These are really important results, thanks heaps to Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution (reposted below). The Indian public schools are so bad that extremely simple interventions can get large benefits. E.g., sending a digital camera to every school so that every day a student can take a photo that proves whether or not the teacher was present for work (mostly not – before the photos).
Several years ago I reported on a very large, randomized experiment (JSTOR) on teacher performance pay in India that showed that even modest incentives could significantly raise student achievement and do so not only in the incentivized subjects but also in other non-incentivized subjects, suggesting positive spillovers. The earlier paper looked at the first two years of the program. One of the authors, Karthik Muralidharan, now has a follow-up paper, showing what happens over 5 years. The results are impressive and important:
Students who had completed their entire five years of primary school education under the program scored 0.54 and 0.35 standard deviations (SD) higher than those in control schools in math and language tests respectively. These are large effects corresponding to approximately 20 and 14 percentile point improvements at the median of a normal distribution, and are larger than the effects found in most other education interventions in developing countries (see Dhaliwal et al. 2011).
Second, the results suggest that these test score gains represent genuine additions to human capital as opposed to reflecting only ‘teaching to the test’. Students in individual teacher incentive schools score significantly better on both non-repeat as well as repeat questions; on both multiple-choice and free-response questions; and on questions designed to test conceptual understanding as well as questions that could be answered through rote learning. Most importantly, these students also perform significantly better on subjects for which there were no incentives – scoring 0.52 SD and 0.30 SD higher than students in control schools on tests in science and social studies (though the bonuses were paid only for gains in math and language). There was also no differential attrition of students across treatment and control groups and no evidence to suggest any adverse consequences of the programs.
…Finally, our estimates suggest that the individual teacher bonus program was 15-20 times more cost effective at raising test scores than the default ‘education quality improvement’ policy of the Government of India, which is reducing class size from 40 to 30 students per teacher (Govt. of India, 2009).
In another important paper, written for the Government of India, Muralidharan summarizes the best research on public schools in developing countries. His conclusion is that there are demonstrably effective and feasible policies that could improve the public schools thereby increasing literacy and numeracy rates and raising the incomes of millions of people.
The generation entering Indian schools today is the largest that has ever, or for the foreseeable future, will ever enter Indian schools so the opportunity to raise educational quality for essentially the entire Indian workforce over the next several generations is truly immense.
(Via Marginal Revolution.)
Meanwhile, families that are by any sensible definition below the “poverty line” find a dollar or more every week to send their children to a neighborhood “private school” – which could simply be a volunteer who in fact does show up for work every day.
India is so broken that it can only be “up from here”.