What do you mean by ‘good’? The search for exceptional primary schools in South Africa’s no-fee school system

Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP16/2017
 
Publication date: December 2017
 
Author(s):
[protected email address] (Research on Socio-Economic Policy, Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University)
 
Abstract:

This paper describes a rigorous data collection process to find and verify the quality of what could potentially be high-functioning or high-performing schools accessible to the poor in three of South Africa’s nine provinces. A potential sample of outlier schools is selected using system-wide Universal Annual National Assessment data corroborated against school recommendations collected from a variety of system actors expected to be informed about school quality. Unfortunately, literacy testing in 31 purposively selected schools yields no example of high-performing, no-fee schools. However, we identify outlier or resilient students even in under-performing schools. Furthermore, within the no-fee school system there exists a continuum of functionality. Schools exist that while far from reaching good (or even adequate) median levels of English literacy, exhibit relatively higher literacy levels than other sample schools after controlling for student background differences. The presence of these relatively better performing sample schools (and performance variation more generally in the no-fee system) suggests that there is a middle-ground, a rightward movement away from dysfunction that can be reached. However, it is not clear that all system actors are able to detect variations in school quality. Our sample of respondents recommending ’good’ schools are only able to identify slightly better performing no-fee schools. For certain groups, specifically education district officials, enrolment growth appears to be a better indicator of their perceptions of ‘good’ than measures of student performance.

 
JEL Classification:

I20, I21

Keywords:

Exceptional schools, literacy, no-fee schools, school quality, South Africa

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BER Weekly

10 December
Dominating the domestic headlines last week was the news that South Africa exited a technical recession in 2018Q3. While this was widely expected, the pace of GDP growth surprised on the upside. More on this in the domestic section. After the release of some survey data for the fourth quarter (see domestic section for details), a spate of actual activity...

Read the full issue
 

Upcoming Seminars

No seminars are currently listed. Please check back soon.
 
More...

BER Weekly

10 December
Dominating the domestic headlines last week was the news that South Africa exited a technical recession in 2018Q3. While this was widely expected, the pace of GDP growth surprised on the upside. More on this in the domestic section. After the release of some survey data for the fourth quarter (see domestic section for details), a spate of actual activity...

Read the full issue