Back to Top

CfEE Annual Research Digest

Evidence-based policy has become somewhat of a catchphrase in politics. Everybody's for it and nobody's against it. But there's evidence and there's evidence. Education policy has long been guided by research with poor quality, which in turn has contributed to the confusion regarding what works and what doesn't work in education. Anybody can find a study proving their point. But not everyone can find good studies that prove their point.

Since December 2015, we have published an Annual Research Digest. The 2015 Annual Research Digest, included contributions from a number of influential researchers considering important pieces of research they think should be acknowledged and discussed in education policy circles. The 2016-17 Annual Digest considered recent evidence on uses of technology in education.

Last year's Annual Digest, covering the academic year 2017-18, considered evidence from the developing world of relevance for all those involved in seeking to improve access to and raise standards of basic education and beyond in nations lacking the infrastructure and expertise necessary to the challenge.

The 2018-19 Annual Research, to be published on 9th July, at our inaugural annual conference, considers new evidence of which educational interventions translate to improved later-life outcomes. 

CfEE also publishes a Monthly Research Digest, intended to give interested parties a regular view of what the rigorous economic research suggests works in education, both from a macro-policy perspective as well as from the point of view of teachers and head teachers who are looking for more effective classroom strategies. The digest provides abstracts and snippets of such research, with comment and analysis of selected studies that are especially interesting from the point of view of educators and policymakers.

You can find out more about the Monthly Research Digests, view in flipbook and/or download a pdf file of the latest issue from the Monthly Research Digest page.


Annual Digest 2017-18: evidence from the developing world

   “Developing” countries (those below the $12,000 per capita income threshold for rich countries) make up 36 per cent  of the world economy, but 83 per cent of world population, and 87 per cent of the world’s school pupils. Identifying and tackling the matrix of factors that contribute to the massive waste of human and social capital implicit in these figures is one of the great reform challenges of our times.

   In this year’s CfEE Annual Research Digest, edited by CfEE fellow Lee Crawfurd (strategic advisor to the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change), leading thinkers on global education highlight the scale and intractability of the global learning crisis and where reform initiatives have brought benefits. 

  To download a pdf of CfEE’s Annual Research Digest 2017-18, visit this page of our website.

  Taking into its purview the state of education provision across developing countries from Asia, to Africa, and South America, the volume offers descriptive analyses; causal studies investigating large-scale system reforms and new pedagogical approaches; and, going beyond test scores, studies of the effects of schools on socialisation and social mobility.

Taking Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world, as his example, RISE director Lant Pritchett shows that despite 15 years of concerted effort to improve teaching and learning, and a tripling of spending, progress in schools has stalled, and at shockingly low attainment levels.

In an inversion of what we hope for, Jishnu Das, Lead Economist at the World Bank, reports on a recent World Bank study that finds parental background persisting over student test scores as the better predictor of university attendance in Pakistan.

Highlighting positive results arising from a number of policy experiments and new learning strategies,

  • Aidan Eyakuze, director of leading African think tank “Twaweza”, examining the Tanzanian government’s “Big Results Now” high-stakes accountability reform, finds test score improvement despite some gaming of the new performance tables
  • Celeste Carano and Nomtha Sithole distil the results of a World Bank meta-study identifying the key features of impactful professional training programmes
  • Barbara Bruns discusses two papers on the Kenyan ministry’s effective use of research evidence to design and scale-up a major, multi-pronged reform of early grade literacy teaching
  • Susannah Hares, global education director at the Center for Global Development, discusses a study of a school desegregation intervention in India that positively changed the behaviour of wealthier pupils towards their less wealthy peers.

To download a pdf of CfEE’s Annual Research Digest 2017-18, visit this page of our website.

About the editor

Lee Crawfurd (@leecrawfurd) is a Strategic Advisor with the Ministry of Education in Rwanda and the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, and a PhD candidate in economics at the University of Sussex. He has worked on global development and education policy as a researcher, consultant, and civil servant for the past ten years. He has published peer-reviewed articles in the Journal of African Economies and Development Policy Review writes a popular blog

About the authors

Barbara Bruns is a Visiting Fellow at the Center for Global Development and former lead education economist at the World Bank, where she specialised in Latin American education and rigorous evaluation of education programmes. As the first manager of the $14 million Spanish Impact Evaluation Fund (SIEF) at the World Bank from 2007 to 2009, she oversaw the launch of more than fifty rigorous impact evaluations of health, education, and social protection programmes. Barbara also headed the EFA Fast Track Initiative (now Global Partnership for Education) from 2002-2004 and served on the 2003 Education Task Force appointed by the UN Secretary General.
Celeste Carano is a Governance Advisor to the Ministry of Education in Liberia with the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. She previously led fundraising and strategy for More Than Me, a Partnership Schools provider in Liberia, and worked on network growth at Teach For All.
Jishnu Das is a Lead Economist in the Development Research Group at The World Bank and a Senior Visiting Fellow at The Center for Policy Research, New Delhi. Jishnu’s work focuses on health and education in low and middle-income countries and he was member of the core team for the World Development Report on Gender and Development, 2011. He was the Flander’s Visiting Professor at McGill University in 2015, receivedthe George Bereday Award from the Comparative and International Education Society, the Stockholm Challenge Award for the best ICT project in the public administration category in 2006, and the Research Academy award from the World Bank in 2017 and 2013. He has worked in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Paraguay, Kenya and Zambia.
Aidan Eyakuze (@aeyakuze) is the Executive Director of Twaweza East Africa. Twaweza works to enable children to learn, citizens to exercise agency and governments to be more open and responsive in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. He is on the global Steering Committee of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and the Board of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD). Before joining Twaweza, Aidan was Associate Regional Director of the Society for International Development (SID) and Head of the SID Tanzania office. Aidan is an Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellow and a Board Member of the African Leadership Institute (South Africa).
Susannah Hares (@Fihi_maFihi) is Senior Policy Fellow and Global Education Director at the Center for Global Development (CGD). Before joining CGD, she spent seven years as Ark’s International Director, where she was responsible for strategy, operations and programmes in India, sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe, and for Ark’s international ventures including the Education Partnerships Group, Global Schools Forum and Peepul. Prior to this Susannah spent two years as Associate Director, Global Community Partnerships, at Barclays PLC. She started her career in Kenya, working for African health NGO AMREF. She has served on the boards and advisory groups of various international education organisations and ventures. She holds a MA(Econ) in Political Development from the University of Manchester.
Lant Pritchett is Professor of the Practice of International Development at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development. He is currently a visiting scholar and guest lecturer at Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government, and Research Director of the £35 million UK and Australia funded Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) project. He has published over a hundred articles and papers (with more than 25 co-authors) and several books on a wide range of topics, including state capability, labor mobility, and education, among many others.
Nomthandazo Sithole advises the Ministry of Education in Liberia on the partnership schools initiative with the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. She previously worked on youth and business growth initiatives in Liberia, her permanent home since 2011.
To download a pdf of CfEE’s Annual Research Digest 2017-18, visit this page of our website.


Annual Digest 2016-17: Evidence on uses of technology in education

A substantial amount of money is spent on technology by schools, families and policymakers with the hope of improving educational outcomes. However, the results of these initiatives have been mixed. As often as not, the introduction of technology into classrooms has failed to achieve the grand expectations proponents anticipated. Indeed, stories and studies abound about how specific student populations were unable to benefit from particular innovations that feature the use of technology for teaching and learning. Meanwhile many technology companies have expanded their product ranges in education well beyond their understanding of these applications’ efficacy.

In this, CfEE’s second Annual Research Digest, leading researchers and thinkers consider solid pieces of research published over the past academic year on the uses of technology in education, with important implications for policy and practice – research they think should be more widely discussed.

While it is clear that technology is no panacea in education, the papers discussed indicate that it may play an important role if it is implemented well and for the right purposes. It is up to future research to analyse more precisely in what ways technology could be a boon in the educational process – and which strategies and applications may undermine it. 

Download a free .pdf copy of the Annual Digest here.

Contributions to the volume include commentary on the following research papers:

1. ‘Computers and Productivity: Evidence from Laptop Use in the College Classroom’ (Richard W. Patterson, Robert M. Patterson) by: John Blake

2. ‘Disrupting Education? Experimental Evidence on Technology - Aided Instruction in India’ (Karthik Muralidharan, Abhijeet Singh, and Alejandro J. Ganimian) by: Gabriel Heller Sahlgren

3. ‘Is it the Way they Use it? Teachers, ICT and Student Achievement’ (Simona Comi, Gianluca Argentin, Marco Gui, Federica Origo, and Laura Pagani) by: Nick Hassey

4. ‘Logged In and Zoned Out: How Laptop Internet Use Relates to Classroom Learning’ (Susan M. Ravizza, Mitchell G. Uitvlugt, Kimberly M. Fenn) by: Carl Hendrick

5. ‘The Effect of Adaptive versus Static Practicing on Student Learning - Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment’ (Chris van Klaveren, Sebastiaan Vonkb, and Ilja Cornelisz) by: James Croft

6. ‘Measuring Conceptual Understanding Using Comparative Judgement’ (Marie-Josée Bisson, Camilla Gilmore, Matthew Inglis and Ian Jones) by: Daisy Christodoulou

About the authors

John Blake is Head of Education and Social Reform for the think-tank Policy Exchange. Prior to that, he was a senior school leader and history teacher for ten years in a variety of schools in London and Essex.
Daisy Christodoulou is the Director of Education at No More Marking, a provider of online comparative judgement. She works closely with schools on developing new approaches to assessment. Before that, she was Head of Assessment at Ark Schools, a network of 35 academy schools. She has taught English in two London comprehensives and has been part of government commissions on the future of teacher training and assessment. Daisy is the author of Seven Myths about Education and Making Good Progress? The Future of Assessment for Learning, as well as an influential blog. You can also find her on Twitter @daisychristo.
James Croft is Founder and Executive Director of the Centre for Education Economics (CfEE) and the author and co-author of several of its reports, including Optimising autonomy: a blueprint for education reform (2017) and Taking a lead: how to access the leadership premium (2016) and Collaborative overreach: why collaboration probably isn’t key to the next phase of school reform (2015).
Nick Hassey is Associate Director of Research and Evaluation at Teach First where he undertakes long term research projects looking at the key drivers of lower attainment for young people from disadvantaged areas, what changes to government policy are likely to mean for schools, and the communities they serve, and the role of Teach First in addressing the issues these schools and communities face. Previously he worked at PwC and began his career at the polling company ComRes.
Carl Hendrick is the head of learning and research at Wellington College where he teaches English. He is also completing a PhD at King’s College London in education. He has taught for several years in both the state and independent sectors where has worked on several cross sectoral collaborations and is a co-director of the Telegraph Festival of Education.
Gabriel Heller Sahlgren is Research Director at the Centre for Education Economics (CfEE), affiliated research fellow with the Research Institute of Industrial Economics, and a PhD student at the London School of Economics. He is the author of numerous publications on issues relating to applied microeconomics, including ‘Retirement Blues’ in the Journal of Health Economics and Incentivising Excellence: School Choice and Education Quality (CMRE and IEA 2013). Gabriel is the Editor of CfEE’s Monthly Research Digest.

You can download the Digest for free hereContributions to the volume include commentary on the following research papers:

1. ‘Mobile Phones in the Classroom: Examining the Effects of Texting, Twitter, and Message Content on Student Learning’ (Jeffrey H. Kuznekoff, Stevie Munz, and Scott Titsworth) Commentary by Daisy Christodoulou 

2. ‘Can personality traits and intelligence compensate for background disadvantage? Predicting status attainment in adulthood’ (R. I. Damian, R. Su, M. Shanahan, U. Trautwein and B. W. Roberts) Commentary by Dale Bassett 
3. ‘Does Management Matter in Schools?’ (Nicholas Bloom, Renata Lemos, Raffaella Sadun and John Van Reenen) Commentary by Henrik Jordahl 
4. ‘An RCT evaluation of the Numeracy and Literacy project’ (Jack Worth, Juliet Sizmur, Rob Ager, and Ben Styles) Commentary by Jack Worth 
5. ‘“Variation problems” and their roles in the topic of fraction division in Chinese mathematics textbook examples’ (Xuhua Sun) Commentary by Tim Oates 
6. ‘School Vouchers: A Survey of the Economics Literature’ (Dennis Epple, Richard E. Romano, Miguel Urquiola) Commentary by James Croft
About the authors
Dale Bassett is Head of Product Reform at AQA awarding body. Previously at AQA, he was Director of Public Policy, and prior to that Research Director at the think tank Reform, where he led on research into public service reform, specialising in education policy.
Daisy Christodoulou is the Research and Development Manager at ARK Schools (Absolute Return for Kids). A Teach First graduate, she taught English in two London comprehensives. She is the author of Seven Myths about Education.
James Croft is Executive Director of the Centre for the Study of Market Reform of Education (CMRE) and the author and co-author of several of its reports, including ‘Collaborative overreach: why collaboration probably isn’t key to the next phase of school reform’ (2015).
Henrik Jordahl is Associate Professor of Economics at Uppsala University, and Programme Director at the Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN) in Stockholm, where directs the research program ‘The Economics of the Service Sector’.
Jack Worth is a Research Manager at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). As part of the NFER Education Trials Unit, he managed the evaluation of the University of Oxford Improving Numeracy and Literacy programme, a large cluster-randomised trial in primary schools. Previously he was Researcher at the Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO).
Tim Oates CBE is Group Director of Assessment Research and Development at Cambridge Assessment. He is a member of Ofqual’s Standards Advisory Group and following the publication of his paper ‘Could do better’, offering a framework for reform, was chair of the Expert Panel for Review of England’s National Curriculum.