Improving Education Quality in Chile Through Structured Instruction Methods for Teachers

Improving the quality of education worldwide continues to be a policy challenge. Recently, UNESCO estimated that 38 percent of children have not mastered the basics of reading and math, although over half of them have been in school for four years. One of the key issues behind this figure is poor teaching skills among educators, especially in rural and disadvantaged areas. With increasing school enrollment rates, many countries are facing shortages of trained teachers. UNESCO determined that in many countries, less than 75 percent of teachers receive proper training per national standards. At the same time, UNESCO also finds that trained teachers are more likely to be concentrated in urban and better-resourced schools, which worsens the gap of education quality between rural and urban areas.

To compensate for poor teaching skills, policymakers have proposed more structured instruction methods and supplied teachers with prepared classroom materials and guidance for standardized teaching. Over the last two decades, Chile has made one of the largest financial commitments to education compared to other OECD countries. In an effort to improve its quality of education, the Chilean government initiated Plan Apoyo Compartido (PAC), a structured instruction method for schools that have historically performed below average on Chile’s national standardized test. The program focuses on developing standardized teaching materials and planning tools for  teachers to effectively implement the national curriculum; fostering a supportive learning environment at school; using student evaluation to inform  instruction; maximizing the learning process in the classroom through class planning and conducting regular class observations; and organizing periodic internal school staff meetings to monitor student progress.

To assess the impact of the program, Marina Bassi, Costas Meghir and Ana Reynoso completed a randomized evaluation of 848 Chilean elementary schools during 2011 and 2012, where 651 were randomly assigned to receive PAC and 197 schools were assigned to a control group with no treatment. The authors collected individual data about  fourth-grade students including test scores, demographics, and parental education. For the 2011 cohort, the authors found that PAC improved reading test scores by about 10 percent of a standard deviation. Similarly, PAC improved math test scores by about seven percent of a standard deviation. When the authors analyzed the data by gender and family income, they observed the program largely benefited boys from medium-to-high income families in reading and math (both test scores increase by about 20 percent of a standard deviation), while it had less impressive effects for medium-to-high income girls. Conversely, the authors did not observe any effects on the test scores for children from low-income groups.

For the 2012 cohort, the effects of the program declined and were no longer significant. To understand this finding further, the authors also analyzed how teacher-student interactions affected student learning for the 2012 cohort. The authors randomly selected 210 schools from the initial sample: 105 from the PAC treatment group and 105 from the control group. To measure this interaction, the authors trained coders to watch and analyze videos taken during classes, and assigned them a score for teacher-student interactions in terms of emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support. The authors observed that stronger relationships between teachers and students improved test scores, particularly among low-income students. However, they found that PAC itself did not improve teacher-student interactions, which may explain why the program did not have a significant effect on student test scores for the 2012 cohort.

This research provides a significant contribution to the discussion of improving the quality of education in rural areas. It provides supporting evidence that having a more structured instruction method can improve student test scores, particularly for medium-to-high income students. However, this research raises important questions about how to improve outcomes for children from low-income families. The authors suggest that having more teacher-student interaction largely benefits low-income students. In addition, recent research by Coratázar also shows that early childhood education improved educational performance for low-income students in Chile, although the benefits  vary when it comes to gender and family income. Additionally, there are implementation questions around how to maintain the momentum of the program. Though the program seemed to initially have encouraging impacts, its effects faded after the first year.  In order to be successful, teaching instruction policy will need to focus on working with deprived students and finding ways to create sustainable results.

Article source: Bassi, Marina, Costas Meghir, and Ana Reynoso. “Education Quality and Teaching Practices.” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Papers Series: No. 22719 (2016).

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Nurzanty Khadijah

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