Phonics and Foreign Aid: Can America Teach the World to Read?

Thomaz Alvares de Azevedo
Xiaomin Ju
November 20, 2023


Phonics and Foreign Aid
November 20, 2023
9:30—11:00 AM ET / 2:30-4:00 PM GMT

Over two decades and dozens of countries, the United States Agency for International Development has refined a package of support for early-grade reading, often referred to as “structured pedagogy”, which includes textbooks, teacher training, coaching, and lesson plans. Programs are implemented by American companies in public schools and evaluated using harmonized learning metrics, yielding a portfolio of 12 experimental and 15 difference-in-difference evaluations. Results vary widely, but on average programs increase oral reading fluency by approximately 3 words from a base of 13 correct words per minute in early primary. The average program costs about $200 per pupil, roughly equivalent to doubling school spending. Larger programs cost much less per pupil, but yield (insignificantly) smaller impacts. Newer programs yield somewhat bigger impacts, consistent with the idea that program evaluation can improve the quality of aid through iterative learning.

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