Building Evidence on School Accountability

This page in:

ImageHow 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.

The unique aspect of the book is that it draws systematically from results of carefully conducted impact evaluation studies.  Based on a common conceptual framework derived from the 2004 World Development Report on Service Delivery, they review the evidence on three main types of accountability reforms: community management of schools, the provision of information to empower parents and communities and teacher incentives.

I know that many people will look for a clear and sharp bottom line: do these approaches work?  And should countries then just copy those approaches? 

A particularly refreshing aspect of the book is that it stays away from such simplistic recommendations.  Yes, there are many cases of impressive results from some of these interventions.  My favorite case is the large scale experiment with teacher incentives in the state of Andra Pradesh, India (read the Evidence to Policy note, Does Linking Teacher pay to Student Performance Improve Results?)

But, as is often the case, such reviews (if honestly done) seldom provide a definite answer, a magic bullet (see for instance, Conditional Cash Transfers: Reducing Present and Future Poverty). Design details matter: information campaigns can be very different.  Context matters: strongly clientelistic environments make it more difficult for community schools to operate as intended. 

But beyond all these caveats and considerations, the underlying message of this review is that it is, indeed, possible to achieve positive results by changing incentives and enhancing accountability.

Read the full publication at


Ariel Fiszbein

Education Program Director, Inter-American Dialogue

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000