Governance Factors as Explanatory Variables: Some Clues for Understanding Their Effects
This section presents the main findings regarding the effects of several governance factors on PISA performance and school progression. Some relationships are significant for the full sample, others in specific types of institutions (private/public), and others are only significant within some socioeconomic strata. These quantitative results are complemented with the main qualitative evidence gathered for each governance factor under study.
As described in the conceptual framework, school autonomy is an institutional feature that can have positive effects on student educational outcomes. We found a positive association between greater autonomy in resource allocation and performance in all PISA tests, both when analyzing the full sample and when separating public and private schools. We also found a positive association between school autonomy in resource allocation and school progression, but it is only significant for the lowest quartile of socioeconomic status (Table 5.9).
When analyzing each country separately, the positive association between autonomy in resource allocation and test results holds in Chile, after controlling for individual characteristics, grade, and school inputs. However, in Uruguay the positive association between this factor and outcomes is closely linked to the type of provision (public or private). This is due to the strong association between the degree of autonomy in resource allocation and the type of service provision in Uruguay: while private schools are fully autonomous in this regard, public schools have very little margin for this type of decision. The lack of variation within makes it difficult to separate public-private provision with autonomy in resource allocation if we only consider the Uruguayan sample (Table 5.10).
Regarding the effect of a higher degree of autonomy in defining curriculum content and assessment, PISA 2009 does not show a strong association between this factor and educational outcomes. This result is robust when analyzing both countries separately, under different types of controls.
When analyzing the relationship between decentralization and school progression, it is paramount to consider the student’s socioeconomic status. In order to analyze possible different effects of this institutional factor on school progress, we estimated separate regressions by quartile of school
FE: Country Fixed Effects; Obs: observations Source: Elaborated by authors
FE: Country Fixed Effects; Obs: observations
Source: Elaborated by authors socioeconomic status. The dependent variable indicates a student attending fourth grade or above.
Practically no differences are observed between Chilean and Uruguayan students of the highest quartile, while dramatic differences appear when comparing school progress of students from the lowest quartile. Estimates indicate that school autonomy in personnel management and process decisions such as hiring of teachers and deciding budget allocation is related to a greater probability of being in fourth grade or above at the time of PISA tests (i.e. not having repeated or lagged behind), only for students attending schools of the lowest quartile of socioeconomic status. On the other hand, we do not find significant associations between this factor and school progress in the other quartiles of the distribution of students across school socioeconomic status (Table 5.11).
The qualitative data collected are useful for illuminating some of the mechanisms underlying the relationships described in this factor.
In the case of Chile, schools possess varied degrees of autonomy depending on the type of administration. In private centers, all teachers and principals interviewed reported having liberty in terms of resource allocations (though not so in terms of curriculum), while private subsidized and municipal schools reported having significantly less autonomy.
At the same time, it is important to point out that the level of autonomy that each municipal school exercises is dependent on their academic results. Teachers in municipal schools with bad academic results denounced having very limited autonomy (e.g., quote 1 below), whereas teachers in municipal schools with good results stated that they were provided with certain leeway, while the decision-making was usually not in the hands of the principal but rather in the hands of the corporation or municipality (quote 3). It is possible to say, therefore, that the model of decentralization that has been implemented in Chile has not necessarily allowed schools to exercise full autonomy to carry on their educational projects.
Schools have very limited autonomy with regards to resources. The school, for carrying out any type of activity, depends on the resources sent by the corporation. The Ministry sends the resources to the corporations; they administer it and the money hardly ever reaches the schools. In fact, subventions for our school have increased and the truth is that we end up getting very little money. (Chile/teacher/municipal/bad SIMCE/small school)
Table 5.11 Probit estimations (Dependent variable: student being in fourth grade or above. Covariates: decentralization and control variables)
Table 5.11 (continued)
FE: Country Fixed Effects; Obs: observations; SES: Socio-economic status
Source: Elaborated by authors
As the testimonies illustrate, the lack of autonomy of some of the schools in Chile is related to an effect of the Chilean law of “Preferential School Subvention/SEP” that gives a subvention to schools depending on the number of “priority” students enrolled and attending classes. The Subvencion Escolar Preferencial (SEP) classifies schools, both municipal and private subsidized, receiving the subvention into three types depending on their achievement results measured in the SIMCE tests. Schools that have systematically achieved good educational results are awarded the category of “autonomous education centers”; those that have not obtained good achievement levels are classified as “emergent”; and those that have repeatedly obtained deficient results are categorized as “in recuperation”. Centers that are classified as “autonomous” obtain the highest subvention and those “in recuperation” are provided support from the Ministry of Education, which significantly limits their degree of autonomy. Schools in this category have a deadline of four years to achieve the set standards to become an “emergent school”. Should they not achieve this level, the Ministry of Education reserves the right to revoke official recognition of that center.
In the case of Uruguay, the interviews confirmed the virtual lack of autonomy that schools have in terms of resource allocation and curriculum decision-making. The central authority defines the curriculum, establishes the school formats, determines the school calendar, and dictates the books to be used by students. All these measures apply to private and public schools. In the case of public schools, the state decides the allocation of human and material resources. All of this significantly limits the decision-making and maneuvering capacity of the schools. As one of our interviewees from the private school points out:
We are very respectful of the official system. We are always looking for approval from the state. I say we, but it’s mostly the heads of the school, they are always looking for approval from the state regarding how we do things....Both in primary and in secondary schools, there is a tendency to seek for approval to comply with official rules and norms. (Uruguay/pri- vate/good results/big)
However, in the case of Uruguay, there seems to be a very interesting paradox: while there is strict control on the part of the state regarding formalities and procedures, there seems to be lack of control of substantive aspects of teaching and learning.
In the public school, autonomy means that none really know what you are doing...if one obeys what is written in the norms, you won’t have a problem. And the truth is that anonymity endows you with certain autonomy. I was visited once by my inspector several years ago, making sure things were in place, and that was it. (Uruguay/pubic/bad results/small)