A New Teaching Force: Improving Education Quality in Latin America and the Caribbean

Education - Health

The capacity of countries for competing in a global economy critically depends on their capacity of meeting increasing demands for high-level-skills, making school quality and pertinence a pressing issue. Despite increased spending in education1 and many reform efforts, Latin America has not substantially improved learning in its schools over the past decade: scoring at the bottom of every global test of international student achievement. Progress has been made in education access, achieving almost universal primary education, expanding preprimary, secondary and tertiary education. However, regional and national inequalities continue to hinder LAC educational achievement, raising concerns about equity in the distribution of learning opportunities.

The current literature provides evidence supporting the fact that teachers are the main driver of in-school effects on student attainment. Further, it provides evidence on the difference that an effective teacher can make on student outcomes, even counteracting the effect of other negative determinants, such as a disadvantaged background (Hanushek 2002, 2005).

Teachers are the main budget-item in education expenditure, so improving their effectiveness is a critical component for policy to improve student outcomes, and the main education-related concern for most countries in LAC. The next frontier in educational reform is thus the human resources policy; however, it is a complex, long-term endeavor, which entails delicate consideration of political economy issues.

The challenge of updating the profession in a rapidly changing environment, and in the unlikely perspective of increases in spending as those of the past decade, calls for innovative approaches to be tested and evaluated to provide insight that can be scaled up into the main system.

In recent years, some countries’ public sector and civil society in the region have begun working in this direction. For example, the first adaptations of the Teach for America model in Latin America taking place in Chile, Peru, Argentina, and more recently Brazil. These programs place human capital of the highest quality —selected after a highly competitive process—in the most vulnerable urban and rural schools, contributing to close the achievement gap between low-income and high-income students in. The evaluation of the impact of the implementation on cognitive and non-cognitive skills (Alfonso et al. 2010) contributes to its implementation in other countries, as well as gives insight into useful tools that can be applied to mainstream teacher selection and classroom management tools. While it is still premature to speculate the full effect on student academic achievement and cognitive and non-cognitive abilities, preliminary results suggest positive impacts on Spanish test scores, improved expectations and higher academic self- efficacy scores than control schools.

The same evaluation is also helping identify a teacher selection model using recruitment data. Our findings indicate that the interview phase of the selection process is crucial. The Enseñas appear to use the interview stage of their selection process quite effectively, identifying candidates with personalities, attributes and attitudes that can make them effective teachers. And we know from other research that candidates selected into similar programs, such as Enseña Chile and Teach for America, have considerably higher educational expectations for all their students and a higher impact on student achievement than traditionally hired teachers (Alfonso et al., 2010; Decker et al., 2004; Kane et al, 2006; and Xu et al., 2009). Thus, one policy implication is that to improve the quality of the teaching force, teacher recruitment policies in the region should be modified to include processes that could identify these leadership, high motivation, social commitment and deep content knowledge qualities that are clearly related to improved student achievement.

Other interesting programs are starting in the region: Elige Educar in Chile, aims to attract better students into the profession; a pilot and RCT for tutoring low-income students; a monetary incentive scheme for teachers, students and school officials in Mexico (Aligning Learning Incentives, ALI), etc.

This exciting and unique opportunity to learn from the interest in the topic, and willingness to innovate reflected through the region is very relevant for researchers, policy makers and international development institutions.


Alfonso, M. and Santiago, A. (2010). “ Selection into teaching: Evidence from Enseña Peru” Inter-American Development Bank Technical Note

Alfonso M. , Santiago A., and Bassi M. (2010). “Estimating the Impact of Placing Top University Graduates in Vulnerable Schools in Chile” Inter-American Development Bank Technical Note.

Behrman, J.R., S.W. Parker, P.E. Todd and K.I. Wolpin (2010): “ALIneando Incentivos para el Aprendizaje (ALI) to Improve Upper Secondary School Student Achievement in Mathematics in Mexico: Preliminary Report for IADB.” Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania, May 2010.

Decker, Paul, Daniel Mayer and Steven Glazerman (2004). The Effects of Teach for America on Students: Findings from a National Evaluation. Mathematica Policy Research.

Hanushek, E (2002) “Teacher Quality” in Teacher Quality, Hoover Press, Lance Izumi Ed.

Hanushek, E et al. (2005) “The market for teacher quality” WP11154 National Bureau of Economic Research Cambridge, MA.

Kane, Thomas, Jonah Rockoff and Douglas Staiger (2006). What Does Certification Tell Us About Teacher Effectiveness? Evidence from New York City. Working Paper 12155, National Bureau of Economic Research. 

Perez-Alfaro M. and Santiago, A (2010) “Multiplying Knowledge: Tutoring Pilot in Brazil”

Santiago, A, Cabrol M., and Alfonso, M. (2010) “Aligning Learning Incentives” http://www.iadb.org/en/topics/education/preliminary-results-of-the-ali-program-in-mexico,1873.html

Xu, Zeyu, Jane Hannaway and Colin Taylor (2009). Making a Difference? The Effects of Teach for America in High School. Working Paper 17, CALDER Center, The Urban Institute. 

 1 Investment in education is increasing. Public spending as a proportion of GDP increased form 2.7% in 1990 to 4.3% in 2002-03, and is above the average for low- and middle-income countries. However, spending per student remains low: annual spending per pupil in primary education is substantially lower than in OECD countries (ranges from around $190 in Nicaragua to $1,400 in Chile, but in contrast with $4,800 in OECD).

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