Thursday, April 22, 2010

School accountability: good or bad?

How do we get good schools? How do we get the best out of our schools? Questions like this have interested policy makers, researchers, and indeed parents for years in many countries. Accountability is one of the keywords that has emerged. We need to hold schools accountable. We hold this truth to be self evident. The idea is central in the No Child Left Behind act in the US.
But how? Well for a start one needs to measure school's peformance and compare them against benchmarks. At the very least, this means publishing measures of schools' academic outcomes, "league table" to you and me. This is done in many countries 'though not in Ireland where it is against the law.
But its not that simple. While it might be legitimate to measure the value-added by a school, simple measures of output will not measure that since the inputs (like the students) will differ. If we reward schools with high output then they have an incentive to engage in cream-skimming: exclude special-needs students, non-nationals and anyone else who might lower one's scores. Even with the information vacuum in Ireland, this occurs through various, not to say rather devious, means. The paper below addresses this important question head-on.

School accountability: (how) can we reward schools and avoid cream-skimming?

Introducing school accountability may create incentives for efficiency. However, if the performance measure used does not correct for pupil characteristics, it will lead to an inequitable treatment of schools and create perverse incentives for cream-skimming. We apply the theory of fair allocation to show how to integrate empirical information about the educational production function in a coherent theoretical framework. The requirements of rewarding performance and correcting for pupil characteristics are incompatible if we want the funding scheme to be applicable for all educational production functions. However, we characterize an attractive subsidy scheme under specific restrictions on the educational production function. This subsidy scheme uses only information which can be controlled easily by the regulator. We show with Flemish data how the proposed funding scheme can be implemented.


Mark McG said...

A recent Econtalk podcast related to this topic was quite interesting. Diane Ravitch discusses some of these issues, and is critical of No Child Left Behind and the general trend towards testing. You could probably guess her view from the title of her recent book "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education".

Kevin Denny said...

Thanks Mark, must check that out.