We hypothesize that the success of the program will hinge on its ability to maintain or improve three key accountability relationships in the education system.
MANAGERIAL ACCOUNTABILITY (OF TEACHERS TO PRIVATE OPERATORS)
A central hypothesis underlying Liberia's charter school program is that private operators with greater capacity to implement routine performance management systems, regularly monitor teacher attendance, track student performance, and provide teachers with frequent feedback and support will help to overcome teacher absenteeism and low education quality.
This is not a story about accountability through carrots and sticks. Teachers in Liberia's charter schools will be drawn from the existing pool of unionized civil servants with lifetime appointments, and be paid directly by the Liberian government. Private operators will have limited authority to request that a teacher be re-assigned, and no authority to promote or dismiss civil service teachers. The hypothesis is that accountability can be generated through monitoring and support, rather than rewards and threats.
Note that this hypothesis stands in stark contrast to standard labor economics theories of accountability in the workplace which have dominated the economics of education literature in developing countries. These theories stress civil service protections and labor unions as impediments to accountability (Mbiti, 2016). In response, the experimental literature has focused on solutions such as payment for performance (Muralidharan and Sundararaman, 2011) and flexible labor contracts with credible threat of dismissal (Banerjee et al., 2007; Duflo, Dupas & Kremer, 2011; Duflo, Dupas & Kremer, 2012; Duflo, Hanna & Ryan, 2012).
We will measure the effectiveness of Liberia's 'softer' approach to managerial accountability through the randomized control trial, comparing teachers in treatment (i.e., charter) and control schools.
BOTTOM-UP ACCOUNTABILITY (OF TEACHERS AND OPERATORS TO PARENTS)
In the framework of the World Bank's 2004 World Development Report on public service delivery, there is a "short route" to accountability (i.e., bypassing the "long route" through elected representatives and the Ministry of Education) if parents are able to exercise "client power" in their interactions with teachers and schools. Client power emerges from freedom to choose another provider or direct control over school resources.
Internationally, the charter school movement is closely tied to policy reforms bestowing parents with freedom of school choice. The standard argument is that charter schools will be more reactive to parents’ demands than traditional public schools, because their funding is linked directly to enrollment numbers. However, there is limited empirical evidence establishing that school choice responds to learning quality in low-income settings (Andrabi, Das & Khwaja, 2008), and this mechanism may be more relevant for schools in high density locations like Monrovia than remote rural areas where choice is de facto limited to one or two schools in walking distance. Furthermore, since charter operators’ earnings are directly proportional to the number of enrolled children, it is in their best interest to increase enrollment, and retain enrolled children in their schools.
TOP-DOWN, RESULTS-BASED ACCOUNTABILITY (OF PRIVATE OPERATORS TO THE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION)
Charter school operators' contracts can be terminated if they do not achieve certain pre-established standards. In the U.S. literature, this is generally referred to as a "results-based accountability" structure for charter schools. Operators are given a set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and targets for each school. The government expects operators to meet this targets, but has not made it clear what the consequences for operators area if they do not meet these targets.
To investigate these questions, the evaluation will collect survey data from parents, teachers, and students to measure both intermediate inputs (e.g., school management, teacher behavior, parental engagement), and final outcomes (i.e., student learning outcomes). We collect data on intermediate factors to provide insights into why PSL schools did or did not have an impact.