Basic skills in literacy and numeracy are
essential for success in the labor market
Even in OECD countries, where an increasing
proportion of the workforce has a university degree, the value of basic
skills in literacy and numeracy remains high. Indeed, in some countries the
return for such skills, in the form of higher wages, is sufficiently large
to suggest that they are in high demand and that there is a relative
scarcity. Policymakers need robust evidence in order to devise interventions
that genuinely improve basic skills, not just of new school leavers entering
the market, but also of the existing workforce. This would lead to
significant improvements in the population that achieves a minimum level of
literacy and numeracy.
Teacher effectiveness has a dramatic effect on
student outcomes—how can it be increased?
Teacher effectiveness is the most important
component of the education process within schools for pupil attainment. One
estimate suggests that, in the US, replacing the least effective 8% of
teachers with average teachers has a present value of $100 trillion.
Researchers have a reasonable understanding of how to measure teacher
effectiveness; but the next step, understanding the best ways to raise it,
is where the research frontier now lies. Two areas in particular appear to
hold the greatest promise: reforming hiring practices and contracts, and
reforming teacher training and development.
Public education tends to crowd out parents’
time and money, but careful policy design may mitigate this
Many countries around the world are making
substantial and increasing public investments in children by providing
resources for schooling from early years through to adolescence. Recent
research has looked at how parents respond to children’s schooling
opportunities, highlighting that public inputs can alternatively encourage
or crowd out parental inputs. Most evidence finds that parents reduce their
own efforts as schooling improves, dampening the efficiency of government
expenditure. Policymakers may thus want to focus government provision on
schooling inputs that are less easily substituted.
Cognitive skills are more relevant in explaining earnings,
socio-emotional skills in determining labor supply and schooling
Common proxies, such as years of education, have been shown to
be ineffective at capturing cross-country differences in skills acquisition, as well as the
role they play in the labor market. A large body of research shows that direct measures of
skills, in particular cognitive and socio-emotional ones, provide more adequate estimations of
individuals’ differences in potential productive capacity than the quantity of education they
receive. Evidence shows that cognitive skills in particular are quite relevant to explain
wages, while socio-emotional skills are more associated with labor force and education
This is a revision, version 2, revising author.
The role of social interactions in modifying individual behavior is central to many fields of social science. In education, one essential aspect is that “good” peers can potentially improve students’ academic achievement, career choices, or labor market outcomes later in life. Indeed, evidence suggests that good peers are important in raising student attainment, both in compulsory schooling and university. Interventions that change the ability group composition in ways that improve student educational outcomes without exacerbating inequality therefore offer a promising basis for education policies.
This is a revision, version 3.
This is a revision, version 3. Most OECD countries spend substantially more on maternity leave
schemes than on early childcare. However, given high tax burdens and rapidly aging
populations, female labor force participation is critically needed. Moreover, it is important
to know whether the main beneficiaries, the children themselves, reap more benefits from one
or the other in the long term. The first cohorts exposed to the introduction or extension of
maternity/paternity leave schemes and subsidized childcare programs have now completed
education and entered the labor market, allowing an investigation of these programs’ long-term
Knowing the real cost of children is important
for crafting better
The cost of children is a critical parameter
used in determining many economic policies. For instance, correctly setting
the tax deduction for families with children requires assessing the true
household cost of children. Evaluating child poverty at the individual level
requires making a clear distinction between the share of family resources
received by children and that received by parents. The standard ad hoc
measures (equivalence scales) used in official publications to measure the
cost of children are arbitrary and are not informed by any economic theory.
However, economists have developed methods that are grounded in economic
theory and can replace ad hoc measures.
External school leaving exams raise student
achievement and improve how grades are understood in the labor market
Reaching the policy goal of improving student
achievement by adding resources to the school system has often proven
elusive. By contrast, ample evidence indicates that central exit exams
constitute an important feature of a school system’s institutional
framework, which can hold students, teachers, schools, and administrators
accountable for student outcomes. While critics point to issues such as
teaching test-only skills, which may leave students ill-prepared for the
real world, the evidence does not bear this out. Overall, central exams are
related to better student achievement, favorable labor market outcomes, and
higher economic growth.