Teach for science: An impact evaluation of Science Education Initiative’s Fellows Program (with I. Mbiti)

We propose to conduct a randomized evaluation of Science Education Initiative’s fellowship program in Pune, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, in 46 public and charter schools. Science Education Initiative seeks to improve STEM learning in public schools by recruiting highly motivated college students who are placed in schools to work with regular teachers as teaching assistants. The fellows work alongside teachers using scripted lesson plans to deliver potentially better instruction to students. The proposed RCT will examine the effectiveness of the SEI fellow program on student STEM learning outcomes, as well as gender achievement gaps in STEM. Detailed information on management, classroom practices, teacher surveys, and student surveys will provide insights into any potential mechanisms. 

Informing students of their potential ability: Experimental evidence on motivation, effort and school performance

The perceptions of low-income families about the payoff from schooling often leads them to underinvest in education. Many experiments have tried to influence these perceptions by providing information on the returns to schooling or school quality. The few studies that have tried to shape these perceptions by providing information on child ability have focused on current—as opposed to potential—ability, possibly reinforcing previous educational investments based on incorrect beliefs. I will conduct a randomized evaluation of a brief informational intervention that synthesizes insights from neuroscience about the capacity of individuals to become more intelligent by persisting through difficult situations, pursuing productive strategies, and seeking help whenever necessary. I plan to evaluate this intervention among 12th graders in the province of Salta, Argentina.

Experimental evidence on performance management training and tools for public schools in Argentina (with R. de Hoyos & P. A. Holland)

We present experimental evidence on the added value of performance management training and tools for school principals and supervisors, over and above information on student achievement. We randomly assigned 100 public primary schools in the province of Salta, Argentina to: (a) a control group, in which we administered standardized tests in math and Spanish at baseline and two follow-ups and made the results available to the schools through user-friendly reports; or (b) a treatment group, in which we did the same and also provided principals with training on how to develop a school improvement plan, a web-based dashboard to track progress on that plan, and two workshops to support their work.

Do students benefit from personalized learning? Experimental evidence from India (with A. de Barros & K. Muralidharan)

There is mounting evidence indicating that schoolchildren in many developing countries lag far behind their expected grade-level performance. Remedial education can help these low-performing students, but it does not address the needs of their high-performing peers. Ability-based grouping can benefit both types of students, but it may be too coarse to address students' individual learning needs. We will conduct an experiment in 14 public "model" schools in Rajasthan, India to evaluate the impact of personalized instruction for 3,331 students in grades 6 to 8, as delivered by a computer-assisted learning software. We will compare a version of the software that provides students with only grade-appropriate activities (the typical approach used by most software products) with a fully and a partially customized version of the program, as well as with a remedial version of the program. We plan to use these comparisons to understand what type of personalization is most (cost-)effective in improving student learning.

How much do students benefit from practice exercises? Experimental evidence from India (with A. de Barros & K. Muralidharan)

In mathematics instruction, it is quite common for teachers to explain a topic and then assign their students a number of practice exercises - either as classwork or homework - to build "procedural knowledge" (i.e., knowledge about the algorithms to be followed to solve a specific problem) and "fluency" (i.e., capacity to solve these problems rapidly). Although there is general agreement among educators that this strategy is beneficial, prior studies have not determined the extent to which students benefit more from this practice. We will use a computer-assisted learning (CAL) software called "Mindspark" to randomly assign 5,756 students in grades 4-7 in 9 private schools in India to receiving or not receiving practice exercises after they learn a new mathematical concept, and to assess the impact on their procedural knowledge and fluency.

The impact of diagnostic feedback on differentiated instruction: Experimental evidence from India (with A. V. Banerjee & S. Mukerji)

There is mounting evidence suggesting that there is considerable heterogeneity in student preparation in primary schools in India. The largest education non-profit in India, Pratham, developed a pedagogical approach called "Teaching at the Right Level" (TaRL) that provides differentiated instruction to primary schoolchildren to address heterogeneity in preparation. However, persuading teachers to change business-as-usual instruction to incorporate this--or any other--method of differentiated instruction is challenging. Therefore, it seems worth understanding whether making the results of the assessments of basic reading and arithmetic skills more salient to teachers, and signaling the government’s commitment to improving these results, would encourage teachers to adopt TaRL on their own during school hours. We plan to randomly assign 200 public primary schools in the Indian state of Karnataka to: (a) a "control" group that would implement TaRL and receive no additional interventions; or (b) a "treatment" group that would also implement TaRL and receive periodic school report cards with results from student assessments of basic reading and arithmetic skills, accompanied by a letter from a high-level government official communicating the importance of improving those results. The study would focus on schoolchildren in grades 4 and 5, where TaRL has been found to be most effective.

Street smart or school smart? Leveraging working children’s competencies to teach them mathematics (with A. V. Banerjee, E. Duflo & E. Spelke)

According to large-scale surveys, most children and adolescents in India perform poorly in “abstract” arithmetic (i.e., the arithmetic operations typically taught in school). Yet, those employed in informal markets seem to perform relatively complex arithmetic operations mentally when handling transactions (e.g., to calculate amounts due or change). Is it possible to leverage the skills that these children already have to help them succeed in abstract arithmetic? We will conduct a study to address this question, by surveying children and adolescents selling in markets in and around Delhi in order to understand why they might succeed at “market” arithmetic, but struggle with abstract arithmetic.

Improving school preparedness and child health outcomes through Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) in Tamil Nadu (with K. Muralidharan & C. Walters)

A large body of scientific evidence has established the central role of early childhood health and education in fostering lifetime well-being and economic success of children in both developed and developing countries (Engle et al., 2007; Elango et al., forthcoming). In India, programs that promote early childhood development are delivered primarily by Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). ICDS is under-resourced relative to its importance for human development, which results in uneven quality, with many programs failing to provide supplementary nutrition, pre-school education, or essential health services (PEO, 2011). At the same time, fiscal constraints make large increases in ICDS spending infeasible. It is, therefore, critical to determine the most cost-effective methods for boosting ICDS quality so that scarce resources can be directed to programs that generate maximal social value. 

ICDS in Tamil Nadu is one of the best-performing government schemes in India. A comprehensive study of ICDS published by the Planning Commission ranked Tamil Nadu first on an index of anganwadi infrastructure, and among the top 10 states overall (PEO, 2011). The state also outperforms most others on key nutrition indicators, including the fraction of underweight children (Ministry of Women and Child Development, 2013-2014). Tamil Nadu is therefore in a strong position to provide national leadership in identifying, piloting, and evaluating interventions with the potential to improve ICDS services at scale. 

Our research, to be conducted in partnership with ICDS in Tamil Nadu, will provide experimental evidence on the cost-effectiveness of policy interventions that aim to improve the functioning of ICDS. In the first year of this partnership we will conduct a randomized experiment to evaluate four such interventions in a representative sample of anganwadi preschool centers (AWCs) throughout Tamil Nadu. The four interventions are: 

  1. Hiring early childhood care and education (ECCE) facilitators; 
  2. A supplemental nutrition program; 
  3. A performance-based pay for anganwadi workers linked to child nutrition outcomes; and
  4. An across-the-board increase in pay for anganwadi workers.