Countries around the world have experimented with “school report cards”: providing parents with information about the quality of their school so that they can demand higher quality service for their children. The results have been mixed. Andrabi, Das, and Khwaja bring a significant contribution to that literature in last month’s American Economic Review with their article using data from Pakistan, “Report Cards: The Impact of Providing School and Child Test Scores on Educational Markets.”
One difference between this study and previous school report card studies is that this intervention is at the level of the local education market: It’s not at the level of the school or at the level of child, but it’s across all schools within a community (and essentially all children attend school within the community). That creates a unique opportunity to see the interplay between public and private schools.
Here are a couple of interesting nuances:
- The price reduction is driven by high-performing private schools. That seems counterintuitive: Even though “parental knowledge improved as a result of the intervention” – meaning that “perceptions of school quality became better aligned with school test scores” – the prices of private schools with the best test scores actually came down. Why? This is consistent with what we call a “separating equilibrium,” where higher quality schools in part signal that quality with big price mark-ups. Better information reduces those mark-ups. The best private schools still charge higher prices – after all, they have the best test scores. They just don’t charge as much as they used to.
- The biggest test score gains (0.31 standard deviations) come from private schools that were performing poorly at baseline. But there are also gains in public schools (0.09 standard deviations). Even though public schools don’t face the same market pressures as private schools, there is a “significant increase in interactions between parents and schools in treatment villages following the distribution of report cards,” suggesting that parents may be exerting social pressure on public schools. These test score gains are not driven by children switching schools. “Very few children switched schools in treatment villages.”
Children and parents are better off as a result of this intervention. Getting information out at the level of the market is a promising avenue.
Bits and pieces
- For a sense of the countries that have tried these interventions, see here, here, and here.
- It’s worth distinguishing school-level report cards interventions (like the one above) from interventions that provide parents with information on how their individual child is doing. Several of those latter interventions have been highly effective, but they operate at the level of parents encouraging additional effort from students, not from improving the quality of the school.
- The working paper version of Andrabi et al.’s AER paper is open access, and the abstract is virtually identical.
- The paper discussed above has a nice review of this literature, which wisely goes beyond education into other relevant areas. There have been two recent reviews of interventions to provide information for educational accountability. Cheng and Moses have a review “Promoting transparency through information: A global review of school report cards” (2016). Read and Atinc also have a review, “Information for accountability: Transparency and citizen engagement for improved service delivery in education systems,” with a whole series of blog posts to go with it.