Public–private partnership in education is increasingly viewed as an effective strategy for improving basic education in developing countries. The current paper presents a case study from Brazil about an emerging public–private partnership in secondary education between the State of Rio de Janeiro and two leading Brazilian private corporations. By employing a ‘co-management’ governance strategy, the partnership leverages resources and technical knowledge of the private sector and offers a qualitatively different mix of academic-focused and technology-focused education for Brazil's public school students. The paper argues that the partnership represents a promising model for addressing the challenges of secondary education in Brazil. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.