School management selection and student learning: evidence from national reform in Peru

Politics has long driven the selection of school managers in Latin America, to the detriment of managerial quality and student learning. Join Renata Lemos for a discussion of her research in Peru, investigating the introduction of a merit-based civil service examination for school management positions in 2014, moving away from political appointments as the main selection mechanism.

The researchers compared schools where the school manager failed the examination and was replaced, to schools where managers passed and retained their post. The immediate impact of the reform on learning was negative, and mostly driven by rural schools. Exploring the mechanisms behind this effect, the researchers suggested that it was driven by lower supply of candidates and smaller skill gains by new managers in rural relative to urban schools. Using new data from a large-scale manager performance evaluation, they showed that while first-time managers catch up to their peers within four years, there is no meaningful effect on learning, and that nearly 70% of the learning gap between schools with strong versus weak principals is explained by the school principal premium, rather than specific school endowments.

The findings, which highlight the importance of considering the local context in the design of national education policies, have led the Peruvian government to introduce a new career path for managers in rural schools focusing on improvements to the selection margin.