In my last blog I wrote about how empowering parents helps increase accountability in schools in rural Mexico. Although I said evidence was sparse, it is accumulating. In Africa, a number of rigorous impact evaluations are underway and starting to report findings.
When my wife and I were looking for where to live in Washington DC, an important part of the decision was the quality of the local public school that our children would (eventually) attend. But how to judge quality? Talking to lots of people was the first step. Taking schools tours was another. But researching test scores was a key factor. We wanted a school with a good learning environment, a sense that parents had a positive feeling about the place—but also wanted to know that the school had a track record of good learning outcomes. Thankfully, the performance of public schools in Washington DC is accessible online and can be compared across schools. This information was an important input into our decision. And it remains an important way in which we monitor school performance. We pay close attention to our own children’s academic development, talk to their teachers regularly, and try to be attentive to the many subtle indicators of the quality of education that they are receiving. But the annually released test scores provide an externally validated stock-taking of one aspect of that quality.
How to make schools accountable for results is a hot issue in both rich and poor countries. The debate is often highly charged and ideological -- witness the discussions in Washington DC around the reforms promoted by former Chancellor Michelle Rhee. It is thus refreshing when new and rigorous evidence is used to bring some light into the debate.
Building on over six years of hard work by World Bank teams working across several countries and regions, Barbara Bruns, Deon Filmer and Harry Patrinos have produced a major volume entitled Making Schools Work: New Evidence on Accountability Reforms.
Making Schools Work is part of the new Human Development Perspectives book series that will launch early next week. An initiative of the Human Development Network, the series will present key research in the field of human development. By linking evidence to policy, publications in this series will help developing countries and their partners get more mileage and impact out of their investments in human capital.
I was in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh recently. Madhya Pradesh, or MP, as most Indians know it – is a big state in the middle of the country. It also has some of the poorest human development indicators in the country.
Some distance from Gwalior, we get off at a large village on the side of the road and start walking away from the highway towards the villages in the interior. Eventually, we cross a stream and reach the last village before a hill stops the road from going any further.
We are in a tribal village, with silos for community grain, a recently constructed Panchayat (the local governing body) hall and a decrepit school. The schools have been closed down after the walls collapsed and snakes were discovered in the classroom. The teachers now hold classes in the temple under a large banyan tree.
Investments in education and human capital have long been recognized as precipitators of future economic growth. Rapid development in Korea in the second half of the 20th century, for instance, has been traced by scholars back to high levels of investments in schooling and training, creating the enabling environment for industrialization and further specialization.
There is no doubt that commitment to education for economic development requires both long-term funding and the multiplying effects of time.
But what causes countries with similar levels of sustained spending to achieve vastly different outcomes? It's a question that burns in the minds and wallets of governments and development efforts around the world.