Autonomy, Participation, and Learning in Argentine Schools: Findings and Their Implications for Decentralization
33 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2016
Date Written: January 2002
School autonomy and parental participation both influence learning. Autonomy raises the rent available at the school and participation determines whether student learning will benefit from that rent. It is therefore important who is empowered through decentralization. According to a theoretical model, school autonomy and parental participation in schools can increase student learning through separate channels. Greater school autonomy increases the rent that can be distributed among stakeholders in the school, while institutions for parental participation (such as a school board) empower parents to command a larger share of this surplus - for example, through student learning.
Using a rich cross-sectional data set from Argentine schools (sixth and seventh grades), Eskeland and Filmer find that autonomy and participation raise student test scores for a given level of inputs in a multiplicative way, consistent with the model. Autonomy has a direct effect on learning (but not for very low levels of participation), while participation affects learning only through the mediation of the effect of autonomy. The results are robust to a variety of robustness checks and for subsamples of children from poor households, children of uneducated mothers, schools with low mean family wealth, and public schools.
It is possible that autonomy and participation are endogenously determined and that this biases the results - the data available do not allow this to be ruled out with certainty. Plausible predictors of autonomy and participation are also plausible predictors of test scores, and they fail tests for the overidentifying restrictions. Heuristically argued, however, the potential for correlation with unobserved variables may be limited: The data set is rich in observed variables, and autonomy and participation show very low correlation with observed variables. Subject to these caveats, the results may be relevant to decentralization in two ways. First, as decentralization moves responsibility from the central toward the provincial or local government, the results should be directly relevant if the decentralization increases autonomy and participation in schools. Second, if the results are interpreted as representing a more general effect of moving decisionmaking toward users and the local community, the results are relevant even if little happens to autonomy and participation in schools. More important, perhaps, the authors illustrate empirically the importance of knowing who is empowered when higher levels of government loosen control.
This paper - a product of Public Services, Development Research Group - is part of a larger effort in the group to improve understanding of the determinants of the quality of educational services.
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