Religion, Education & Secularization

Sascha Becker and Ludger Woessmann had a great piece in the QJE called “Was Weber Wrong? A Human Capital Theory of Protestant Economic History.”  They hypothesized that Protestant societies were richer on average because of the emphasis that Protestantism places on being able to read the Bible. Using county-level data from 19th century Prussia, the authors found that Protestantism was associated with higher average income and education levels.

I just learned that Becker and Woessmann have a new working paper (co-authored with Markus Nagler) called “Education Promoted Secularization.” It looks like it’s heading to the top of my pile of “to read” papers after I finish grading.  Here’s the abstract:

Why did substantial parts of Europe abandon the institutionalized churches around 1900? Empirical studies using modern data mostly contradict the traditional view that education was a leading source of the seismic social phenomenon of secularization. We construct a unique panel dataset of advanced-school enrollment and Protestant church attendance in German cities between 1890 and 1930. Our cross-sectional estimates replicate a positive association. By contrast, in panel models where fixed effects account for time-invariant unobserved heterogeneity, education – but not income or urbanization – is negatively related to church attendance. In panel models with lagged explanatory variables, educational expansion precedes reduced church attendance.


“The Theft of the Century”

The Mexican government wisely decided that before the educational system in Mexico could be fixed, they first needed to figure out what they were dealing with.  For that reason, EPN ordered the first ever Census of Schools, Teachers and Students of Basic and Special Education (basic meaning primary and middle schools).

The results show the magnitude of the problem.  Here are some key findings:

1. “39,222 people supposedly assigned to a school in which no one actually knows them (“aviators”)

2. 30,695 people who claim to be teachers, but who in reality work for the SNTE [National Union of Education Workers] or the CNTE [National Coordinating Committee of Education Workers—a dissident teachers group];

3. 113,259 people who claim to be in a school, but who are located “in another place of work” (fugitives)

4. 114,998 people who receive pay as active teachers, but who do it in the name of people who have already retired or passed away.”

And this is a gross underestimate, since the states with “the with the most corrupt and backwards systems (Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Guerrero), refused to participate and were not included in the census.” Yikes.

Here’s a nice figure from the Economist on the issue:


and a great summary of the sad situation:

“The first ever government census of schools in Mexico shows that 13% of all people registered on the schools’ payrolls do not turn up to work (see chart). That is 298,000 out of a total of 2.25m, divided among those who receive a paycheck but appear to be figments of someone’s imagination; who work somewhere else; who are on leave (often as union representatives); or who have quit, retired or died. Organisations that represent outraged parents call it the “theft of the century.””


Quality versus quantity in education

I just came across a new paper in the JDE by Nicolai Kaarsen “Cross-country differences in the quality of schooling.”  It is moving to the top of the ever-expanding pile.  Here’s the abstract:

This paper constructs a cross-country measure of the quality of education using a novel approach based on international test scores data. The first main finding is that there are large differences in education quality – one year of schooling in the U.S. is equivalent to three or more years of schooling in a number of low-income countries. I incorporate the estimated series for schooling quality in an accounting framework calibrated using evidence on Mincerian returns. This leads to the second important finding, which is that the fraction of income differences explained by the model rises substantially when one includes education quality; the increase is around 22 percentage points.

Always look for the union label, Mexican edition

I didn’t think my opinion of the Mexican teacher’s union could be an lower, but the WSJ had a great piece yesterday (sadly gated) about the current union mindset.  It was not impressive.  I’m not sure where to start, so I’ll just list some of the best parts:

1. I don’t really care if students learn the words to the national anthem, but parents in one Oaxacan town found out that teachers were making students sing a popular leftist song instead.  Apparently, said song “acts as an unofficial anthem to a local chapter of the teachers union.” 

2.  The union is “steeped in Marxist ideology and a proponent of class conflict has blocked access to national highways and established huge tent cities in Mexico City to house protesters” since August. On its website, the CNTE says it is “independent of the bourgeoisie and its state.” Many of its members consider it to be a revolutionary movement fighting for the poor and powerless against the rich and powerful in Mexico. The “movement,” as CNTE teachers call their union, is on a crusade to stop the Mexican government’s educational reforms.”  If they were truly a movement fighting against the rich and powerful, they should have started by taking down La Maestra, the super corrupt leader of the union for 20 years.

3.  The union is known for their “legendary strikes”–literally every spring for the last 30 years, sometimes lasting for months.

4. Some union leaders may have links to a left-wing guerrilla group called the “Popular Revolutionary Army, or EPR, which authorities say has engaged in kidnappings of businessmen.”

5.  Some members complain about the amount of non-teaching work the union forces them to do, including “months-long marches and sit-ins.”  The union “excoriates by name teachers and local officials who it says have betrayed union principles.”

6. In San Lucas, parents have complained that the teaching is “both bad and politicized.”  The teachers do very little teaching and “rarely used textbooks.” But they did have students put on “plays and dances where students dressed up in black balaclavas and carried wooden rifles typical of the Zapatista rebels.”

7. And the corruption runs deep: “State documents show that Oaxaca’s government also gives millions of dollars to community groups run by union-affiliated activists, which lobby the government for money for social projects. Grants to these groups—which use the money to help solidify their control in communities—are rarely or ever supervised or audited, say three former top Oaxaca government officials. Last year, for instance, the Popular Revolutionary Front, a unit of the Communist Party of Mexico, Marxist-Leninist, which says it coordinates many of its activities with Section 22 [of the teacher’s union], received $3.2 million from the Oaxaca state government for an office building, cars and a swimming pool in an eco-tourism project, Oaxaca state government documents show.”  That sounds like some good Marxist-Leninist ideology at work!

The union has denounced what it calls “political slander” by the administration.  Their counterargument isn’t very convincing though.  For instance, the union leaders say that “The government, which for decades has sunk the country in the most abject misery, has no right to accuse us of anything and that the oligarchs of Mexico’s political class are the worst extortionists; they steal billions of pesos from the country every year.”

McSchooling in Kenya

Great story in Wired about The Bridge International and its standardized cheap(ish) private schools in Kenya.

There are now 212 Bridge Academies in Kenya with around 50,000 total students.

Bridge’s CEO, a former Silicon Valley entrepreneur named Jay Kimmelman, compares his company to Starbucks and McDonald’s — organizations that offer a consistent experience no matter where in the world you encounter them. Beyond its 212 branded academies in Kenya, Bridge has set its sights on Nigeria, Uganda, and India. The founders intend to be serving half a million children in 30 countries by 2015, and 10 million by 2025. “We’ve systematized every aspect of how you run a school,” Kimmelman says. “How you manage it. How you interact with parents. How you teach. How you check on school managers, and how you support them.” 

The “catch” is that this schooling costs $5 per pupil per month.

The article touts the good results these schools achieve, but there is no rigorous evaluation presented.

Why is it so impossible to imagine that cheap standardized private schooling becomes the dominant education model in Kenya, with the Government using vouchers to get to universal enrollment for those who $5 a month is too daunting a sum?

Please do read the whole article. It’s fascinating.

Cool education news from Mexico

I just got done covering education and the difficulty of reform in my Mexican economic development class and it was pretty depressing.  Given that, I was thrilled to read about some very cool news on the educational front in Mexico.

Wired has an article about a middle school teacher who was intrigued by the grannies in the cloud idea and decided to try to implement something similar in his class.  The result is something like a Hollywood movie.  Here’s the scene:

“José Urbina López Primary School sits next to a dump just across the US border in Mexico. The school serves residents of Matamoros, a dusty, sunbaked city of 489,000 that is a flash point in the war on drugs. There are regular shoot-outs, and it’s not uncommon for locals to find bodies scattered in the street in the morning. On most days, a rotten smell drifts through the cement-walled classrooms. Some people here call the school un lugar de castigo—“a place of punishment.”

Here’s the hero teacher of the story:

Sergio Juárez Correa started by telling them that there were kids in other parts of the world who could memorize pi to hundreds of decimal points. They could write symphonies and build robots and airplanes. Most people wouldn’t think that the students at José Urbina López could do those kinds of things. Kids just across the border in Brownsville, Texas, had laptops, high-speed Internet, and tutoring, while in Matamoros the students had intermittent electricity, few computers, limited Internet, and sometimes not enough to eat.

Here are some of the (pretty big) obstacles he faced:

A key component in Mitra’s theory [the granny in the cloud guy] was that children could learn by having access to the web, but that wasn’t easy for Juárez Correa’s students. The state paid for a technology instructor who visited each class once a week, but he didn’t have much technology to demonstrate. Instead, he had a batch of posters depicting keyboards, joysticks, and 3.5-inch floppy disks. He would hold the posters up and say things like, “This is a keyboard. You use it to type.”

As a result, Juárez Correa became a slow-motion conduit to the Internet. When the kids wanted to know why we see only one side of the moon, for example, he went home, Googled it, and brought back an explanation the next day. When they asked specific questions about eclipses and the equinox, he told them he’d figure it out and report back.

The Hollywood ending:

The previous year, 45 percent had essentially failed the math section, and 31 percent had failed Spanish. This time only 7 percent failed math and 3.5 percent failed Spanish. And while none had posted an Excellent score before, 63 percent were now in that category in math.

The language scores were very high. Even the lowest was well above the national average. Then he noticed the math scores. The top score in Juárez Correa’s class was 921. Zavala Hernandez [the principle] looked over at the top score in the state: It was 921. When he saw the next box over, the hairs on his arms stood up. Paloma received the highest math score in the country, but the other students weren’t far behind. Ten got math scores that placed them in the 99.99th percentile. Three of them placed at the same high level in Spanish.

That’s right.  Not only did the scores go through the roof after one year of the new teaching methodology, but Juárez Correa discovered that he had the smartest math student in the country in his class.

The evil administrator tries his best to denigrate Juárez Correa and his students’ achievement, makes an idiot of himself, and hopefully (but unlikely) signs his own letter of resignation with this dribble:

Francisco Sánchez Salazar, chief of the Regional Center of Educational Development in Matamoros, was even dismissive. “The teaching method makes little difference,” he says. Nor does he believe that the students’ success warrants any additional help. “Intelligence comes from necessity,” he says. “They succeed without having resources.”

Our hero remains undaunted though and I can only hope that other teachers find inspiration in his story (and that administrators like Sánchez Salazar are canned).

“Atrocious, monopolistic state schools”

As I’ve mentioned on this site before, one of my favorite books in recent years on development is The Beautiful Tree: A personal journey into how the world’s poorest people are educating themselves by James Tooley.  I had no idea that there were low-cost private schools for the extremely poor around the world. It was an eye opening, fascinating book.

Now, in exciting news, Tooley’s oft-collaborater Pauline Dixon has a book on the topic called International Aid And Private Schools For The Poor: Smiles, Miracles and Market.  The title of this post is taken from a glowing review by Gurcharan Das and there are many more to be found on the book’s Amazon page.

Here’s a brief description of the book:

“Using India as an example, Dr. Pauline Dixon examines the ways in which private, for-profit schools might serve as a successful alternative to state-run systems of education in impoverished communities around the world.

The book begins with a thorough history of India’s government-run schools – based on the traditional British model – which are currently characterized by high levels of waste, inefficiency and subpar student performance. The author goes on to present comprehensive survey and census data, along with analyses of different school management types and their effect on student achievement, teacher attendance and quality of facilities. The book also tackles the problem of inefficient allocation and use of international aid, and offers recommendations on the development of new mechanisms for utilizing aid resources in support of low-cost private schools.”

This one is moving to the top of my reading list.

Monday’s links are full of Lant

I am teaching a Ph.D. class this semester on Economic Development and I was telling my students about an article that Lant Pritchett had written about Indian education.  I told them I’d find the link and that they should read all of Lant’s work because it was some of the most interesting and thought provoking work in the field.

To help them out, I put together a list of links of Lant’s recent work.  Given that we blogged this morning about Lant’s book, I figured I’d make it an all-Lant Monday and reproduce the links here:

1. Service with a Smile  “For government services to improve, those providing them should want to do a better job”

2. The first PISA results for India: The end of the beginning

3. Is Microfinance A Schumpeterian Dead End?

4. Interview with Lant on Indian Education

5. Fact and Ficiton in Development

6. One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Lant Pritchett on Mimicry in Development

7.  Everything you think you know about poverty is wrong

8. Lant Pritchett v the Randomistas on the nature of evidence – is a wonkwar brewing?


The kidnapping of Mexico?

The Mexican Senate passed the education reform bill today and Mexican teachers are not happy.

One senator, Mario Delgado, supports the protests, arguing that “when Congress is rendered void, the only thing that remains is the streets.”  I’m not sure why Congress is void just because it passes a reform bill that you don’t like, but whatever Mario.  I’m guessing logic isn’t your strong suit.

The bill itself is riddled with concessions that threaten to dilute the strength of the reform, but I’ll write more on that later.  For now I’ll leave you with this great image of the striking teachers denouncing “the kidnapping of Mexico.” Wow.