In the United States, educators are working to find ways to bring back students who are chronically absent due to illness or feeling unsafe on campus—but at least most American children don't have to deal with chronic intestinal worms or cross a conflict zone to get to class. Mathematica Policy Research has launched a new center dedicated to studying education interventions for the most vulnerable children around the world.
The Center for International Policy Research and Evaluation has pulled together more than 35 researchers and statisticians working with more than 30 countries to identify and evaluate international education programs. For example, the center has launched a five-year evaluation of the costs and benefits of the U.S. Agency for International Development's programs to increase access to early literacy in areas of high-conflict in countries like the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Nicaragua. It is also conducting a randomized, controlled trial of dropout-prevention strategies being used in India, Tajikistan, Cambodia, and Timor-Leste (often known as East TImor), based on the What Works Clearinghouse's methodological standards.
The center also bolsters evidence for building schools to improve girls' education in rural areas, an intervention popularized by the school-based "Pennies for Peace" program and others, but called into question during a 2011 scandal over schools constructed by Pennies for Peace founder Greg Mortenson. Mathematica tracked a girls education initiative in the West African country of Burkina Faso, which built schools for girls and boys and provided literacy and leadership training in 132 rural villages. Researchers found the ongoing program, Burkinabé Response to Improve Girls' Chances to Succeed, improved school attendance and performance of both girls and boys in the villages.
Will these international studies have bearing on American education problems? It's easy to think not, but if Mathematica finds ways to improve education under the most challenging conditions in the world, there may be lessons for our own struggling schools.