Teacher rotation and student outcomes: Experimental evidence from Uganda

Project Active from to State

On a given day, 27% of Ugandan teachers do not attend class (Chaudhury et al, 2006). Even when teachers in Uganda and other developing countries come to school, they do not necessarily teach, and students do not necessarily learn.

Only three out of ten students can read and comprehend a simple story by grade three, and only eight out of ten can do so by grade seven (Uwezo, 2012). Problems with the quality of work by public sector employees are not unique to education; in many low-income countries, public sector employees are often blamed, at least in part, for the low quality of public services. Yet the institutional structures in which these individuals work often provide no – or very little – incentives to encourage high-quality work. Improving the quality of work done by state personnel has enormous potential to improve the lives of citizens in every developing country, and there is considerable scope for doing so with small alterations to existing institutional environments.

There is a substantial body of literature showing the effectiveness of performance pay schemes. In education, bonus pay tied to an objective measure of teacher attendance has been shown to improve student achievement; bonus pay tied to student test scores has had more mixed results (e.g. Glewwe et al., 2010; Basinga et al., 2011; Muralidharan and Sundararaman, 2011; Duflo et al., 2012). In practice, however, bonuses are often prohibitively expensive in many contexts, including Uganda. There is thus an important role to be played by non-financial performance incentives, but their effects are less well-studied.

The researchers collaborated closely with the Ugandan education ministry and Bugiri district to develop an incentivised teacher transfer scheme consistent with current teacher transfer directives. It is hypothesised that this slight modification to Uganda’s existing transfer structure could be a powerful tool to improve teacher effectiveness, and that such a transfer policy would be useable in other service sectors as well.

In order to test the effectiveness of using transfer placement selection as an incentive, this project employs a randomised control trial across 140 schools over three years in one of Uganda’s districts. The aim is threefold:

  1. To investigate whether incentivised transfers tied to either teaching inputs or outputs can improve teacher performance and student outcomes.
  2. Particular attention is paid to the time horizon over which teachers are transferred.
  3. To study the equilibrium distribution of teacher quality that arises from an incentivised transfer scheme to evaluate the equity effects of our scheme.