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Attracting the right kinds of teachers? Paying teachers for performance may have very different effects on the effort that current teachers put in and on the kinds of people that choose to become teachers. In a novel experiment by Leaver and others in Rwanda, advertisements in some randomly selected communities offered candidates pay-for-performance contracts, and ads in other communities offered standard, fixed-wage contracts. The pay-for-performance contracts attracted more money-oriented individuals, but those individuals ended up being at least as effective teachers as those attracted by more traditional contracts.
But then, once teachers were hired, teachers were randomly assigned to receive a pay-for-performance contract and/or a fixed-wage contract. (Surprise! New contract! A signing bonus ensured that no one was upset by the contract they got.) Pay-for-performance contracts led to significantly higher effort and subsequent increased student test scores. The “performance” that was paid for was student learning (50 percent) together with teacher presence, preparation, and pedagogy (50 percent).
Tracking: It may not mean what you think it means. There are many debates about the potential benefits and risks of grouping students by ability—otherwise known as tracking. But different school systems use dramatically different forms of tracking, from milder approaches, which put children into separate classes based on their previous achievement but don’t put them in separate schools with separate curricula and career paths, to more intense tracking, where students are locked into tracks with built-in long-term implications for vocational or secondary training after secondary school. A middle-school reform in France—evaluated by Canaan—shifted from intense tracking to mild tracking: “The reform raised individuals’ level of education and increased their wages by 4.7 percent at ages 40 to 45, with the strongest effects occurring among individuals from low socioeconomic backgrounds.” Implementations of mild tracking have increased student learning in both Kenya and India.
Preschool: It’s not just for kids! In Indonesia, a study that followed mothers over 22 years found that “an additional public preschool per 1,000 children increases the work participation of mothers of preschool age eligible children by 11–16 percent,” according to Halim, Johnson, and Perova. Preschools tended to nudge moms into informal sector jobs that allowed more scheduling flexibility.
A couple of earlier studies have complementary findings. In Brazil, the offer of free public daycare increased the labor supply of grandmothers who lived in the same home as the children (Attanasio et al., including me). And in Argentina, “mothers are 19.1 percentage points more likely to work for more than 20 hours a week (i.e., more time than their children spend in school) and to work, on average, 7.8 more hours per week as a consequence of their youngest offspring attending preschool” (Berlinksi, Galiana, & McEwan). The Argentina effect only held for youngest children in the household, which makes sense: if you still have even younger kids at home, then preschool doesn’t completely solve your childcare challenge.
Money matters for teachers: Teach for America (and its analogue outside the US, Teach for All) is a selective teacher placement program. Offering higher grants or loans to potential teachers didn’t affect take-up rates for most candidates, but research by Coffman and others shows that for the 10 percent of candidates with highest financial need, more financial help increased take-up by about 12 percent. Strikingly, it didn’t matter if the aid came as a grant or a loan.
Extra effort to meet students’ needs translates to more and better schooling: Seven years after the construction of “girl-friendly” primary schools in Burkina Faso—which included take-home cereal rations for students with high attendance and literacy classes for student mothers, among other benefits—enrollment was up by 16 percentage points and test scores had risen significantly (Kazianga and others). Both enrollment and learning impacts were highest for girls.
Figure of the week: How do students in Rwanda perform, when their teacher was recruited with the promise of a pay-for-performance contract, received a pay-for-performance contract, or both?
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.