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Making the Grade: The Trade-Off between Efficiency and Effectiveness in Improving Student Learning

53 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2017  

Jason Theodore Kerwin

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Department of Applied Economics

Rebecca L. Thornton

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Economics, Students

Date Written: July 14, 2017

Abstract

Relatively small changes to the inputs used in education programs can drastically change their effectiveness if there are large trade-offs between effectiveness and efficiency in the production of education. We study these trade-offs using an experimental evaluation of a literacy program in Uganda that provides teachers with professional development, classroom materials, and support. When implemented as designed, and at full cost, the program improves reading by 0.64 SDs and writing by 0.45 SDs. An adapted program with reduced costs instead yields statistically-insignificant effects on reading – and large negative effects on writing. Detailed classroom observations provide some evidence on the mechanisms driving the results, but mediation analyses show that teacher and student behavior can account for only 6 percent of the differences in effectiveness. Machine-learning results suggest that the education production function involves important nonlinearities and complementarities – which could make education programs highly sensitive to small input changes. Given the sensitivity of treatment effects to small changes in inputs, the literature on education interventions – which focuses overwhelmingly on stripped-down programs and individual inputs – could systematically underestimate the total gains from investing in schools.

Keywords: Economics of Education, Cost-Effectiveness, Development Economics

JEL Classification: I21, I25, O12, O15

Suggested Citation

Kerwin, Jason Theodore and Thornton, Rebecca L., Making the Grade: The Trade-Off between Efficiency and Effectiveness in Improving Student Learning (July 14, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3002723

Jason Kerwin (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Department of Applied Economics ( email )

MN
United States

Rebecca Thornton

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Economics, Students ( email )

Champaign, IL
United States

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