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Technoskeptics pay heed: A computer-assisted learning program that delivers learning results

David Evans's picture
Some years ago, a government I was working with really wanted to increase the data they had on their own education system. They didn’t have great data on student attendance or teacher attendance, much less on tardiness or instruction time. They designed an information management system with swipe cards for every student and teacher to use going in and out of classrooms, all of which would feed wirelessly into the district office, allowing real-time interventions to improve education. It sounded amazing! And it fell apart before it ever began.

Weekly links Feb 10: the robustness in small samples fallacy, high growth firms, videos of recent talks, and more…

David McKenzie's picture

Skills and agricultural productivity

Markus Goldstein's picture
Do skills matter for agricultural productivity?   Rachid Laajaj and Karen Macours have a fascinating new paper out which looks at this question.   The paper is fundamentally about how to measure skills better, and they put a serious amount of work into that.    But for those of you dying to know the answer – skills do matter, with cognitive, noncognitive, and technical skills explaining about 12.1 to 16.6 of the variation in yields.   Before we delve into that

Targeting which informal firms might formalize and bringing them into the tax system

David McKenzie's picture
I have worked for a while with different attempts to get informal firms to register their businesses and become formal. We have tried giving them information and actually paying them to formalize, lowering the cost of registering to zero, offering them accountants and increasing enforcement.

Weekly links February 3rd: Being a better referee, undergraduate econometrics, stopping Mexican migration didn’t help U.S. workers, and more…

David McKenzie's picture
  • In the latest JEP, how to write an effective referee report: With three specific recommendations: I) Make clear the contribution, and give appropriate value to innovative work: “The importance of a contribution can be undervalued in some cases by referees and editors. After all, papers that are more ambitious are often more likely to have loose ends, which gives referees and editors a reason to avoid taking a chance on them” II) divide comments into two clearly demarcated sections: 1) problems that make the paper unpublishable, which (if revision is invited) must be addressed before the paper is publishable; and 2) problems that are not essential for the publishability of the paper, which should labeled as “suggestions.”; and III) In making requests of authors, weigh the costs of the request. It is not enough that a particular request will improve the paper. The benefits must exceed the costs, so that the improvement has positive net present value. Since the author bears the costs, it is easy for a referee to make absurd demands thoughtlessly. Don’t.” – and finally, after receiving multiple 5+ page referee reports recently, I agree with “Unless a referee needs to make extremely technical points, 2–3 pages should be sufficient.”

Can providing information to parents improve student outcomes? 4 recent papers show it can (Chile, Malawi, and US x2)

David Evans's picture
My oldest child started middle school this year, and I suddenly started receiving emails every other week with updates on his grades. I’d never received anything like this before and was overwhelmed (and a little annoyed) by the amount of information. Someone told me that I could go to some website to opt out, but that seemed like too much work. So I continue getting the emails. And sure enough, now I follow up: “Hey, are you going to speak to your teacher about making up that assignment?

Do Cash Transfers Have Sustained Effects on Human Capital Accumulation?

Berk Ozler's picture

Cash transfers are great – lots of people are telling you that on a continuous basis. However, it is an open question as to whether such programs can improve the wellbeing of their beneficiaries well after the cessation of support. As cash transfer programs continue to grow as major vehicles for social protection, it is increasingly important to understand if these programs break the cycle of intergenerational poverty, or whether the benefits simply evaporate when the money runs out…

Weekly links Jan 27: Eek your ongoing study makes the news, imperfect instruments, technology beats corruption, and more…

David McKenzie's picture

Are holistic intimate partner and sexual and gender based violence prevention randomized control trials structurally low-powered?

Guest post by Arthur Alik-Lagrange and Lea Rouanet

Impact evaluations of interventions aiming at reducing intra-partner and sexual and gender-based violence (IPV-SGBV) have mostly failed at detecting statistically significant impacts.

Experiments in Development from Every Angle: A Review of Tim Ogden's new book

David Evans's picture



Randomized controlled trials are kind of a big deal in development economics right now. A recent article in The Economist shows a sizeable rise in the use of RCTs in economics overall over the last 15 years, and recent analysis by David McKenzie shows that RCTs make up a large minority of development papers in top journals (see the figures below).

Source: The Economist on the left; McKenzie (2016) on the right.

In his new book Experimental Conversations: Perspectives on Randomized Trials in Development Economics, Tim Ogden has assembled interviews with a distinguished group that interacts with RCTs in every imaginable way: you have those who pioneered the use of the method in development economics, the next generation of researchers, the chief critics of the method, and consumers of development RCTs at organizations like GiveWell, the Ford and Grameen Foundations, and the Center for Global Development. You also hear from one broader observer of economics as a field (Tyler Cowen) and one of the scholars who pioneered the use of RCTs in U.S. policy (Judy Gueron), to give added perspective.

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