AUTONOMY AND ACCOUNTABILITY KEYS TO IMPROVEMENT
Mexican rural education programme shows extraordinary results
Harry Patrinos, the World Banks leading education economist, says that recent evaluations suggest that even in rural settings, school autonomy and accountability can help improve learning outcomes. This is further supported by a series of evaluations of programmes that attempt to alter the power balance between consumers (parents) and providers of schooling services. Recent studies show that autonomy and accountability can improve education outcomes.
In 2009 Patrinos co-authored a study that found that the Apoyo a la Gestión Escolar (AGE – School Management Support) project in Mexico, which gives seed funds to parent associations, improved drop-out rates and test scores in schools. A randomized trial of AGE was implemented in 250 pilot schools during three consecutive school years, from 2007 to 2010. Half of these schools received double the usual amount – from around $600 to $1200 – to conduct school improvement projects. Funding was jointly provided by the Ministry of Education and the private sector as a public-private partnership. The aim of the project was to show the benefit of focusing on families, not just students, to improve school accountability and academic performance.
Patrinos writes ‘Preliminary analysis of the impact of the programme shows a marked improvement in test scores for double-dose AGE schools, especially for indigenous schools. In some cases, the programme helped decrease repetition and failure rates. Drop-out rates fell by over 1.5 percentage points and as a result students moved ahead by about a year in reading and maths. At the school level, test scores for third graders increased by up to 20 points, or about 0.25 standard deviations in Spanish and by about 0.22 standard deviations in math. At the individual student level positive effects were seen in third, fifth and sixth graders. For example, all third grade students tested about 15 points higher in Spanish and about 13 points higher in math, representing about 0.15 and 0.09 standard deviations.’
So what lessons can we draw from this? In short, it demonstrates just how much improvement a simple parental and community empowerment programme can achieve when it is implemented properly. Patrinos adds a note of caution though- ‘the AGE project alone will not be able to help Mexico catch up to match the superior learning outcomes of other OECD countries. The real issue is teacher quality and accountability, but the AGE program does not empower parents to take on teacher issues.’
More generally Patrinos has a firm belief, backed by evidence, that involving the private sector in education in the developing world can improve school performance – through competition, accountability and autonomy – as well as helping expand access. Governments can work productively with the private sector (for profit, and not for profit) to improve outcomes. However he warns that improved performance on a sustained basis is unlikely without strong systems of accountability. He wrote in the Guardian in 2011 ‘The best results come where competition is enhanced through choice, disadvantaged areas are targeted and there is plenty of autonomy at school level.’