Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity


Views from the Center


Every day I see a consistent flow of new research and analysis in global education. Sometimes it feels like a deluge! There are some policy areas where we already have a great deal of research, but in other cases, one or two studies from a couple of countries drive our knowledge, and new evidence can make a big difference to our understanding. Here are five recent findings that I came across this week that struck me.

  1. Want better test scores? Lower the heat. New nationwide analysis from the United States shows that “without air-conditioning, a 1°F hotter school year reduces that year’s learning by one percent. Hot school days disproportionately impact minority students, accounting for roughly five percent of the racial achievement gap.” I remember, years ago, seeing a planned education project in Brazil to put air conditioning in the schools, and it seemed like such a low priority. Maybe not! Earlier results from India show the same pattern, but they also show that social safety nets can narrow the temperature-learning relationship.

  2. Parents make school choices based not only on test scores but also on a school's contribution to reduced crime or teen pregnancies. Kevin Mahnken at the 74 covers recent research in Trinidad and Tobago by Beuermann et al. "Academic concerns are far from the only ones helping parents make these decisions. When choosing between two schools of similar academic performance, the average parent is willing to drive 35 percent farther to take her child to a school that meaningfully reduces student arrests; she is willing to drive 30 percent farther to a school that excels in preventing teen pregnancy." Another key finding? As the study authors write, "The correlations between school impacts on high-stakes tests and other outcomes is surprisingly low... Schools that improve academic skills are not necessarily those that improve broader adult well-being." Parents care about learning, but they also care about lots of other outcomes that schools produce.

  3. Education reform ≠ education gains. At least, not automatically and not at the rate you might hope. Pakistan has invested in wide-ranging education reforms and significantly increased education financing in recent years, but the gains—in both access and learning—have been modest. Andrabi and Macdonald point to two potential reasons—unintended consequences and contradictory effects—and propose that more piloting coupled with rigorous evaluation can mitigate these challenges. (This piece has great figures, by the way.) 

  4. It’s hard to teach what you don’t know. Across seven African countries, "shortfalls in teachers' content knowledge account for 30 percent of the shortfall in learning relative to the curriculum, and about 20 percent of the cross-country difference in learning in the sample" (Bold et al.). They go on, "Assigning more students to better teachers would potentially lead to substantial cost-savings, even if there are negative class-size effects." 

  5. Once you’re out of school, it’s still hard to teach what you don’t know. This recommendation about better teachers also applies to apprenticeships. Results from a randomized controlled trial of a government-sponsored apprenticeship program in Ghana show that "apprenticeships shift youth out of wage work and into self-employment" and that—unfortunately—"the loss of wage income is not offset by increases in self-employment profits in the short run." But the good news is that "participants who trained with the most experienced trainers or the most profitable ones had higher earnings. These increases more than offset the program’s negative treatment effect on earnings." (Hardy et al.)

As an additional note (not a finding), the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) program for 2019 is up! Register your interest in attending, bookmark it on your calendar (June 19-20) to watch live online, or just peruse the papers: nine of them are already available for you to read.

Figure of the Week: Higher temperatures = lower test scores, across countries and across US counties

Across countries
A scatter plot comparing the relationship of temperature and math scores for students across various countries.

Across U.S. counties
A scatter plot comparing the relationship of temperature and math scores for students across various US counties.

Source: Goodman et al. 2019

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.