Good principals can make a big difference
“It is widely believed that a good principal is the key to a successful school.” So say Branch, Hanushek, and Rivkin in their study of school principals on learning productivity. But how do you measure this? Using a database from Texas in the United States, they employ a value-added approach analogous to that used to measure performance among teachers. They control for basic information on student backgrounds (gender, ethnicity, and an indicator of poverty) as well as student test scores from the previous year. Then they ask, What happens to student learning when a school changes principals? They find that increasing principal quality by one standard deviation increases student learning by 0.11 standard deviations. Even after additional adjustments, their most conservative estimates show that “a 1-standard-deviation increase in principal quality translates into roughly 0.05 standard deviations in average student achievement gains, or nearly two months of additional learning.”
Notably, while improving teacher effectiveness affects the average performance of all of the students in his class, improving principal effectiveness affects average performance of the entire school, so the potential gains are high.
About a year ago I reviewed Angela Duckworth’s book on grit. At the time I noted that there were compelling ideas, but that two big issues were that her self-assessed 10-item Grit scale could be very gameable, and that there was really limited rigorous evidence as to whether efforts to improve grit have lasting impacts.
A cool new paper by Sule Alan, Teodora Boneva, and Seda Ertac makes excellent progress on both fronts. They conduct a large-scale experiment in Turkey with almost 3000 fourth-graders (8-10 year olds) in over 100 classrooms in 52 schools (randomization was at the school level, with 23 schools assigned to treatment).
A recent paper in Lancet Global Health found that generous conditional cash transfers to female secondary school students had no effect on their school attendance, dropout rates, HIV incidence, or HSV-2 (herpes simplex virus – type 2) incidence. What happened?
Here is a curated round-up of recent research on education in low- and middle-income countries, with a few findings from high-income countries that I found relevant. All are from the last few months, since my last round-up.
If I’m missing recent articles that you’ve found useful, please add them in the comments!
- Chris Blattman provides an incentive to delay giving up on that great research idea you’ve been peddling for years in this story from the EconTalk podcast: For years, he pitched random African factory owners the idea of an RCT of factory employment. “They’d usually look at me kind of funny. They wouldn’t leap at the possibility. I was just this person they met on a plane.” One day it worked, and six weeks later he was randomizing applicants.