. In studies done by Anheier and Salamon (1998) on nonprofit organizations, several theories were applied to explain this growth. Even though they focus on the nonprofit sector, their explanation is valid to the private sector in general.
Demand-side theories explain the existence of nonprofit organizations by the persistence of demands for public goods that are left unsatisfied in a market economy by either the market or the State. The more diverse a society is, the more diverse the conceptions of the “good life” and the desirable bundle of collective goods that must be supplied. Private schools in the Dominican Republic can be for profit or nonprofit but it is mainly the government failure that has enabled the growth of this sector as an alternative to public schools. In this case, it was not so much diversity of society but the incapacity of the State to supply the demand for quality basic education. The private sector is mostly a response to excess demand. Many people are willing to pay the price necessary to acquire education in the private sector because the rate of return is high and education brings better jobs and lifetime earnings (James, 1991). However, different aspirations and possibilities of different social classes have led to a fair variety of private schools.
In contrast, supply-side theories explain the growth on the supply of entrepreneurs with a commitment to meet that demand. Religious groups are attracted to create nonprofit agencies not only for altruistic motivation but as an instrumental function of creating adherents and bringing them into the fold. Religious entrepreneurs, especially the Catholic Church, have played an important role in the founding of private schools in the Dominican Republic. However, in more recent years entrepreneurship has broadened considerably. Schools that offer instruction in another language (usually English) and extra curricular activities have been initiatives of non-religious entrepreneurs.
In an anthropological analysis, Murray (1996) found that the local culture of Dominican Republic leans toward commercialization; each person looks for his/her economic independence via establishing his/her own business. This tendency may be the product of a non-existent welfare state and the personal initiative that must have individuals in an environment characterized by the law of “sálvese quien pueda” (every man for himself) because they cannot rely on any assistance or help from the State or even on regulations that protect their rights. This cultural characteristic may be present in the desire of several teachers and individuals to have their own school.
Partnership theory expects the State and the nonprofit sector to grow in parallel and even in cooperation with each other. This is so because both are responses to the same set of social pressures for expanded public goods. In the Dominican Republic both sectors have been growing; however, an explicit partnership has not been developed between public and private education. Nevertheless, some initiatives have started, like sponsorship and special agreements between non-governmental organizations and the public sector.
Salamon and Anheier (1998) have developed the social origins approach, which has as its central argument that the nonprofit sector is deeply embedded in the social, economic, and political dynamics of different societies. As such, its evolution cannot be attributed to any single factor, such as the unsatisfied demand for public goods or the supply of nonprofit entrepreneurs. Rather, the emergence of nonprofit institutions is rooted in the broader structure of class and social groupings in a society. Non profit organizations are likely to emerge where elites are challenged or where elites turn to such institutions as a way to forestall more radical demands from below. Where traditional elites remain in control and utilize authoritarian methods, it is possible that both sectors (State and nonprofit) stay undeveloped. The Dominican Republic could be identified with the statist model characterized by limited State activity and weak nonprofit sector . However, socio-economic and political dynamics are key factors to explain the private sector growth. Elites created their own institutions to satisfy their demand.
Levy (1986a) also uses several factors to explain private growth in Latin American higher education. These distinctive causes can be applied to the expansion in Dominican private schools. From this perspective, there is a perceived public sector failure related to social, political, and economic factors.
There is a perceived social class failure. Many of the elite seek to preserve social-class differentiation through a sectoral bifurcation. The expansion of public education at the primary and secondary level led to mass education in an increasingly heterogeneous society. Disenchantment can be related to a failure in providing sufficiently spiritual education, discipline, or healthy environment. In the case of the Dominican Republic, rapid growth and urbanization of the population, poor responses of the government to demands for educational opportunities, and a decline in quality generated the exit of the upper-middle class from public schools.
Political failure related to politicization of schools is another factor. Politicization in primary and secondary education has varied over time and has a different meaning than in higher education . After the dictatorship, students and teachers from the university and schools often participated in protests demanding social changes, and influence from the Left was strong. Confrontation between secondary students and police was frequent. This insecurity stimulated the exit of students from the public sector. However, two decades after the end of the dictatorship, this was not the case in schools; teachers not students were the center of demands. Politicization now is related to the intervention of political parties in the administration of school personnel and the control of the teacher’s union. Teachers and administrators are selected on the basis of their loyalty to the chief or his political faction; this means that sometimes less qualified teachers or principals can be appointed or that someone can be moved from his/her position without reason. In addition, teachers frequently strike in demand for better salaries and miss classes for various reasons, including attending union meetings. This situation produces instability and internal conflicts within schools, and causes the parents to look for alternatives outside the public sector.
The perceived economic failure in higher education is related to the weakened student preparation for the job market. In the case of primary and secondary education is often related to the lack of preparation for the next educational level. Private secondary schools grew as a result of failure in the public sector to satisfy the demand, and the perceived low quality of the liceos for preparing students with the skills needed to perform well at the university level. Upper and middle class students that attend private schools have a higher rate of graduation from basic education than do low income students. The pressure to establish secondary institutions was more on the private side. The need to prepare students for the university is, perhaps, the reason why the majority of private high schools have only the general track. Vocational and technical high schools are mostly public or religious.
In sum, as stated by Levy (1986a), economic, social, and political factors have provided specific reasons for private sector growth based largely on perceived public sector failures. We can now confirm that these reasons are applicable to schools as well. However, also as in higher education, this school growth has generated distinctive kinds of private schools, as we will see in the next section.
II- Waves of Growth
Levy (1986a) identifies three waves of growth for private higher education in Latin America, distinguishing three types of institutions: Catholic, elite secular, and demand-absorbing. The same typology is used to analyze private growth in Dominican schools. This section of the paper could be part of the first one because it also explains the evolution of the private sector. However, to be able to focus on the distinct characteristics of each type, the separation as a special section was decided. The waves do not imply a fixed sequential order but a general trend; some waves tend to grow simultaneously. The nature of the distinctiveness between private schools depends on the different waves of growth.
Private Catholic schools have historically existed. Even during Trujillo’s dictatorship when the public sector was dominant, there were big prestigious Catholic schools usually for the elite. In contrast, the first Catholic University was established in 1962 . However, after the Concordat was signed between the Vatican and the State in 1954, more Catholic schools were established.
During the 1960s, new Catholic schools were created, especially next to the parish church of the new growing upper and middle-class neighborhoods. In addition, Catholic schools that have lower tuition were also created for lower-middle class families. These schools could be the product of the Second Vatican Council that paid more attention to the role of the Church in social issues. Some religious congregations opted to work with the poor. Catholic schools provided a safer environment, discipline, and spiritual education. They were an alternative to secular public education and constituted the first wave of growth of private schools.
Since 1990, very few new Catholic schools have been established. Changes in the society reduced the demand for this kind of institution, and the decrease in number of priests and nuns diminished the possibility for more expansion of religious schools. In addition, several congregations have opted to work outside the school setting or in partnership with the government to deliver their services to poorer communities. There are few schools from other religions; schools of Protestant faith were created after 1970. The same is true for higher education institutions.
Even though some Catholic schools are elite, a significant increase in secular elite private schools was registered in the 1970s. As stated previously, the deterioration of public education and the religious and ideological freedom of an emerging democracy push the elites to establish new exclusive private schools. In the Dominican Republic there is a clear distinction among social classes; elites look for private alternatives to maintain that distinction. Most private schools become logical choices because they are academically superior, not politicized and conflict-free, and have less of a mixed socioeconomic status composition.
Private secular schools were also the choice for those who were looking for innovative updated education. Student-centered approach, personalized instruction, smaller classes were new demands of the upper-middle class. Catholic schools were associated with traditional education and could not satisfy this demand. In the Dominican Republic, not only conservative but progressive sectors tend to send their children to private schools.
In the last decade there has been a proliferation of bilingual schools (mostly schools that use English as the language of instruction). This kind of private secular schools grew later and elites are reestablishing in these schools and leaving old monolingual elite schools. The new standard of quality education for wealthy groups is that the school teaches in a second language, use high technology, and offer extracurricular activities or after school programs. Only high-income families can afford this education. These schools are seen as ideal to prepare students to study abroad and to become leaders in a competitive and globalized economy. Hence, monolingual private schools are not now schools for the social elite. Even though some of them maintain their prestige, their tuition is not as high as in the bilingual schools and they do not offer a great variety of activities compared to the international schools. They can be considered semi-elite, to again apply a characterization from private higher education (Levy, 2007).
In the case of higher education, the first secular private university (Universidad Pedro Henriquez Urena) was created in 1967 by a group of professors that deserted the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD). This group opposed the renovation movement that was changing the structure and mission of the UASD influenced by the ideals of the “April Revolution” . The government at that time donated the land to build this private university. Indirect support from the State facilitated the creation of private higher institutions. Some elite universities were established in the 1970s and 80s. Elites started to attend these universities as a reaction to the massification and politicization of the public university.
Also, nonelite response to the failure of the public sector occurred. This kind of school is ‘demand-absorbing’ because it has its roots in the extraordinary growth of the population and the demand for schooling. The State could not satisfy the demand, especially in urban city neighborhoods. The lack of school buildings in poor marginal areas, lack of safety, and permanent conflicts within public schools push families to look for alternatives in the private sector. Catholic schools could not absorb the demand, and elite schools by definition cannot accommodate this demand. Moreover, the tuition of the elite school is impossible to pay for a low income family.
Students from low socioeconomic status that live in poor areas of the cities go to the private marginal school (Flores, 1996). This school operates at very low cost and has increasingly grown to satisfy the demand that the lack of place and the deteriorated public school cannot. Still, hundreds of children in the Dominican Republic do not have access to education. Marginal private schools are small, have few resources and their quality varies, but they have increased in number since they are the only option for poor families that are left out of public schools or that want to send their children to schools that do not have strikes and are not over-crowded. There are more demand-absorbing primary schools than secondary schools, probably because secondary schools need teachers that are more specialized and, therefore, are more costly. Also the cost of opportunity to attend school is higher for secondary students and they need alternative programs with flexible schedules. Some distance education programs have opened requiring only occasional attendance from students (usually on weekends). There are also demand-absorbing higher institutions. They target low-income students and some of them offer classes in the evenings and weekends to accommodate working students.
The three waves of growth overlap; however, there is a clear pattern of development in the Dominican private education sector. Each wave of growth led to concomitant set of roles (Levy, 2002). The first wave of private growth mainly involved Catholic schools with a religious role. The second wave was a reaction to perceived “massification” or decline in quality of public education and assumed elite roles in social class and academics. A third wave mostly captured rising demand for education that exceeded the supply of public schools; this means roles related to access.
As in the case of higher education, primary and secondary education followed a similar pattern of growth. However, for the school level the three waves are more mixed in time and some roles juxtaposed. Overall, in the Dominican Republic the process of expansion of private education has been similar for higher, secondary, and primary education. Nevertheless, private enrollment in higher levels is larger than in the primary level, which suggests that the State has mainly tried to cover compulsory education (k-8) and not education at other levels.
III- Public and Private Distinctiveness
According to the regulation of private institutions (SEE, 2000), private schools are the ones in which their administration is governed and financed by the private sector. A set of criteria related to finance, governance, and mission or function (Levy, 1986b) will be used to assess public and private distinctiveness. The waves already analyzed help us to understand the differences between public and private schools and among privates.
A commonly used criterion to distinguish between public and private universities is the source of funds (Levy, 1986b). Theoretically, public and private institutions differ in the way they are financed: public schools are funded by the State and private schools are funded by student tuition, although different kinds of sources and strategies can be used.
Public Schools in the Dominican Republic are free and are centrally funded by the State. However, informally, parents pay a small contribution to the Association of Fathers, Mothers, and Friends of School (APMAE, acronym in Spanish) and collaborate in activities organized to collect funds for the APMAE. Some schools, even though it is prohibited, ask parents for a contribution for school maintenance.
There are also few cases of sponsorship or partnership. Some nonprofit organizations (national and international) and some corporate businesses contribute with schools maintenance, the provision of some materials and equipment, and teacher’s professional development. These organizations provide some educational inputs, but the government is the one that finances the basic operations of the schools.
Private schools are funded by tuition. However, by law, once they are recognized by the Secretaria de Estado de Educacion –SEE- they can ask for the State’s assistance as subsidies. In reality, private schools do not ask for subsidies since the tuition covers their expenses and it is difficult to justify the need for public funding, especially considering the lack of resources of the State. The demand-absorbing poor private schools usually are not recognized by the SEE because they do not meet the minimum requirements according to the General Law of Education and the Regulation of Private Institutions; therefore, they cannot receive subsidies from the State. In addition, the State gives no assistance to private schools on a regular basis. No indirect subsidies, via reduction of taxes, are offered. Schools owned by proprietary could be for profit (even if they do not make much revenue) and pay the corresponding taxes. However, most of the private schools are registered as non-profit organizations. Catholic schools are non-profit and they do not have to pay taxes.
Some teachers in public schools also work in private schools. Some scholars have seen this as an indirect contribution of the State to demand-absorbing institutions (Levy, 1986a) since teachers draw their principal salary from the public school. However, some teachers work at public schools not because of the salary (which sometimes can be comparable to salaries at the private school), but for other benefits, like health insurance and retirement pension.
A group of private schools is subsidized. This kind of school is called semi-official. They charge tuition but the SEE pays the salary of some of their personnel. These schools are run by Catholic congregations and serve low-income students. Catholic universities also serve different kinds of population and some have received contributions from the State.
In addition, the SEE has also a small scholarship program that allows high-achieving students to study in a private school. However, in the year 2004, this program only benefited 400 students and the mechanisms of the selection were not clear. Personal relationships and political influences, more than student merit, determine the selection. These scholarships are paid by the SEE but, generally, private schools reserve a quota for students selected by the SEE. Scholarships are used in Catholic schools as well as secular private schools. There are no clear criteria to select which schools participate in this program. Usually, in their request, the family indicates for which school they wish to use the scholarship.
The Secretaria de Estado de Educacion Superior, Ciencia y Tecnologia –SEECYT- recently opened a scholarship program for students. Based on merit, students can obtain a scholarship to attend a private university in selected fields (those identified by the SEECYT as necessary for the country development and where there is lack of students).
Since the Plan Decenal of 1992, semi-official schools are no longer part of the structure of school administration. The SEE decided that schools could have only two kinds of administration: private or public, and public resources must be concentrated in public schools. Hence, even though some “semiofficial” schools remain, this kind of school has not grown at all in the last decade. The following table showed the distribution:
Distribution of Schools by Sector
Sector Number of schools
Source: Adaptation of table elaborated by Murray (2005) with SEE data of 1996-97.
By the year 2000, a new law was approved by the Congress authorizing the SEE to regulate private school tuition. Interest groups pressured the SEE to take some measures about the increasing tuition of private schools because they believed that private owners were making too much of a profit with education. The SEE has always seen private schools as commercial businesses (SEEBAC, 1979), but, at the same time, it recognizes that it cannot enroll all the students and private schools contribute to the solution of the problem. Traditionally, the SEE has not paid attention to private schools, but parents’ complaints about private school fees and interest of the Congress made this law possible.
The Association of Private Schools protested, but the law was approved presumably because almost all legislators have their children in private schools. The law mandated the SEE to categorize private schools considering the infrastructure, the qualification of their personnel, equipments and materials, and administrative system, to set fees according to the educational quality offered. The law also considered that small private schools classified in the lower levels of the scale could ask for assistance. Therefore, support was available only for marginal private schools by request. However, many small private schools lack awareness of this right established by the law.
The enforcement of this law has been very controversial. In the case of small private schools, the SEE has provided (through Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank projects) some materials, equipment, and teacher training. The SEE has traditionally refused to use its funds for private schools; hence, its contribution has been minimal. By 2003, the SEE was able to categorize the private schools using a scale from 5 to 1 (5 being the highest in quality and investment). The results of the classification, contrary to the expectations of the legislators and the SEE, show that overall school fees were aligned with the kind of service offered. The information about the categorization of the private schools is available to the public, but the law has not been enforced by the SEE. Therefore, prices are not regulated, but parents have more information about private schools.
In spite of various forms of financing, overall, private schools are funded by tuition and public schools are funded by the State. This suggests a financial pattern of private-public that can be labeled as dichotomously distinctive (Levy, 1986a). The same pattern is observed in Dominican higher education, but all private universities have to be nonprofit by law. However, there has been more pressure to control school tuition than to control private university fees. Basic education is compulsory and the demand is greater at lower levels. At the same time, some elite schools are more expensive than the elite private universities. The open access of the public university, perceived as less deteriorated than the public schools, also reduces this pressure at this level.
The private sector draws its income almost completely from private sources, while the public sector depends virtually on State funds. In cases where the State contributes to the private sector through a subsidy, the majority of beneficiaries are religious schools. Therefore, the distinction between private and public in regards to financing is clear. In the Dominican Republic, excess of demand has produced a relatively large private sector, even in the absence of direct subsidies or assistance from the State. This sustains the finding that private sectors in developing countries are more ‘pure’ than those in modern countries, and depend mainly on fee financing (James, 1991) .
Governance is related to the degree of control of the government and the degree of autonomy of institutions (Levy, 1986b). It is also related to the type of administration and governing bodies schools have. Dominican schools can be classified according to their administration systems in four types (Flores, 1996):
- Public schools administered by the SEE: public schools are under the control of the State. The SEE appoints and hires school personnel (principals, teachers, support and maintenance staff, etc), sets the salaries, delivers the equipment and materials for the school, establishes the curriculum, does the school maintenance, etc. The SEE, through its various offices, decides and controls all aspects of the administration of the schools.
- Public schools administered by a private group: these public schools are run by private nonprofit groups, usually belonging to the Catholic Church. This type of school is regulated like public schools, the only difference is that the principal is appointed by the institution that administers the school and the director can select part of the personnel. An example of this kind of administration is Fe y Alegria Schools.
- Semi-official schools: are private schools supported by the State. The schools are privately owned, the selection of the principal and personnel is done by the administrative organization, and they charge tuition, but the SEE covers the payroll of part of their staff. They are regulated by the law of private institutions. Must of them are religious schools.
- Private schools: are privately owned schools, property of an individual or a group. They charge tuition and this is their main source of financing. They can make all the administrative decisions.
These four types of schools are not clearly established in the regulation. As stated before, semi-official schools do not exist legally anymore, but it is established that private schools can receive subsidies from the State. Therefore, this type is considered as a private school with public subsidies. There are no special regulations or controls for private institutions that receive subsidies. In addition, public schools run by nonprofit groups are not clearly regulated. Some special agreements with Catholic organizations have been made, but there is not a general rule for this type of administration.
However, all Dominican schools are regulated by the General Law of Education and have to follow the national curriculum, the official school calendar, and take the national exams at the end of basic and secondary education (grades 8 and 12). Private schools can enhance the curriculum and can extend or reduce the calendar if they can prove that the content has been covered. In addition, private schools have to fulfill some requirements (infrastructure, teacher qualification, materials) to be recognized by the SEE. A private school has to have authorization from the SEE through the Department of Private Schools to operate. However, the requirements do not adapt to the different kinds of private schools or to the different levels of education. Besides these requirements, private schools work with relative autonomy. This autonomy is wider because of a lack of capacity of the SEE to supervise schools and obtain information.
Many ‘demand-absorbing’ private schools are not recognized by the SEE but they still operate. Usually they would not have problems until the eighth grade, which is the last grade of basic education. This grade since it is assessed by national exams and students who are approved receive an official certification is the one most supervised by the SEE. Several marginal private schools do not have the eighth grade. The SEE, as an emergency measure, has allowed students from private schools that have the eighth grade and are not yet recognized to register in a public school to take the exams; otherwise many students would have lost the year.
In the case of schools that use a language other than Spanish for instruction and that use a different curriculum, teachers must teach, by law, Spanish and social sciences and civics in Spanish; only if they follow these rules can they be recognized by the Dominican education system. Students from these schools usually receive a certification from the country or the international association the school belongs to; but in order to receive the certification of the SEE, students need to take the national exams.
The Dominican State has moved from laissez-fare behavior to a limited regulating role in the control of private education. Its control is more limited in the case of Catholic schools supported by the Concordat and the elite bilingual schools that are affiliated with international schools and boards.
Compared to the public schools, private schools are more autonomous from the State. Each private school is individually responsible for its own personnel, whereas public school personnel are appointed by the SEE. Moreover, the State has less control over how funds are spent in the private sector. Therefore, the State exerts less control over the private sector than it does the public. However, the State has a regulating role on private education setting the bounds that limit freedom since, according to the General Law of Education, it is responsible to ensure education for all and to guarantee the unity of action between public and private educational institutions.
In the case of higher education, the State also has a regulating role for private institutions via institutional authorization, but the public university (UASD) is autonomous. Governance in the public university is very different from the private institutions and from public schools. The SEECYT (State Secretariat of Higher Education, Science and Technology) has to approve the programs offered by private higher institutions unless they have autonomy. Only the UASD and the PUCMM (Pontificia Universidad Catolica Madre y Maestra) have autonomy .
The category of function or mission is more complex to analyze than are governance or finance (Levy, 1986b). It is easier to establish differences between funding and control than to establish differences between what private and public schools do. Probably, there is no public or private mission, schools are supposed to fulfill the same mission. However, if we consider the criteria of quality and clientele, some differences may arise. Different kinds of private schools pursue different kinds of functions related to the clientele and values they served.
Public schools are secular and are for all. They are free and open to every student regardless his/her background or personal characteristics. Its mission is determined by the responsibility of the State to guarantee educational opportunities for all the population. However, several limitations constrain the possibility of public schools to fulfill its mission, not only related to access but especially regarding equity and quality of education. Conversely, private schools charge tuition and limits access to them.
Catholic private schools have a religious mission. However, religion is not always the main reason for parents to choose these schools. Some Catholic schools are characterized by traditional moral values, conservative ideology, and discipline. In addition, some of them usually require that students perform a social service, like helping poor communities, teaching how to read and write illiterate adults, helping orphanages or some institution that serves the needy, contributing in reforestation programs, etc. Therefore, their mission is associated with the formation of an integral person that cultivates the mind and the spirit, especially by showing concern for societal problems. Some parents look for this.
Catholic schools serve different kinds of population. Some are attended by middle and high-income students and others by lower-income students. Catholic schools that work with this last population usually received subsidies from the government. Many of the polytechnics (vocational secondary schools) are run by religious congregations. In this case, their mission is also related to provide students with the skills they will need for the labor market.
Elite schools have the mission of academic excellence. Some of them are characterized by a more innovative curriculum, small size classes, use of technology, extra-curricular activities, and a more enriching environment. These schools are for the upper and middle classes that can afford to pay, so they serve privileged students. This elite education is comprehensive and, in the case of the secondary level, has the mission of preparing for the university level. However, with the growth of bilingual elite schools, a further division of class has been created. The more wealthy families are the ones able to have access to the foreign schools; they attract a more exclusive clientele.
Demand-absorbing schools have the main function of providing access to students who cannot find a place in the public schools. They absorb lower income students and satisfy a demand in the marginal areas of the cities. These schools are usually small, have few resources, and their quality varies.
In the Dominican Republic, parents choose private schools because they are more responsive to their needs, they are not politicized and do not have strikes, teachers follow professional norms and fulfill their duties. In addition, some private schools offer more quality, and, in some cases, their education differs along religious, linguistic, pedagogical or academic quality lines from that provided by the government.
In the case of higher education, the situation is the same. Students attend private universities because they are more responsive to their needs and the market, they are not politicized, do not have strikes, and teachers attend and fulfill their duties. In addition, elite private universities offer more quality and select their students. However, quality has not been measured in terms of learning outcomes at the higher level, but the perception is that students from elite universities are better prepared. Private demand-absorbing institutions do not have the same prestige. In the case of higher education, demand-absorbing institutions grew to respond to an increasing demand of lower and middle income students. These institutions have schedules that facilitate the participation of students that have fulltime jobs and their quality varies.
At lower levels, some studies have shown that private schools have better results. Therefore, in reality, quality is the main distinctive mission. Even the demand-absorbing private schools, where quality is lower, are more cost-effective than public schools (Jimenez, et al., 1991). The argument of better quality of private education is supported by the following data.
According to the statistics available (SEE, 2003) private schools have higher rates of promotion and lower rates of repetition and dropout. However, this can be related to socioeconomic background. Quality education is hard to measure, but according to the results of national exams and other studies, private school students have better achievement. Nevertheless, it is important to notice that the results for the marginal private schools are lower and comparable to public schools.
Luna, Gonzalez, and Wolfe (1990) evaluated mathematic achievement of eighth grade students in the Dominican Republic. They explored the influence of school factors, and social and demographic characteristics on learning. The sample was stratified according to demographic and pedagogical classifications. The results showed low achievement in all mathematic contents in all types of public schools and unrecognized private schools. Achievement was uniformly low and only in recognized private schools did achievement reach acceptable levels. Students attending public schools are from low socio-economic status. Only 15% of eighth graders attend private schools. The majority of students in recognized private schools come from middle and high socio-economic status. The authors concluded that many factors contribute to achievement in mathematics, such as curriculum, instructional materials, teacher training, etc.; however, the socioeconomic status had a great influence and the segregation of the population deepens social inequalities.
Another analysis based on the same data (Jimenez, et al., 1991) found that holding constant nonschool factors and correcting selectivity bias, students on average learn more in private than public schools. They concluded that elite schools may be pricey but they may be delivering more; cheap private schools may be low-quality but parents get what they pay for; and, public schools may be free to the individual but they may be costly socially. They also admitted that a trade-off existed between efficiency and equity in the matter of public versus private education. Still it is difficult to measure the value added of private schools, considering the student family background as well as the peer group effect.
Private schools vary in mission and functions. In comparison to the public sector, most of them offer more quality and a more secure environment. They serve different clientele and this determines the focus of their mission (religious, excellence, innovation, access...).
The analysis provided an examination of the major patterns of evolution, finance, governance, and function of private education in the Dominican Republic. The categories used prove to be useful guides in understanding the private sector.
The proliferation of private schools in the Dominican Republic is the result of the deterioration of public schools. Decreases in quality, lack of schools to satisfy the demand, poor conditions of the public schools, politicization, unresponsiveness to the needs, internal conflicts, and lack of investment in the public sector made possible the expansion of the private sector as an alternative for education.
This growth occurred mostly after Trujillo’s dictatorship. Three waves of private growth were identified: Catholic, elite-secular, and demand-absorbing. Intersectoral overlap along with intersectoral distinctiveness was found. Catholic schools were an alternative for religious education, discipline and moral values. Elite schools were the alternative for the upper class and provided a more personalized instruction, innovation and, in some cases, a foreign language. Demand-absorbing schools were the alternative for the ones that could not find a place in the public schools, especially in urban areas. The sub-sectors overlap as do some roles, but, overall, they showed a pattern of evolution and distinctiveness similar to the pattern followed by higher education. The distinction between private and public schools and among private schools helps understanding the heterogeneity of the sector.
In the financial pattern, the analysis reveals a clear distinction between public and private related to their major income source. The public sector is basically funded by the State while the private sector relies on private sources. However, the Catholic sub-sector usually has access to subsidies from the State.
The analysis of governance reveals the degree of the State’s control over public and private schools. Private schools, even though regulated by the State, have more autonomy than public schools. To guarantee unity according to the centralized model, all schools are subject to the General Law of Education and need to implement the national curriculum. Nevertheless, different regulations rule public and private institutions. The sub-sector of Catholic schools has more autonomy because of the Concordat as well as the elite schools that use languages other than Spanish.
The analysis about the function showed that private schools have different missions related to religion, quality, and, in a lesser extent, economic orientation in the case of secondary education. In terms of quality, there is a significant differentiation between public and private. Undoubtedly, the elite secular sector and some Catholic schools have more prestige. The demand-absorbing sub-sector is often regarded as low-quality schools, but with their low cost, they could be more efficient than public schools.
Great private-public distinctiveness can be seen in all three areas –finance, governance, and function. There is an important distinctiveness between private and public schools. However, there are differences among subsectors –Catholic, secular elite, and demand-absorbing.
The patterns discovered in the private primary and secondary education indicate the relevance and utility of the framework and the categories used. It also showed the need to adapt some of the concepts to address specific issues and characteristics of these levels and of the education in the Dominican Republic. However, some similarities between higher education institutions and primary and secondary schools were found.
This analysis could be useful for policy. Distinguishing among types of schools and profiles may facilitate policy choices providing accurate and usable knowledge. In the case of the Dominican Republic, this study shows that the private sector growth responded to demands of the population without any help or assistance from the State. Furthermore, the State has not designed any policy to make good use of the private sector. On the contrary, the Secretaria de Estado de Education focuses mainly on the public sector. This attitude widens the difference between sectors and hinders the possibility of creating partnerships or using other mechanisms to increase enrollment and quality.
Private schools target particular segments of consumers and adopt suitable education approaches. The private school system makes an important contribution in that it allows children to have a higher level of learning achievement than would be expected from a public school, without adding financial burden to the government (Jimenez, et al., 1991). However, the majority of students attend public schools. Issues of quality and equity are at stake. The gap between public and private education has increased; this school separation regarding income has an effect on the Dominican social coexistence and cohesion.
Moreover, the analysis reveals that private schools are not the same; they vary and fill different roles. Understanding the distinctiveness may help to have better clues to answer policy questions: How are resources distributed across sectors? What is the trade-off between quantity and quality, equity and efficiency? Should the State increase support to demand-absorbing schools as a way to expand enrollment? Should the State increase inspection among private schools? Should the State support Catholic schools or different kinds of schools? Should the State increase support to low-performing schools –private or public? Can the State introduce some policies to try to balance income segregation?
A lack of information limited the extent of this study. Further research is needed to deepen the analysis of some aspects of the public-private dynamic, the role of the State, as well as the consequences of the private growth. However, this attempt contributed to our understanding of the private sector, especially the characteristics that define the distinctiveness between public and private in the Dominican Republic. There are other valid ways and approaches in which private and public schools could be assessed; but the concepts used were applicable and helpful. This constitutes a first effort to analyze private and public sectors in primary and secondary education using higher education literature.
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James, E. (1991). Public Policies toward Private Education: An International Comparison. International Journal of Educational Research 15, pp. 359-375.
Jimenez, E., Lockheed, M., Luna, E. and V. Paqueo. (1991). School Effects and Costs for Private and Public Schools in the Dominican Republic. International Journal of Educational Research 15, pp. 393-410.
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Comparison between school- level and private higher education
in the Dominican Republic
Sectoral Size Predominance of public sector during Trujillo’s dictatorship (1930-61).
Overlapping waves of growth. Few private schools, no private universities before 1960.
Higher education private enrollment now 60%.
Primary and secondary private education enrollment 20%.
Causes of Private Growth Rapid urbanization, politicization of public institutions, conflicts, massification, low investment, deterioration of the quality of public institutions. Same causes, different emphasis.
Politicization and conflicts main cause of initial private higher education growth.
Deteriorating quality of public schools and lack of supply main causes for initial private school growth.
Catholic Sector Major growth starting 1960s.
Some for the elites, some for middle income.
Tuition funded but some receive subsidies or have received donations.
Under general regulations (SEE, SEECYT) but greater autonomy than other private institutions.
Religious mission, safer environment. Catholic schools existed historically.
Catholic schools that serve the poor are regularly subsidized by the government. Some public schools are administered by religious congregations. Catholic universities have received donations from the State. No partnerships between government and Catholic universities.
The Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra (PUCMM) has autonomy.
Elite Sector Major growth since 1970s. Serve socioeconomic elites.
Under general regulations (SEE, SEECYT).
Mission of academic excellence and social differentiation. New private bilingual elite schools proliferated since mid 90s. English, technology and innovative curriculum are concerns for the elite.
English not the language of instruction at any university except for some medical programs.
Elite schools are more expensive than universities.
Government and international agencies have made contributions to some universities but not to private schools.
Private universities can achieve autonomy through accreditation.
Demand -Absorbing Sector Response to demand and lack of supply from the State.
Serve lower income students
Under general regulations (SEE- SEECYT).
Mission of providing access.
Some schools are not accredited and not authorized to operate.
Universities have flexible schedules (evenings and weekends) as do some high schools but no primary schools.
Private universities can achieve autonomy through accreditation.