Rodriguez-Segura, Daniel. (2020) Strengthening early literacy skills through social promotion policies?  Intended and unintended consequences in Costa Rica. International Journal of Educational Development, 77, 102243. [Data[Replication code]

Abstract: Social promotion policies (SPP) are often justified as allowing students to learn at their own pace while avoiding the consequences of grade repetition, particularly in settings where grade repetition is a pervasive feature of the educational system. The 2014 passing of a SPP for first graders in Costa Rica was designed to give students more time in a low-stakes environment to develop the basic literacy skills required for subsequent grades. Using a difference-in-differences approach and the universe of schools in Costa Rica from 2010 to 2017, I explore the downstream effects of the SPP on enrollment and grade repetition outcomes in later grades. I find that while the policy unsurprisingly lowered grade repetition for first graders, it also increased grade repetition rates for second and third graders by 77 % and 24 % respectively, likely due to the presence of students who did not reach the basic literacy standards, and yet passed as a result of the new policy. These negative, unintended consequences were mostly borne by school communities of low socioeconomic status. The paper calls for caution and coherence across grades in the design of SPP, along with better tailored policies for students at risk of repeating grades due to low achievement levels.

Key words: early literacy, curriculum change and implementation, Central America, difference-in-differences

Schueler, Beth, and Daniel Rodriguez-Segura. (2020). Can camp get you into a better secondary school? A field

experiment of targeted instruction in Kenya. Education Finance and Policy. Just accepted, 1-

56.[Policy brief] [Press coverage]

Abstract: Access to quality secondary schooling can be life-changing for students in developing contexts. In Kenya, entrance to such schools was historically determined by performance on a high-stakes exam. Understandably then, preparation for this exam is a high priority for Kenyan families and educators. To increase the share of students entering these schools, some educational providers offer targeted instruction for students they believe have a chance of securing a spot. We use a randomized control trial to evaluate the impact of these “symposia” programs—week-long, sleep-away camps where eighth grade students receive a burst of academic instruction from teachers selected based on merit. While similar models have been tested in the U.S., less is known about this type of intervention in developing settings. We find these programs were not particularly effective for the average nominated student relative to a typical week of school. However, we find large, positive effects among students attending schools from which few students are nominated for symposia. We provide suggestive evidence that this was because students from lowrepresentation schools had less pre-camp practice test resources outside of school. The results have implications for program design and the growing literature on the effectiveness of appropriately targeted individualized instruction.

Key words: small group tutoring, high-stakes exam prep, East Africa, RCT

Working papers

Daniel Rodriguez-Segura. "Educational technology in developing countries: a systematic review". EdPolicyWorks Working Paper Series. (Under review[Link - updated version] [Full coding of studies] [CGD blog post]  [SkillBox post]  

Abstract: the emergence of educational technology (“EdTech”) in developing countries has been received as a promising avenue to address some of the most challenging policy questions within educational systems. In this paper, I review and synthesize all existing studies with credible causal identification frameworks of EdTech interventions in developing countries. While other studies review the evidence for EdTech interventions in developed countries, there is currently no equivalent study for developing contexts, in spite of the rising number of studies being produced. I classify studies into four thematic categories based on the type of EdTech intervention analyzed: (1) access to technology, (2) technology-enabled behavioral interventions, (3) improvements to instruction, and (4) self-led learning. I find that EdTech interventions centered around self-led learning and improvements to instruction are the most effective forms of EdTech at raising learning outcomes. Similarly, technology-enabled behavioral interventions are less promising for generating large effects but highly cost-effective given their typically low marginal costs. While expanding access to technology alone is not sufficient to improve learning, it is a necessary first step for other types of interventions. More broadly, the overall success of interventions rests on the thoughtful customization of the EdTech solution to the policy constraints at hand. Finally, EdTech interventions across all thematic areas can and should act as complements by leveraging their respective comparative advantages to address deficiencies within educational systems in developing countries.

Key words: EdTech, low and middle income countries, systematic review and synthesis

Daniel Rodriguez-Segura, and Brian H. Kim. "The Last Mile in School Access: Mapping Education Deserts in Developing Countries". (Under review) [Draft] [Open-source code]

Abstract: With recent advances in high-resolution satellite imagery and machine vision algorithms, fine-grain geospatial data on population are now widely available: kilometer-by- kilometer, worldwide. In this paper, we showcase how researchers and policymakers in developing countries can leverage these novel data to precisely identify “education deserts” - localized areas where families lack physical access to education - at unprecedented scale, detail, and cost- effectiveness. We demonstrate how these analyses could valuably inform educational access initiatives like school construction and transportation investments, and outline a variety of analytic extensions to gain deeper insight into the state of school access across a given country. We conduct a proof-of-concept analysis in the context of Guatemala, which has historically struggled with educational access, as a demonstration of the utility, viability, and flexibility of our proposed approach. We find that the vast majority of Guatemalan population lives within 3 km of a public primary school, indicating a generally low incidence of distance as a barrier to education in that context. However, we still identify concentrated pockets of population for whom the distance to school remains prohibitive, revealing important geographic variation within the strong country- wide average. Finally, we show how even a small number of optimally-placed schools in these areas, using a simple algorithm we develop, could substantially reduce the incidence of “education deserts” in this context. We make our entire codebase available to the public – fully free, open- source, heavily documented, and designed for broad use – allowing analysts across contexts to easily replicate our proposed analyses for other countries, educational levels, and public goods more generally.

Key words: education deserts, optimal school placement, physical access to education

Daniel Rodriguez-Segura. "A Closer Look at Reading Comprehension: Experimental Evidence from Guatemala "[pre-registration]

Abstract: In spite of the relatively high literacy rates around the world, functional illiteracy or “learning poverty” is rampant. Still, reading comprehension is a key foundation skill for students to transition into higher order learning, and reap the benefits of literacy later in life. Given the extremely weak state of emergent literacy skills in many developing countries, the current literature has centered more on emergent literacy skills than on the characteristics and developmental properties of interventions which improve reading comprehension. Through the analysis of a randomized controlled trial (RCT) in Tecpán, Guatemala, this paper makes two key contributions to the literature on reading comprehension in developing countries. First, I provide evidence that an intervention which provides teacher training, coaching, and high-quality reading materials is highly effective at improving reading early literacy skills, particularly reading comprehension levels, and among first graders. Secondly, I translate the early literacy framework of a “Simple View of Reading” into a

classical “perfect complements” model to derive testable hypotheses about the developmental processes through which reading comprehension improved in this context. In all, I highlight the need to conceptualize reading comprehension interventions in developing countries as multi-layered methods that address the diverse set of inputs and constraints that children face in these contexts. 

Key words: early literacy, reading comprehension, Simple View of Reading, Central America, RCT

Daniel Rodriguez-Segura, Cole Campton, Luis Crouch, and Tim Slade. "Learning inequalities in developing countries: evidence from early literacy levels and changes" (R&R at the International Journal of Educational Development)

Abstract: this paper explores the issue of measurement of learning inequality. There is abundant evidence that learning levels are generally low in developing countries, but there is less knowledge about how learning achievement is distributed in within these contexts, and especially about how these distributions change as mean levels increase. We use child-level data on early literacy outcomes to quantitatively explore learning inequality using metrics borrowed from the economics and inequality literature. This paper deepens recent work in several ways. First, it extends the analysis to six developing countries, displaying which measures are computable and coherent across contexts. This information can add valuable information to program evaluation, without being redundant with other sources of information. Second, we show the large extent to which the disaggregation of inequality between- and within-schools and grades varies by context for foundational skills. Third, we present initial empirical evidence that, at least in the contexts of analysis of foundational interventions, improving average performance can reduce inequality as well, across all levels of socioeconomic status (SES). The data show that at baseline, the groups with the highest internal inequality tend to

be the groups with lowest SES, as inequality among the poor themselves is higher than among their wealthier counterparts. Regardless of which SES groups benefit more in terms of a changein mean levels of reading, there is still a considerable reduction in inequality by baseline achievement as means increase. These results have policy implications in terms of targeting of interventions: much can be achieved in terms of simultaneously improving averages and increasing equality. This seems particularly true when the initial learning levels are as low as they currently are the developing world.  

Key words: learning deprivation and inequality, early literacy, inequality measurement


Isaac Mbiti, and Daniel Rodriguez-Segura. (Working paper coming soon). "Back to the basics: Curriculum reform and student learning in Tanzania". [Video presentation]

Abstract: As a response to the low learning outcomes in even the most basic literacy and numeracy skills across the country, the Tanzanian government implemented in 2015 the “3R” curricular reform - reading, writing, and arithmetic - for grades one and two. This curricular shifted 80% of the instructional time in these grades to foundational literacy and numeracy skills, and greatly diminished the focus on tangential subjects which overcrowded the previous curriculum. We evaluate the effect of this policy on learning outcomes, by using a difference-in-differences approach which leverages panel data, and the variation in the timing of implementation and the cohorts impacted by the policy. This work contributes to the overall literature on curriculum reform in developing countries, and to the best of our knowledge, provides the first case study to study the causal effects, ramifications and implementation of this kind of policy at a large-scale.

Key words: early literacy and numeracy, curriculum change and implementation, difference-in-differences, East Africa

Beth Schueler, Daniel Rodriguez-Segura"Individualized academic support for students in time of Coronavirus: experimental evidence from Kenya" (in implementation phase).

Daniel Rodriguez-Segura, Beth Schueler. "Can we measure foundational skills over the phone? Evidence from Kenya"

Daniel Rodriguez-Segura, Beth Schueler, Ben Castleman. "Scaffolding parental support for early literacy: a multi-country experiment in Kenya and Nigeria" (in design phase).

Daniel Rodriguez-Segura, Youdi Schipper"The fiscal burden of teacher absenteeism in Tanzania".