Education is an essential component of human capital formation and has implications for economic growth, China’s transition to a modern economy, and China’s capacity to compete in 21st century industries. Our Center is among a small number of groups with comprehensive data on multiple key dimensions of China’s education system. This unique position enables us to continue path breaking research on education in China that is relevant to policy makers and educators around the world.
Improving Rural Schooling
Early Childhood Development
The Status Quo of Teaching Reading Skills in Rural Primary Schools in China: PIRLS Questionnaires in Guizhou and Jiangxi
Large-Scale International Assessments of Learning Outcomes: Balancing the Interests of Multiple Stakeholders
The Prevalence of Parent-Teacher Interaction in Developing Countries and its Effect on Student Outcomes
Empirical evidence from developed countries supports the idea that parent-teacher interaction is high and improves student outcomes. The evidence from developing countries is, however, decidedly mixed. Using longitudinal data from nearly 6000 students and their 600 teachers in rural China, we show the prevalence of parent-teacher interaction is generally much lower than that of developed countries. We also show parent-teacher interaction, when it exists, can have positive effects on raising academic achievement and reducing learning anxiety. We demonstrate that the prevalence and effectiveness of parent-teacher interaction in a developing country context varies considerably due to both demand-side and supply-side factors.
Stuck in Place? A Field Experiment on the Effects of Reputational Information on Student Evaluations
Studies suggest that students’ prior performance can shape subsequent teacher evaluations, but the magnitude of reputational effects and their implications for educational inequality remain unclear. Existing scholarship presents two major perspectives that exist in tension: do teachers primarily use reputational information as a temporary signal that is subsequently updated in response to actual student performance? Or do teachers primarily use reputational information as a filter that biases perception of subsequent evidence, thus crystallizing student reputations and keeping previously poor-performing students stuck in place? In a field experiment, we recruited a random sample of 832 junior high school teachers from the second-most populous province of China to grade a sequence of four essays written by the same student, and we randomly assign both the academic reputation of the student and the quality of the essays produced. We find that (1) reputational information influences how teachers grade, (2) teachers rely on negative information more heavily than positive information, and (3) negative reputations are crystallized by a single behavioral confirmation. These results suggest that students can escape their prior reputations, but to do so, they must contradict them immediately, with a single confirmation sufficient to crystallize a negative reputation.
Does Teacher Training Actually Work? Evidence from a Large-Scare Randomized Evaluation of a National Teacher Training Program
The Impact of Teacher Professional Development Programs on Student Achievement in Rural China: Evidence from Shaanxi Province
There is a significant gap in academic achievement between rural and urban students in China. Policymakers have sought to close this gap by improving the quality of teaching in rural areas through teacher professional development (PD) programs. However, there is limited evidence on the effectiveness of such programs. In this paper, we evaluate the impact of a PD program-National Teacher Training Program (NTTP) and find that the NTTP has no effect on math achievement. We also find that while the program has a positive effect on math teaching knowledge of teachers, it has no significant effect on teaching practices in the classroom. Taken together, these results indicate that teachers may have improved their knowledge for teaching from NTTP, but did not apply what they learned to improve teaching practices or student learning.
Abstract: We present results of a randomized trial testing alternative approaches of mapping student achievement into rewards for teachers. Teachers in 216 schools in western China were assigned to performance pay schemes where teacher performance was assessed by one of three different methods. We find that teachers offered “pay-for-percentile” incentives (Barlevy and Neal 2012) outperform teachers offered simpler schemes based on class average achievement or average gains over a school year. Moreover, pay-for-percentile incentives produced broad-based gains across students within classes. That teachers respond to relatively intricate features of incentive schemes highlights the importance of close attention to performance pay design.
Although students in rural and migrant schools in China generally have not performed well, a share of each cohort has been able to thrive in school and to test into academic high school and college. To understand the origins of persistence, specifically, why some students learn more than do others, researchers have identified certain sources of the problem. Few studies, however, have paid attention to the role that low levels of cognitive development of students play in their academic performance.
Old is Not Always Better: Evidence from Five Randomized Experiments in Rural Primary Schools in China
In recent years, researchers have begun to focus attention on trying to identify systematic factors that cause interventions to have different impacts in different contexts. In this paper, we seek to understand whether the age of principals at schools implementing nutrition-based interventions has an impact on program outcomes. To explore the relative effectiveness of younger and older school principals, we use data from five large-scale, nutrition-related randomized controlled trials (RCTs) involving 12,595 primary school students in 336 schools in rural China. Our results, using two age cut-offs for distinguishing young principals from old ones, indicate that improvements in the health and nutrition outcomes of students were significantly higher in schools with younger principals than in schools run by older principals (when using a cutoff of 40 years old). When using a cut-off of 45 years old, the point estimates of the impacts similarly suggest that young principals are more effective, although the results are not significantly significant. The results are similar when we look at the impact of disaggregated interventions in schools managed by young and old principals. The findings are clear that the interventions implemented by older principals are not more effective than those implemented by younger principals.
Can Bureaucrats Really be Paid like CEOs? Substitution Between Incentives and Resources Among School Administrators in China
Unlike performance incentives for private sector managers, little is known about performance incentives for managers in public sector bureaucracies. Through a randomized trial in rural China, we study performance incentives rewarding school administrators for reducing student anemia -- as well as complementarity between incentives and orthogonally assigned discretionary resources. Large (but not small) incentives and unrestricted grants both reduced anemia, but incentives were more cost-effective. Although unrestricted grants and small incentives do not interact, grants fully crowd-out the effect of larger incentives. Our findings suggest that performance incentives can be effective in bureaucratic environments, but they are not complementary to discretionary resources.
Do Resources Matter? Effects of an In-Class Library Project on Student Independent Reading Habits in Primary Schools in Rural China
It is commonly believed that reading challenges should be addressed early to reduce the likelihood that developmental delays will impact students over the long term. However, students in developing countries often have limited access to reading resources. In this study, the authors used a randomized controlled trial of 11,083 fourth‐ and fifth‐grade students in 120 primary schools in rural China to examine the causal effect of an in‐class library program on student reading outcomes and academic achievement in schools with poor reading resources over an eight‐month period. An in‐class library was installed in each of the selected classes in the 40 treatment schools. The authors found that the program significantly improved student affinity toward reading and student reading habits, and in these regards, it narrowed the gap between male and female students, between low‐ and high‐performing students, and between left‐behind children and children living with parents. However, the authors found no overall effect of the program on reading and academic achievement and a negative effect on student confidence in reading. There was also no effect on student, teacher, and primary caregiver perceptions toward the effect of independent reading on academic achievement, nor any effect on whether teachers and primary caregivers provided reading instructions to students. The authors propose three possible explanations for these findings: a lack of reading instruction from teachers and caregivers, a lack of reading materials specifically tailored to local needs and interests, and the relatively short duration of the intervention.
In this paper, we attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of reading programs at improving the reading skills and academic achievement of primary school students in rural China. Using survey data on 4108 students, we find that students exhibited low levels of reading achievement, independent reading quantity, and reading confidence in the absence of any treatment. However, our results also suggest that properly designed treatments may improve the reading and academic outcomes of students.
Educational tracks create differential expectations of student ability, raising concerns that the negative stereotypes associated with lower tracks might threaten student performance. The authors test this concern by drawing on a field experiment enrolling 11,624 Chinese vocational high school students, half of whom were randomly primed about their tracks before taking technical skill and math exams. As in almost all countries, Chinese students are sorted between vocational and academic tracks, and vocational students are stereotyped as having poor academic abilities. Priming had no effect on technical skills and, contrary to hypotheses, modestly improved math performance. In exploring multiple interpretations, the authors highlight how vocational tracking may crystallize stereotypes but simultaneously diminishes stereotype threat by removing academic performance as a central measure of merit. Taken together, the study implies that reminding students about their vocational or academic identities is unlikely to further contribute to achievement gaps by educational track.
The goal of this paper is to describe and analyze the relationship between ability tracking and student social trust, in the context of low-income students in developing countries. Drawing on the results from a longitudinal study among 1,436 low-income students across 132 schools in rural China, we found a significant lack of interpersonal trust and confidence in public institutions among poor rural young adults. We also found that slow-tracked students have a significantly lower level of social trust, comprised of interpersonal trust and confidence in public institutions, relative to their fast-tracked peers. This disparity might further widen the gap between relatively privileged students who stay in school and less privileged students who drop out of school. These results suggest that making high school accessible to more students may improve social trust among rural low-income young adults.