- Catherine Mata
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School autonomy has been and continues to be one of the most important education reform strategies around the world despite ambiguity about its theoretical and empirical effects on students learning. We use international data from PISA to test three country-level factors that might account for inconsistent results in prior literature: (1) the selective implementation of school autonomy based on school performance; (2) differential influence on high-risk subgroups; and (3) the presence of accountability policies to prevent opportunism by autonomous schools. We find that the relationship between autonomy and student test performance varies both across countries and within countries across subgroups in both magnitude and direction. Similar results are observed if decentralization is coupled with accountability policies. All of three tested factors influence country-level associations between school decentralization and student learning, which suggests that autonomy is effective only when contextual factors and other policies are aligned.
High school exit exams are meant to standardize the quality of public high schools and to ensure that students graduate with a set of basic skills and knowledge. Evidence suggests that a common perverse effect of exit exams is an increase in dropout for students who have difficulty passing tests, with a larger effect on minority students. To mitigate this, some states offer alternative, non-tested pathways to graduation for students who have failed their exit exams. This study investigates the post-secondary effects of an alternative high school graduation program. Among students who initially fail an exit exam, those who eventually graduate through an alternative project-based pathway have lower college enrollment, but similar employment outcomes to students who graduate by retaking and passing their exit exams. Compared to similar students who fail to complete high school, those students who take the alternative pathway have better post-secondary outcomes in both education and employment.