Karthik Muralidharan runs very large, randomized controlled trials on education in India. His previous work showed that performance pay for teachers in India has large and significant improvements on student learning. In his latest paper (with Venkatesh Sundararaman) he reports on the results of The Andhra Pradesh School Choice Project, a long-term randomized controlled trial covering over 6,000 students in 180 villages for four years (2008-2012). The study offered students a lottery for a private school scholarships and lottery winners were compared with non-winners. The results show modest improvements in learning for private school students and big increases in school productivity.
We find that private school teachers have lower levels of formal education and training than public-school teachers, and
are paid much lower salaries. On the other hand, private schools have a longer school day, a longer
school year, smaller class sizes, lower teacher absence, higher teaching activity, and better school
hygiene. After two and four years of the program, we find no difference between the test scores of
lottery winners and losers on math and Telugu (native language). However, private schools spend
significantly less instructional time on these subjects, and use the extra time to teach more English,
Science, Social Studies, and Hindi. Averaged across all subjects, lottery winners score 0.13 σhigher,
and students who attend private schools score 0.23 σhigher. We find no evidence of spillovers on
public-school students who do not apply for the voucher, or on students who start out in private schools
to begin with, suggesting that the program had no adverse effects on these groups. Finally, the mean
cost per student in the private schools in our sample is less than a third of the cost in public schools.
Our results suggest that private schools in this setting deliver (slightly) better test score gains than
their public counterparts, and do so at substantially lower costs per student.
As Karthik notes in a Ideas for India short article that summarizes:
Since private schools achieved equal or better outcomes at one-third the cost, the fundamental question that needs to be asked is “How much better could private management do if they had three times their current level of per-child spending?”
Is any economist doing more important work with greater potential for real improvement in the lives of millions than Karthik Muralidharan?