Successful efforts to expand access to education in the developing world have not always translated into actual improvements in skills and learning for students. It remains an open debate as to whether top-down approaches are more effective in improving educational quality than approaches which promote beneficiary participation, such as parental monitoring. Top-down approaches can provide administrators with the tools necessary to better monitor their schools, but this assumes that they have the incentives to do so. Bureaucrats may have more incentives to improve the quantity, rather than quality, of education services since the benefits of improving quality are diffuse and harder to verify. The combined effects of these perverse incentives can result in a large number of children who are in the classroom, but are not learning. Promoting local accountability may be a useful means of improving schooling outcomes, if it can be determined which factors makes beneficiary participation effective at improving education delivery.
Context of the Evaluation:
Madagascar divides its 2.7 million children into 15,000 public primary schools. Despite the significant increase in primary school enrollment following Madagascar's 2002 reforms and an influx of international financial support, resource allocation across schools remains inefficient, and better resource endowments rarely translate into better student performance. Only 63% of grade 5 children pass the primary-cycle exam, an assessment of the minimum level language and math knowledge presumed at this grade. District administrators face a performance review only every 3 years, and the subdistrict heads rarely face any credible threat of penalties or firing.
Details of the Intervention:
Researchers, in collaboration with The Ministry of Education in Madagascar, ran a randomized experiment in 3,774 primary schools in 30 public school districts. These districts represented all geographic areas in the country, but were focused on schools with the higher rates of grade repetition.
All district administrators in treatment districts received operational tools and training that included forms for supervision visits to schools, and procurement sheets for school supplies and grants (district-level intervention). In some of these schools, the subdistrict head was also trained and provided with tools to supervise school visits, as well as information on the performance and resource level at each school (subdistrict-level intervention).
Lastly, several districts also introduced a school level intervention which involved parental monitoring through school meetings. Field workers distributed a ‘report card’ to schools, which included the previous year’s dropout rate, exam pass rate, and repetition rate. Two community meetings were then held, and the first meeting resulted in an action plan based on the report card. One example of the goals specified in the action plans was to increase the school exam pass rate by 5 percentage points by the end of the academic year. Common tasks specified for teachers included lesson planning and student evaluation every few weeks. The parent’s association was expected to monitor the student evaluation reports which the teachers were supposed to communicate to them. These tools allowed parents to coordinate on taking actions to monitor service quality and exercise social pressure on the teachers.
Results and Policy Lessons:
Impact from Top-Down Approach: The interventions targeted at the district and subdistrict level had minimal effects on the administrator’s behaviors, and the schools and students under their responsibility. Though each tool – forms for supervision visits to schools and procurement sheets for school supplies and grants – was used by 90% of subdistrict heads and more than 50% of district heads, subdistrict heads visited their schools only slightly more often than those in the comparison group, an insignificant improvement. Teachers in both groups did not plan for lessons more, and no improvement in test scores was seen in the two years following the program.
Impact from Bottom-Up Approach: The interventions at the school level led to significantly improved teacher behavior. Teachers were on average 0.26 standard deviations more likely to create daily and weekly lesson plans and to have discussed them with their director. Test scores were 0.1 standard deviations higher than those in the comparison group two years after the implementation of the program. Additionally, student attendance increased by 4.3 percentage points compared to the comparison group average of 87%, though teacher attendance and communication with parents did not improve.