Why do some students learn more in some schools than others? One consideration receiving growing attention is school management - the processes and practices used by principals day-to-day as they run their schools. Currently, researchers interested in school management face two challenges: how to measure school management accurately and cost-effectively at scale across schools and countries; and how to explain any observed relationship between school management and learning outcomes in a way that elucidates the underlying mechanisms to guide policy. 

In this paper, the authors introduce a new approach to measurement using existing public data, and apply it to build a management index covering 15,000 schools across 65 countries, and another index covering nearly all public schools in Brazil. Both indices show a strong, positive relationship between school management and student learning.

The authors then develop a simple model that formalises the intuition that strong management practices might be driving learning gains via incentive and selection effects among teachers, students and parents. The paper shows that the predictions of this model hold in public data for Latin America, and draws out implications for policy.

The predictions of the model point to several areas for management reform in public schools, particularly around the use of people management (teacher appraisals), and operations (quality promotion in the classroom, school reviews). Schools that get these practices right experience fewer teacher shortages, and report more motivated and hardworking teachers, students and parents, all of which contribute to better learning.

About the authors 

Clare Leaver, Associate Professor of Economics and Public Policy, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford

Renata Lemos, World Bank

Daniela Scur, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University