Journal Issue: Excellence in the Classroom Volume 17 Number 1 Spring 2007
Some developing countries have tried devolving directly to schools the authority to make decisions regarding teacher hiring and other administrative matters that are usually made by local, regional, or central governments. The idea behind such decentralization is to bring these decisions closer to the school, and thus to parents and students, to generate incentives and conditions to improve teaching quality and student outcomes and make teachers and schools more accountable to the community.
Several countries in Central America have introduced such school-based management reforms. In El Salvador, a retrospective evaluation found that the Programa de EducaciÃ³n con ParticipaciÃ³n de la Comunidad (Education with Community Participation Program, or EDUCO) has affected management practices, teacher behavior, and student outcomes.30 A few important powers, most notably the ability to hire and fire teachers, have been transferred to the school, but many other decisions continue to be made primarily by central authorities. Most of the local decisionmaking power has been given to parents rather than principals. The study also finds important behavioral differences: EDUCO schools have fewer school closings, less teacher absenteeism, more meetings between teachers and parents, and longer teacher work hours than control schools. These changes in teacher behavior, in turn, are related to higher achievement in Spanish in EDUCO schools.
Another retrospective evaluation finds similar effects in Honduras’s Proyecto HondureÃ±o de EducaciÃ³n Comunitaria (Honduran Community Education Project, or PROHECO).31 Like EDUCO, PROHECO is a school-based management reform for rural primary schools. Comparing PROHECO schools to similar schools in rural areas (using propensity score matching methods to construct a credible comparison group), the study finds that PROHECO teachers are less frequently absent because of union participation, although they are more frequently absent because of teacher professional development. Teachers in PROHECO are paid less and have fewer years of experience than comparison teachers. And, as in El Salvador’s EDUCO program, teachers in PROHECO teach more hours in an average week than comparison teachers; they also have smaller classes and assign more homework. In these examples, at least, decentralized schools appear to encourage greater efficiency and teacher effort.
Although the studies found little evidence that teachers in community-managed schools differ from their colleagues in conventional schools in terms of their classroom processes, planning, or motivation, PROHECO students score higher on math, science, and Spanish exams than students in similar non-PROHECO schools. This higher student achievement is, in part, explained by unique qualities and characteristics of PROHECO schools. Specifically, the more hours a week a teacher works, the higher is the mean student achievement in all three subjects. The frequency of homework is associated with higher achievement in Spanish and math. Finally, smaller classes and fewer school closings are related to higher student achievement in science.
In contrast to PROHECO and EDUCO, Nicaragua’s School Autonomy program (AutonomÃa Escolar) was aimed initially at urban secondary schools, in particular those with higher-than-average resources. Unlike their peers in neighboring El Salvador and Honduras, parent associations and teachers in Nicaragua’s autonomous schools report little decisionmaking power. A decade after the reform began, autonomous and nonautonomous schools continue to differ in much the same ways as before reform. Differences in student socioeconomic background continue to explain most differences in student achievement. The reform appears to have had no systematic effect on student learning. Although on average students in autonomous schools outscore students in traditional schools in mathematics in third grade, by sixth grade they score lower on both Spanish and mathematics tests. There is little evidence that differences between autonomous and traditional schools are responsible for these differences in test scores.32