16 January 2019

PubhD Kigali

For any readers in (or visiting) Kigali (presumably a niche audience), I've started a monthly research talk event, using the PubhD format that is going in around 20 European cities now.

3 speakers get 10 minutes each to present their research, followed by Q&A. It's a great way to learn a bit about some random subjects you might not have considered much before, for the speakers to practice their extended elevator pitch, and a pretty low-effort way of organising some kind of regular academic vaguely seminar-like discussion for me.

The next one is this Thursday at 7.30pm, see here for more details, and get in touch if you'd like to speak sometime.

Does temporary migration from rich to poor countries cause commitment to development?

Nevermind that none of the journals I've sent it to so far are interested, my new working paper got picked up by Marginal Revolution the king of economics blogs, which is probably way better anyway right?
Public support in rich countries for global development is critical for sustaining effective government and individual action. But the causes of public support are not well understood. Temporary migration to developing countries might play a role in generating individual commitment to development, but finding exogenous variation in travel with which to identify causal effects is rare. In this paper I address this question using a natural experiment – the assignment of Mormon missionaries to two year missions in different world regions – and test whether the attitudes and activities of returned missionaries differ. Data comes from a unique survey gathered on Facebook. Missionaries assigned to treat regions (Africa, Asia, Latin America) are balanced with those assigned to the control region (Europe) on high school test scores and prior language and travel experience. Those assigned to the treatment region report greater interest in global development and poverty, but no difference in support for government aid or higher immigration, and no difference in personal international donations, volunteering, or other involvement.
Here's the link to the paper and the twitter discussion

15 January 2019

Testing, testing: the 123's of testing

Here's my summary of the new Annika Bergbauer, Eric Hanushek, and Ludger Woessmann working paper for CFEE.
"teachers tend to oppose standardised tests, partly because they perceive them to narrow the curriculum and crowd out wider learning. However, it is intuitive that the effects of testing could vary dramatically by context. Indeed, the impact may very well follow a so-called “Laffer curve”. At low levels of testing, an increase may lead to better performance as it provides relevant information and incentives to actors in the education system. Yet if there are already high levels of testing, further increases may very well decrease performance, due to stress, for example, or the effects of an overly-narrowed curriculum. If so, we should expect the impact of testing to follow an inverted U-curve – or at the very least display diminishing returns. Furthermore, the impact of tests is also likely to depend on exactly how they are used in the education system. 
This paper provides perhaps the first systematic evidence on these issues"
Read the rest here.

30 December 2018

The Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) in 2018

Note: "UPE" stands for Universal Primary Education, indicating normal (free) government primary schools. 

This post is a second annual roundup of policy and research in the “Global Education Reform Movement”. GERM was coined as a pejorative metaphor for the spreading of “neoliberal” market-orientated education reforms. But it's actually quite a useful label for the set of ideas being experimented with around using assessment, accountability, and greater autonomy for schools to improve education. 

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January

The Kaduna State Government announced plans to fire 20,000 teachers for failing a grade 4 student exam.

The Economist reported on the most frenetic education reforms in the world, in Pakistan. 

The Government of Uganda announced the phase-out of its private secondary school subsidy scheme, despite evidence showing its cost effectiveness.

February

The Global Education Reform Movement high society wedding of the year: Ekta Sodha (CEO of Camus-Sodha Schools) and James Tooley (the “Indiana Jones of education”) got married. 

March

President Museveni recommended that parents send their kids to private schools instead of government schools if they can afford it. 

May

An important paper was published in the American Economic Review showing that school integration in Delhi led to reduced prejudice from rich kids about poorer kids.

From Washington DC, more evidence that vouchers don’t help low income students.

June

Evaluation results from the Gates Foundation $500+ million reform effort in US schools found…. no impact… 

The annual Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) conference returned to Oxford this year (thanks to the Blavatnik School of Government for excellent Youtube streaming services for those of us not able to make it in person)

The Gates Foundation launched its new Global Education Strategy, for now focused on generating better data and further research to better understand the problem.

The FT and technosociologist Zeynep Tufekci discussed how Silicon Valley tech giants tend to dislike the use of technology in the schools that their own kids attend.

John Rendel, founder of the British/Ugandan/Zambian non-profit private school network “Peas” stepped down after ten years of running the group. 

The (now abandoned) A-F grading of NYC schools appears to have had positive impacts on the lowest performing: lower teacher turnover and quicker school improvement than the schools ranked just above them.

This study in Ghana found that parent engagement in pre-school made results worse.

July

Results published from an ASER pilot in Bangladesh compared BRAC schools with government schools. BRAC are the largest non-state school operator in the world, with nearly 50,000 schools. The results, from a small sample, did not show any substantially better performance in the BRAC schools. 

August

The new Liberian government announced that the Partnership Schools programme would continue. A second round of RCT results are expected in 2019.

Swaziland became the 15th country to launch a citizen-led student assessment (following in the footsteps of ASER and Uwezo).

September

The Centre for Education Economics in London published their first annual research digest focused on studies from developing countries.

“Teaching at the Right Level” - an innovative classroom management approach pioneered by Indian NGO Pratham with JPAL and now being replicated in several African countries took steps towards institutionalisation, launching a website and holding a conference

October

The World Bank released the new Human Capital Index - designed to rank countries and encourage them to get as competitive as they are about the Doing Business Index. UNESCO was not happy, saying “different calculations do not help”. 

A harrowing ProPublica investigation was published on multiple rapes of young girls by a Liberian staff member at the More Than Me academy in Monrovia in 2014.

Just 11 years after the start of the project and 5 years from first submission to a journal, the landmark “scaling up from NGO pilot to government implementation is harder than you think” paper by Bold, Kimenyi, Mwabu, Ng'ang'a, Sandefur is finally published in the Journal of Public Economics. 

A new report by Alina Lipcan and myself provided the first independent measurement of learning in Bridge International Academies private schools, from Lagos (mentioned in the new BBC podcast “People Fixing the World”).

November

The Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Status Index again highlighted the importance of the esteem in which teachers are held in a country for the outcomes. Across countries teacher status is not though that closely correlated with pay.

December

After much anticipation, results were finally released from “PISA for Development” - a new approach to including lower-income countries on the PISA scale. 

The EU parliament passed a resolution calling for donors to stop funding commercially minded private schools. 

Left-winger Obrador was elected in Mexico promising to reverse reforms designed to increase accountability for teachers.

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Overall I come away from the year a little less enthusiastic about vouchers in particular, but with continued hope for intelligent reforms based on the broad principles of accountability. In particular, a critical point made most recently by Karthik Muralidharan in his contribution to the New Economic Strategy for India, is that too many education systems are really orientated around sorting and selection of the best students, rather than actually building human capital for all. The first step in a system of accountability for schools is letting them know what their priority objective should be, and for most schools in most developing countries, I'm not sure it is actually clear to them that their goal should actually even be universal basic skills. And of course even if it were, there then needs to be the right structure of support and monitoring to ensure that this goal is actually being worked towards. This movement has achieved a lot of change, but there is still a long long way to go, with a lot more experimentation needed and a lot more to be learnt about what the best policies are (and perhaps of equal importance, how to build the state capability necessary to actually implement policies). 

What did I miss?

Thanks to Susannah Hares for several suggested entries for this piece.

27 September 2018

The best thing about cash benchmarking is it highlights just how small most aid is

The best take on the new cash benchmarking study from Rwanda was this one by Michael Kevane:
"the main takeaway is that neither intervention (when evaluated at the low Gikuriro cost of $141 per household) improved child outcomes." Yikes. I guess though if household size = 7 that is only $20 per person.
Should we really be surprised that giving someone $20 doesn't improve any measurable outcomes? Maybe Kevane's maths is wrong and household size is smaller, but $20 is so small we could double it and still not expect to see anything.

That's one big advantage of cold hard individual cash transfers, they make explicit what the actual amount per person is, which is not so obvious when its one big community project costing loadsamoney and affecting loadsapeople. John Quiggin made this point years ago.

Last year, DFID gave £2.6 BILLION pounds to countries in Africa. That's so much money! How are they still so poor when we give them BILLIONS of pounds every year? Well, hold on, there are 1.2 billion PEOPLE in Africa. So that works out at just over £2 each for the whole YEAR. Of course it doesn't go to everyone, let's say the money is perfectly targeted on the poorest 10% of people. So they get £20 each.

Somehow there is a lot of magical thinking that by pooling money together it somehow automatically has totally outsized impacts. Of course its possible that smart investment in research or better governance can have truly outsized impact if it can nudge a country toward a slightly higher growth rate, but that isn't what most aid is even trying to do, and even when it is they stuff is wicked hard and we can expect most attempts to fail.

Aid is great but less hubris please. And less ridiculous implicit expectations from what aid could plausibly achieve from the sceptics too.

Don't Buy Local

This summer I finally got around to doing my first Park Run, joining the now millions of people around the world who turn up on Saturday mornings for a free 5km timed run around their local park (I managed a not too shabby 27 minute time, roughly average for my age). 

I also work on global development, so was pretty disappointed to receive an email announcing a new clothing line from the founder of Park Run that will be manufactured exclusively in Europe. Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE was concerned with the “horrendously exploitative … factories in the Far East employing questionable practices, paying the lowest wages and exposing their workers to dangerous conditions”. 

Paul is right to be concerned about the wellbeing of East Asian factory workers, but moving those jobs to Europe is not the solution. Moving manufacturing jobs from places where jobs are scarce, to Europe where jobs are not scarce, is not a good thing. 

My point is not a new one; Paul Krugman, the nobel-prize winning left-wing economist wrote more than ten years ago in praise of sweatshops. But the point still stands, and is still apparently missed. The factories in which most of our sports gear are made have poor working conditions compared with jobs in rich countries, but they are usually preferable to the actual alternatives facing people unfortunate enough to be stuck in poor countries.

In 1980, before it became the workshop of the world, extreme poverty in China was close to 90 per cent. Today it is less than 1 per cent. That change would not have been possible without the manufacturing industry. It’s hard to think of anything else that has had a bigger positive impact on human wellbeing that the transformation of China’s economy. 

And it’s not just China that has benefited. Now that wages are starting to rise in China, manufacturers are moving on to other lower-income countries, such as neighbouring Vietnam and Cambodia, but also further afield, to Ethiopia and Nigeria. 

Researchers Rachel Heath and Mushfiq Mobarak looked at what happened in Bangladesh when garment factories started opening. As factories rewarded basic literacy and numeracy, girls who lived in villages near to new factories chose to stay in school longer. The effect on education was bigger than a government social programme explicitly designed to increase schooling. In Ethiopia, Chris Blattman and Stefan Dercon found that people use factory jobs as a safety net. Pay and conditions may be poor in the new factory jobs, but they are always there, even when other informal means of getting by fall through. 

So what is a concerned Park Runner to do? Ultimately pay and conditions in poor countries will only improve when workers get better outside options. Thanks to the hard work of poor Chinese in the 1980s and 1990s, China’s economy has grown, wages have risen, and Chinese workers today can afford to ask for more and turn down the worst offers. The best way to encourage that trend is to continue to buy things made in poor countries. Other ways to give poor people more options are to just give them cash directly (you can do literally that at givedirectly.org), to go on holiday to poor countries and spend money on services from poor people, or if you’re a citizen of a rich country to encourage your government to make it easier for people from poor countries to come and work in your country. 

I have nothing but admiration for Paul Sinton-Hewitt’s founding of Park Run, and of his desire to create an inclusive and ethical line of sportswear. I just hope he reconsiders his decision not to support jobs where they are needed most.

20 September 2018

Probably the best new research in global education economics

A couple of months ago the Centre for Education Economics asked me to edit their Annual Research Digest - a series of essays by leading thinkers on their favourite research paper from the past year.

The Digest is out today and I'm really pleased with how its come out, a fantastic set of blogs summarising a fascinating set of papers.

Here's the summary, and you can download the full report here.


18 June 2018

How smart are teachers in developing countries?

Eric Hanushek, Marc Piopiunik, and Simon Wiederhold published some fascinating analysis in a 2014 NBER working paper (link) comparing the literacy and numeracy of teachers to the overall population (with a university degree) in a range of OECD countries. In the figures below, the grey bars show the gap between the 25th and 75th percentile of skill for all university-educated adults in each country, and the red marker in the middle shows the median skill level of teachers in that country. Perhaps unsurprisingly, teachers in Finland are the highest skilled internationally, but also within Finland they are drawn from relatively high in the distribution of adults. This fits with common narratives about teaching being a particularly well-regarded, and selective, profession in Finland.
 


As far as I'm aware, no such comparison exists for low- and lower-middle-income countries. Tessa Bold and coauthors present results on the tragically low absolute level of teachers in sub-Saharan Africa (link), and similarly Justin Sandefur presents data comparing the skill level of teachers in sub-Saharan Africa to students in OECD countries (link). But neither compare the level of skill of teachers in Africa to teachers in high-income countries, and to the skill of other adults in Africa.

So I made one*. The World Bank's STEP Skills surveys use the same literacy assessment as the OECD PIAAC survey that Hanushek et al used, so I replicated and extended their graph, adding on the countries from the STEP data in which it was possible to identify teachers and their literacy level - specifically Vietnam, Colombia, Armenia, Georgia, Ghana, Kenya, and Bolivia. 


The first point to note is how low the overall distribution in lower income countries is. The majority of adults (in urban areas) who have graduated from university fall into the Level 2 category, whereas in high income countries most fall into Level 3. The PIAAC guide (copied below) explains what these levels mean: Level 2 tasks “may require low-level inferences” whereas Level 3 tasks require “navigating complex texts”.

The second point to note from the figure is the remarkable regularity of average (median) teacher performance in each national distribution. There is some variation, but most teachers in high-income countries are roughly in the middle of the distribution of university educated adults. Teaching in lower-income countries tends to be more selective - the median teacher is much closer to the 75th percentile of adults in Colombia, Ghana, and Kenya.

These two facts, the low overall level of literacy skill amongst graduates in the lower middle income countries, and the position of teachers within the distribution, imply an upper bound on the ability of a more selective recruitment process to improve the average quality of teachers. If for example Ghana and Kenya managed to increase the selectivity of the teaching profession enough to raise average teacher skills to above the 75th percentile (something no other country has done), this level could still be well below Level 3 on the PIAAC scale.

Getting better teaching is critical for improving education in developing countries. This data highlights the scale of one aspect of the challenge. Education systems are going to have to figure out how to deliver for children with teachers who may be able to make "low-level inferences" but are unable to "navigate complex texts."

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*Thanks to Laura Moscoviz at the Education Partnerships Group for assistance with the graph!

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08 June 2018

Are Rwandans really too scared to answer surveys honestly? (TLDR; Probably no)

Hi Roving Bandit blog fans! Long time no write. I've just relocated from London to Kigali, so I'm hoping that being in a more stimulating environment is going to encourage me to start blogging more frequently. Probably the best economics blog in Rwanda!

I'll kick things off by just regurgitating some recent twitter chat. A couple of days ago I posted Gallup survey findings that Rwanda is the 3rd most accepting countries for migrants in the world (pretty cool Rwanda).

The brilliant Dina Pomeranz responded "A friend who works at Afrobarometer told me that survey responses from Rwanda are problematic in general, because people tend to answer "it's very good" to everything (out of fear of repercussions)."

This would indeed be worrying were it the case, but I was sceptical. Afrobarometer doesn't actually operate in Rwanda, but I thought I'd take a look at some responses on some of the surveys that have been done here.

First, the 2014 National Household Survey asks people about satisfaction with some government services.

- 45% said they were dissatisfied with water services
- 23% said they were dissatisfied with roads 

That seems to be a lot of people who were not afraid to give a negative answer to a survey. 

The 2015 DHS asks people about their experience of personal violence, and a large number of people do say they have been affected.

Finally, a 2016 government survey by the Rwanda Governance Board also asked people about their satisfaction with a range of government services. Some were pretty positive, some not so much. There was

-  31% net dissatisfaction with social protection services 
-  38% net dissatisfaction with hygiene & sanitation services. 
-  45% net dissatisfaction with infrastructure services 

These do not at all look to me like the kind of numbers you'd expect from people so cowed by fear that they are afraid to give negative responses to an anonymous survey. Maybe its time for the team at Afrobarometer to take another look at Rwanda?

08 February 2018

Ark Blogging: The British government’s new plan to get children learning

Over at the Ark blog:
"The new DFID education policy “Get Children Learning” was published last week. As its name suggests, the policy is all about moving the needle on learning outcomes. It sets out a strategy to tackle the learning crisis in developing countries, which has left 90 percent of primary school leavers in low-income countries without basic literacy or numeracy.  As a strategy, it’s relevant and ambitious, and it’s been widely welcomed by the education sector. 
Of course, tackling a crisis this deep and complex is easier said than done. So how does DFID plan to do it? 
Three priorities underpin DFID’s strategy to tackle the learning crisis and form the backbone of their new policy: better teaching, education system reform, and targeted support to the most marginalised kids. And permeating the strategy are three themes – more and better research; more attention paid to the political economy of education reform; and the “Best of British” – how UK expertise can be better leveraged to improving schools in developing countries.  These themes are interesting because each represents a fairly fundamental shift in or crystallisation of thinking from DFID, and together they provide some insight into how the strategy will be executed. The “Best of British” theme in particular reflects a new willingness by DFID to think more strategically about how to facilitate cross-system learning.
Read the rest here

21 December 2017

The Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) in 2017: A Year in Review

First posted at the Ark blog

If the Adam Smith Institute can reclaim the pejorative label ‘neoliberal’, maybe we should be reclaiming the pejorative ‘global education reform movement (GERM)’? Aside from the unfortunate acronym, it’s actually a pretty good description of the cluster of people and organisations trying to shake things up a bit and do things differently in global education policy.

Here’s a round-up of some of my highlights from the GERM in 2017. There has been some solid progress in documenting the scale of the global learning crisis, and steps towards building the kind of global data infrastructure we need to measure the SDG on learning. In 2018 I’d like to see more measurement, and also more experimentation. The conversation in education still needs to shift some more away from “we know how to fix this just give us the cash” to the maybe slightly less compelling but more honest “this is a crisis that needs fixing, we know where we want to get to but we don’t yet know how to get there, so we’re going to throw everything we have at it, and measure the hell out of everything so we can learn and course correct until we get there.”

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January - The big global education jamboree kicks off each year with the Education World Forum in London, not to be confused with the World Education Forum, the Global Education and Skills Forum, or the World Global Forum for Education and Children Who Can’t Read Good (I might have made up the last one).

George K. Werner, the Minister of Education in Liberia, publishes the first of many articleswritten in 2017 on the controversial Partnership Schools programme. “Less than 60% of school-aged children in Liberia are in school … Those who do attend school may not fare much better: among adult women who reached fifth grade in Liberia, less than 20% can read a single sentence.”

In Colombia, 22 of Bogota’s ‘Concession schools’ (PPP schools, like charters in the US or academies in the UK) re-open for another 10 year contract, after their last contract ended and was renegotiated last year.

February - The second, annual meeting of the Global Schools Forum is launched. The GSF event is a gathering of non-state school operators working in low- and middle-income countries and targeting the bottom half of the income distribution, comes together, networks, and shares ideas. I blogged about my general feelings of inferiority whilst rubbing shoulders with all these inspiring people who have set up their own schools here. Watch out for GSF in 2018, as the annual meeting promises to be even bigger and better!

March - The next big global education jamboree in the calendar is the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai. Daisy Christodoulou blogged about how she remarkably managed to win a debate in favour of teaching kids facts in the age of Google. She also reported on a fascinating debate about teaching global versus national values. If you don’t know Daisy, 2007 University Challenge champion, you should really read this superb feature profile by Laura McInerney in SchoolsWeek.

As we don’t (yet) have very good data on actual learning in many developing countries, a growing movement is spreading the idea started by Pratham in India of recruiting citizen-volunteers to administer simple learning assessments on a mass scale. The “People’s Action for Learning” (PAL) network held its 5th annual meeting in Mexico, welcomed Nepal as the newest member, reaching a total of 16 countries.

April - The Government of the Punjab province in Pakistan contracts out the management around 1,000 failing schools to private operators, bringing the total for the first year of the Public School Support Programme (PSSP) to almost 5,000 schools - that’s about how many schools have been converted to Academies in the UK over 16 years!

June - The great and the good of global education research meets in Washington DC for the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) conference (report here). Ark EPG launches its Rigorous Review of the evidence on public-private partnerships in education in developing countries (post 2009). The review only found 22 studies that met the quality criteria, but of these most were positive.

In the Philippines, the senior high school (Grade 11 and 12) voucher programme enters its second year - over 600,000 students started in Grade 11 through the programme last year.

July - The Western Cape government drafted legislation for the creation of a new independent School Evaluation Authority.

Amitav Virmani, CEO of the Education Alliance, blogged an update on South Delhi Municipal Government’s Partnership Schools. Starting with one (Ark) school in 2015, the programme is now up to 29 schools, “While the rest of the system lost 12,000 students last year, these schools doubled their enrolment to 1600 children.”

Education International and ActionAid publishes a critical research report on Partnership Schools for Liberia based on qualitative research in “up to” 20 schools (how many was it?), just 2 months before the actual results would be published from the large-scale RCT which assessed the actual learning of thousands of children in 185 schools, which everyone agreed was a “really helpful” contribution to the dialogue.

August - The 3rd annual “State of the Nation” report on India’s Right to Education Act (Section 12(1)(c)) comes out, highlighting that 5 years after the policy was confirmed, still only 1 in 3 states in India have accessed any federal funding for the programme. This year’s report dives into some of the details of the private school lotteries in states that are actually implementing the policy at scale, including Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan.

September - In a major contribution to the all-too-sparse global data on learning, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics released a new global indicator for reading proficiency (based on PIRLS, TIMSS, and SACMEQ) - finding a headline figure of 387 million children worldwide who can’t read, and of these 2 in 3 are actually attending school, they just aren’t learning.

Results from the 1st year of Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL) evaluation comes in, with both supporters and critics hailing the results as proving them right. On average PSL schools saw solid improvements in teaching and learning, great for the first year of a pilot, but with some operators spending large amounts of money they raised, and weaknesses in contracting allowing “the largest operator” to move some children and teachers out of their schools.

The World Bank publishes its first ever annual World Development Report focused entirely on education. The report carried many of the same themes as the RISE research programme - highlighting the global learning crisis and calling for more learning assessment and for systemic reforms to try and address the crisis in quality.

UNESCO publishes its flagship Global Education Monitoring Report on the topic of accountability, and easily came away with the prize for best illustrated report.

As part of the above-mentioned South Delhi Government Partnership Schools programme, 2 new Ark-backed schools open this September as part of a plan to grow to 10 schools by 2022.

October - The Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) announces that starting in 2018, a new measure of secondary school effectiveness will be published based on value-added. This is a fairer way to compare schools than just looking at the level of test scores, which are much more heavily influenced by home background. This will make Uganda the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to use value-added to judge school quality.

November - The UK Parliament International Development Committee publishes its reporton DFID’s work on global education. The report welcomed the results from the PSL study and called for more research into non-state schooling, as well as backing the RISE research programme focused on systems of accountability.

In South Africa, an op-ed-war breaks on South Africa’s collaboration school project, with Equal Education calling the pilot illegal, undemocratic, and unaccountable, to which Education Minister Debbie Shafer replies “We will not be deterred by the likes of Equal Education, who cannot come up with any feasible plan to address the inequalities that still exist as a result of our apartheid legacy,” and David Harrison from the DG Murray Trust adds that the programme “gives parents the right to decide whether or not they want to be part of the experiment.”

At the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in Doha, more progress was made on the nascent “global education ecosystem” project being launched by the Education Commission, R4D, Teach for All, Asia Society, and Brookings. At the exact same time, Pratham were putting these ideas into action, sharing their promising “Teaching at the right level” programme with participants from 12 countries, an idea which according to JPAL is “the most consistently effective at improving learning” from all of their learning-focused RCTs.

December - Just in time for Christmas, the latest international test score results are published - this time in reading from PIRLS. These tests included no low-income countries, and just a handful of lower-middle income countries: Egypt, Georgia, and Morocco. The worst performing country though was upper-middle income South Africa, where 8 out of 10 children can’t read. Nic Spaull provided extensive coverage on very depressing news for South Africa on his must-read blog.

What did I miss?

30 November 2017

How to achieve public policy reform by surprise and confusion

This is a great quote from Simeon Djankov, former Finance Minister of Bulgaria (and founder of the World Bank Doing Business indicators) - pulling slightly in the opposite direction of the Tony Blair school of thought on reform (ruthless prioritisation), Djankov instead suggests go off 7 different directions at once in order to surprise and confuse the opposition.  
"Well, one thing that did certainly affect it is the tactics of how to reform, in the sense that, certainly in academia, you are basically told you need to think deeply. Then there are a lot of pressure groups, lobbies, so you need to talk to them. You need to use the media for communicating the benefits of reform, and so on. Some of the reformers, successful reformers that I spoke with, before I joined the Bulgarian government, basically I said, 'You go, and on Day 1, you surprise everybody. So, you go in every direction you can, because they will be confused what's happening and you may actually be successful in some of the reforms. So, this is what I did. I went to Bulgaria in late July 2009; the Eurozone Crisis had already started around us. Greece was just about to collapse a few months later. So, there was kind of a feeling that something is to happen. But, instead of going, 'Let's now do labor reform,' then, 'Let's do business entry reform,' in the government we literally went 6 or 7 different directions hoping that Parliament will be, you know, confused or too happy to be elected--they were just elected. And we actually succeeded in most of these reforms. When I tried to do meaningful, well-explained reforms two years after, they all got bogged down, because lobbying will essentially take over and, 'Not now; let's wait for next year's government,' and so on."
From the always interesting Econ Talk.

23 November 2017

Innovations in Bureaucracy


Last week I was at the “World Innovation Summit for Education” (WISE) in Doha, and I don’t think I heard the word “bureaucrat” once. Clearly the organisers don’t read Blattman or they would know that Bureaucracy is so hot right now.

The World Bank might be a bit more ahead of the curve here, and held a workshop earlier this month on “Innovating Bureaucracy.” I wasn’t able to attend (ahem, wasn’t invited), and so as the king of conference write-upsdoesn’t seem to have gotten around to it yet, I’ve written up my notes from skimming through the slides (you can read the full presentations here).

Tim Besley — state effectiveness now lies at the heart of the study of development. Incentives, selection, and culture are key, and it is essential to study the 3 together not in isolation.

Michael Best — looks at efficiency of procurement across 100,000 government agencies (each with decentralised hiring) in Russia. Wide variation in prices paid by different individuals/agencies, with big potential for improvement.



Zahid Hasnain — presents Worldwide Bureaucracy Indicators (WWBI) for 79 countries. Public sector employment is 60% of formal employment in Africa & South Asia, and is usually better paid than private employment.



Richard Disney — provides a critique of simple public-private pay gap comparisons — need to consider conditions, pensions, and vocation. Lack of well-identified causal studies.


James L. Perry — 5 key lessons on motivating bureaucrats in developing countries.
(1) select for ‘vocation’
(2) work on prosocial culture
(3) leverage employee-service beneficiary ties
(4) teacher newcomers public service values
(5) develop leaders who model public service values. (full paper here)

Erika Deserranno: Summary of experimental lit on financial & non-financial incentives for workers. Both can work when well designed, or backfire when not. 3 conditions for effective performance-based incentives;
(1) Simple to understand
(2) Linked to measurable targets
(3) Workers can realistically affect targets 




Yuen Yuen Ang — How has China done so well in last 40 years without democratic reform? Through bureaucratic reform which has provided accountability, competition, limits on power. 50 million bureaucrats: 20% managers & 80% frontline workers. Managers have performance contracts focused on outcomes, with published league tables. Frontline workers have large performance-based informal compensation. (bonus podcast edition with Alice Evans here)






Stuti Khemani — research & policy rightly moving from short-route accountability to long-route. Need much more evidence on how public sector workers are selected. One example suggests elected Chairpersons have higher cognitive ability, higher risk aversion, lower integrity.


Jane Fountain — government IT projects fail in part because they’re too large — should move to agile development (build small and quick, get feedback, revise)

Arianna Legovini — improved inspections of health facilities in Kenya seem to be improving patient safety.



Daniel Rogger — new empirics of bureaucracy — World Bank bureaucracy lab investing in substantial new descriptive work on bureaucracy and bureaucrats using both surveys & administrative data, as well as RCTs on reforms

Jim Brumby, Raymond Muhula, Gael Rabelland — two helpful 2x2s — need to understand both capacity & incentive for reform, and then match data architecture to difficulty of measuring performance.