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Ownership, autonomy and repeating a school year: identification of effective policies to improve the quality of education

13rd National Competition for Economic Research Grants

Economics of Education

Senior Researcher : Álvaro Borja Choi de Mendizábal

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Research Centre or Institution : Universidad de Barcelona.


The general aim of this project is to analyse the efficacy of factors which potentially have an impact on the quality of education at compulsory and post-compulsory, non-university levels in Spain, taking as the definition of education quality the ability of the education system to transmit knowledge, skills and competencies to students, in order to identify successful educational policies and interventions. This is especially relevant in a context of high academic failure and dropout rates, with the mediocre results of Spanish students in the different international evaluations, such as PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study), TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment).

This general aim is encompassed in two specific objectives: first of all, to analyse and assess the effects on the process and the educational results of forcing students to repeat school years; secondly, to analyse and assess the effects of management (autonomy, ownership) on the effectiveness of educational establishments. The choice of the two selected policies, repeating school years and management practices (ownership and autonomy of the establishment) is not random, as they are central in the Spanish debate about education.

In the first case (repeating school years), Spain is one of the OECD countries that makes most use of this policy: approximately 40% of Spanish students have repeated at least one grade before they reach the age of 16. In Spain, repetition seems therefore to be used, in general, routinely and on a massive scale for students with very different profiles. It would therefore be advisable to identify the causes of repeating school years, as well as its real impact on academic performance - at the aggregate level and by sub-groups - in order to be able to open up the debate about the advisability or otherwise of replacing repetition with alternative policies. The information provided by the OECD's PISA programme suggests that there are inequalities in the application of grade repetition not only internationally but also regionally within Spain and even between similar educational establishments in the same region. In turn, the empirical evidence for other countries tends to identify grade repetition as an ineffective instrument in education policy. For the Spanish case, however, that evidence is sparse, mainly due to the lack of data which would make it possible to address the problems of double causality and endogeneity which affect the analysis of the impact of repeating grades. In our analysis, we explore methodological strategies aimed at overcoming the aforementioned difficulties.

In the second case (school management factors), the debate continues about the role of the autonomy of the school (both state and chartered schools) and the relation between ownership and academic performance. The existing studies about the effects of modifications in the degrees of autonomy of schools in different aspects (resources, organisation of personnel, hiring, etc.) are far from being definitive. At the same time, the advisability of modifying or not the system of state funding has been a subject of considerable controversy in recent years. In relation to the impact of the ownership (public/private) of schools, our study will be carried out in the framework of a broad theoretical model which takes into account the fact that educational establishments are joint production entities, which foment the acquisition of knowledge, skills and competencies of different kinds at the same time.

The variety of objectives therefore requires the combination of different methodological techniques (both parametric and non-parametric), which are applied to the most relevant recent databases of national and internal micro-data, such as TIMSS, PIRLS and, mainly, PISA. The study should therefore conclude with the identification of causal effects of the policies evaluated for the purposes of being able to come up with practical recommendations for educational policies.

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