Conclusions and Implications
The quantitative research carried out enabled a thorough understanding of the relationship between some educational governance factors and results (understood as school progress and achievements). Additionally, the qualitative fieldwork was extremely useful in shedding light on the intricate mechanisms that mediate this relationship in both countries.
In general, it is possible to say that the association between governance variables and results as measured in PISA explains a very small portion of the differences in achievement results in the two countries. We estimate that greater autonomy in the allocation of resources could be associated with between 4 and 6 points of the difference in results between Chile and Uruguay, depending on the area assessed. Furthermore, publishing results is another factor that accounts significantly for differences in mean scores. The remaining variables do not explain more than three points of the differences in results, and are generally not significant.
The relationship between differences in governance and outcomes for these two countries is mostly mediated through an intermediate output variable: school progression. In fact, the analysis showed the importance of school progression in secondary education in explaining differences in outcomes between Uruguay and Chile.
For example, school autonomy over allocation of resources matters for school progression. School autonomy over curriculum and other aspects does not appear to matter significantly (though this result may be affected by low sample variance, as autonomy over curriculum is very limited in both countries). Accountability, mostly through publication of results, matters for school progression, especially for the case of students from the lowest socioeconomic status. Since school progression is not only related to the quality of an educational system but also to its equity, these findings have important policy implications that must be considered.
Results are inconclusive about the importance of mode of delivery (public vs private) and teacher’s incentives on educational outcomes. Further research should be carried out in order to further understand the relative impact of these governance factors on education.
The qualitative data helped to disentangle many of the findings from the regression analysis and to understand the meaning attributed by actors regarding the overall functioning of the educational system. Actors’ voices helped to understand many covert mechanisms and processes at play that, though unintended and many times invisible to policy makers, nonetheless have very real effects on the ways that governance factors operate.
An important finding of this research project is that any analysis of educational governance needs to assess the relationship between governance factors and the actors who intervene within their boundaries. Actors play a pivotal role in the way educational governance policies emerge, evolve, and shift, and, as the results of this study show, there are no “recipes” for success; at best, there are important ingredients that play out differently in the specific contexts in which they are implemented.
Based on this underlying assumption that actors need to be included when defining and implementing educational policies, there are several recommendations that can be made.
Firstly, the relationship between governance factors and educational outcomes is not direct but rather mediated by school progression. This leads us to conclude that it is very important to be cautious when looking at direct associations between institutional inputs and outputs, institutional arrangements and results. Policy makers need to consider possible social dynamics that underlie associations.
Schools’ progression appears as a variable that has a very important effect on school achievement. This is important for students from lower income quintiles, and hence not just for overall quality, but for equity. Therefore, governments should pay special attention to school progression and launch policies that fight against school dropouts and repetition, especially in the lower socioeconomic strata. This obliges both counties to design programs targeted to vulnerable students and is particularly important for the case of Uruguay.
Neither of the two countries has developed high levels of school autonomy. The Chilean experience shows that decentralization policies are not only complex but also need to be assessed in the long run. The results imply that the increase in the degrees of school autonomy, especially over resource allocation, can lead to an improvement in educational outcomes. Nevertheless, it is clear that decentralization, and especially school autonomy, requires policies aiming at building capacities at local levels.
Accountability mechanisms are important in terms of equity and quality of education. It is necessary to develop initiatives that strengthen accountability in order to empower teachers, parents, and students. Accountability does not happen naturally. It is necessary to adequately prepare all stakeholders involved. Findings imply diverse lines of action, such as the improvement of information systems, the development of communication channels, and the clarification of consequences of bad results. Furthermore, decision-makers should keep in mind that accountability is not only a technical matter but also a political and cultural issue.
The type of provision and financing did not prove to be an important explanatory variable of academic results. On this basis, educational policies should strive to counterbalance the regressive effects of social stratification in education. Human and material resources available in the educational system need to be distributed in a way that ensures stronger support to more vulnerable areas and thus bridge the gap between schools.
Qualitative research would suggest the need to improve the design of these incentives and the elements on which they are based (test scores, etc.). Creating effective incentives for teachers is a key issue to attract and retain teachers in vulnerable contexts. The research sheds light on the potential role of strengthening the social prestige of school teaching and of using non-material and symbolic incentives to promote good practices. Though the evidence of its effects is still incipient and limited, incentives emerge as an interesting and complementary tool to educational policies that seek to improve recruitment, retention, and, ultimately, the effectiveness of teachers’ performance. Finally, incentives cannot be understood in a dichotomist way. They need to be perceived as such by actors in a specific cultural matrix. This has to be considered when designing incentives for a particular educational system.
Educational policies to promote quality and equity in basic education need to be articulated with development policies applied to promote health, nutrition, and social security. Because of this, changes in the institutional settings of the educational system should be directed toward promoting coordination with other social sectors.