Information Often Promotes Accountability
It is usually stated that if information systems are to have any impact, they should be complemented by effective enforcement systems that use the information collected for rewarding and punishing providers for good or bad performance. However, as several of the GDN case studies highlight, when relevant information is disseminated widely, policy makers, providers and citizens tend to react to it. Policy makers revise policies, providers change behaviors and citizens and users (and advocacy or oversight NGOs) begin to use more effectively their voice, through whatever available channels, and to better exercise their choice, when this is possible. In other words, some degree of enforcement often springs out automatically from public dissemination of information.
Thus, for example, the comparative study between the Chilean and Uruguayan education systems, included in this volume, finds that school principals and teachers in Chile—where this information is made public— are keenly aware of comparative student tests performance of their school and apparently react to it. In addition, interviews suggest that achievement pressure from the parents seems to be much higher in Chile than in Uruguay, and that it is also higher in private than in public schools. Thus, 60 percent of students in the Chilean private system attend schools whose principals respond that there is constant pressure from parents to achieve high academic standards, while this rarely happens in the Uruguayan schools, most of them public schools.
This does not mean that teachers and principals in Chile are not critical about “excessive” use of a particular type of information. To quote the authors, “SIMCE (the test student tests) results occupied a paramount part in the school culture in public and private subsidized schools in Chile. Teachers expressed the pressure they felt from parents, schools and municipal authorities when achievement levels were reported but, at the same time, they expressed feeling impotence over actually being able to affect results through instruction. Additionally, some teachers were quite cynical about SIMCE as an end in itself, rather than a means for detecting areas of improvement. Several of them referred to the ‘prepare for the exam’ culture that has been installed since the implementation of SIMCE. Teachers and principals from all schools were critical of the overemphasis on the SIMCE as the only instrument available to provide comparative information on school achievements.”39
These caveats notwithstanding, econometric estimates of the Chile- Uruguay study show that, after controlling for individual characteristics, grade and school characteristics, there is a positive association between publishing the results and performance in all evaluated areas. Publication of results is also found to be positively associated to school progression, which, in turn, is found to be associated with better academic results.40 This association is statistically significant for the full sample, and it is especially strong for students from the lowest quartile of socioeconomic status, thus indicating a positive effect on equity. In fact, some teachers and principals interviewed mentioned that low-income parents are keener on knowing and using test data about their children, as they normally do not have other sources of information about the quality of the school.
Of course, the importance of information flows in the Chilean school system is reinforced by the fact that they are indeed used to assess teachers’ performance, influencing their career development. In fact, as the authors conclude, teacher accountability in Chile is linked to formal teacher incentives, while in Uruguay there is a disassociation between both factors. However, controlling for other variables including publication of results, they did not find robust econometric evidence of association between educational performance and formal incentives variables in the two countries. In other words, publication of results appears to have a stronger association with performance than the incentive system per se.