Inspired by my Previous Policy Work Experience

AN INTERVIEW WITH Maria Daniela Araujo Piedra l by Katrin Ernst



Name: Maria Daniela Araujo Piedra
Field: Economics of Education
Country: Ecuador
Occupation: Doctoral Fellow at the Bamberg Graduate School of Social Sciences
Research Interests: Economics of Education, Education Policy, Impact Evaluation





Katrin Ernst, one of our student assistands, conducted an interview with her to highlight her successful completed dissertation and to talk about the experiences she made during her stay at the BAGSS.


// What drew you to your dissertation topic and what interests you most about it?


Before starting my doctoral fellowship at BAGSS, I led several projects and policy processes which aimed to increase access to quality education in my home country, Ecuador. In particular, while working for Ecuador’s Ministry of Education, I had the opportunity to manage and monitor its new teacher recruitment policy for about two years. This policy required teaching candidates to pass national entrance tests before they were allowed to participate in merit-based competitions for tenured positions at public schools, as a means to raise the teacher quality and improve student achievement. Even though national standardized examinations or certifications were already commonly used to screen teaching candidates in high-income economies, this was not the case for most Latin American countries until the early 21st century. While working on the plan and implementation of this and other policies, I was always interested in and pushing for the design of impact evaluations that could tell us whether the long term objectives were achieved and whether the public investment was truly effective. Most of the time, institutions and policymakers had to make compromises between long term impact evaluations and information immediately needed, and settled for result evaluations based on indicators of short term goals.

My dissertation topic was inspired by my previous policy work experience and the desire to find out to what extent teachers and their qualifications affect student skill formation, as well as the impact of policies and incentives implemented to raise these teacher effects. In my dissertation, two research projects focus on evaluating whether Ecuador's new teacher recruitment process served as an effective screening device and ultimately helped to improve student achievement in kindergarten and primary school. In my third research project, I also study the effect of teachers on skill formation in primary school, but in the context of a high-income economy, Germany. For this third project, I took advantage of the close connection between BAGSS and the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories (LIfBi), which manages the German National Educational Panel Study (NEPS).


// Can you give us a small sneak peek about the findings of your thesis?

M.D.A.P.The aim of my dissertation is to broaden our current knowledge of the effects of teachers and their qualifications, as key school inputs in the education production function, on the human capital accumulation of kindergarten and primary school children in Ecuador and Germany. Even though these two countries are vastly different in their economic, scientific, social and cultural characteristics, their contexts are similar in that little research has been conducted there on teachers in the framework of the education production function, and particularly of research with causal interpretation.

In my first article for the Ecuadorian case, I evaluate whether teachers who passed national entry tests and were tenured by Ecuador’s new recruitment policy have positive effects on student learning outcomes in the first grades of primary school. To answer these questions, I analyze data from a unique survey of schools in the 2011-2012 academic year, which I match to individual teacher recruitment records from Ecuador’s Ministry of Education. I first estimate a value-added specification of the education production function using Ordinary Least Squares (OLS). I then use Propensity Score Matching (PSM) to simulate a random assignment of students to teachers and estimate causal treatment effects. I find that teachers awarded tenure through the new recruitment policy have significant positive effects on reading achievement for students from poor households. However, effects for the full sample are not found.

In a second research article, Guido Heineck, who was my thesis supervisor at BAGSS, Yyannú Cruz-Aguayo and I implement an experimental evaluation of the impact of Ecuador's new teacher recruitment policy in kindergarten. We link administrative teacher information from Ecuador’s Ministry of Education to data from a unique experimental study where almost 15,000 kindergarten children were randomly assigned to their teachers in the 2012-2013 school year. Our results show positive and significant effects of test-screened teachers tenured by the new policy of at least an 11 percent of a standard deviation for language, and a 9 percent of a standard deviation for math achievement. These effects persist even after taking into account teacher academic degree, experience, cognitive ability, personality traits and classroom practices. In addition, we confirm that the effects of these teachers on language learning are stronger for vulnerable children who started the school year with lower baseline test scores or came from socioeconomically disadvantaged families.

Johanna Sophie Quis, a former colleague from BAGSS, and I study the effect of teachers on skill formation in Germany in the third research article of my dissertation. We use primary school data from the NEPS to estimate classroom effects on math and German language competence development, which are driven by teacher quality differences across classrooms. We estimate a value-added model with individual classroom fixed-, as well as random effects. Our results show substantial classroom effects and quality differences across the first grades of German primary school. One standard deviation increase in classroom effectiveness is associated with at least a 12 percent of a standard deviation increase in student math competence scores, and at least 14 percent of a standard deviation increase in language competence scores. In addition, we find that none of the teacher characteristics typically used in teacher recruitment processes significantly explain the classroom quality differences. Interestingly, as parental assessment of teacher quality is the only indicator significantly associated with classroom effectiveness in language competence development, parents seem to be able to identify more effective language teachers.


// What did you enjoy most about your time at the Graduate School?

M.D.A.P. Going back to an academic program was very challenging. On the one hand, I had to update my previous knowledge on research design and methods quickly and effectively. On the other hand, it implied a huge change in work rhythm and life style. BAGSS offered an ideal environment to overcome these challenges and succeed.

Thanks to the BAGSS academic program, I was able to advance my research and professional skills by participating in training events organized not only by the graduate school, but also hosted by other organization such as the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR), the Bavarian Graduate Program in Economics (BGPE), and the LIfBi. I also had the opportunity to present my research in several high quality conferences organized in North America, Latin America, and Europe. Additionally, after my third year at BAGSS, my supervisor, Guido Heineck, hired me as research associate at the Chair of Empirical Economics at the University of Bamberg. There I have had the opportunity to teach econometric analysis and causal inference.

Above all, during my time at BAGSS, I was able to meet wonderful fellow researchers from different countries, and make lifelong friends. I enjoyed meeting young researchers who started their doctoral studies right after finishing their master’s degrees, but also more experienced international students with varied backgrounds like myself.


// What is the next step in your career?

M.D.A.P. Currently, I work as researcher at Chair of Empirical Economics at the University of Bamberg and am enjoying the flexibility and opportunities that come with academic work. Nonetheless, I am ready to go back to policy design, implementation and evaluation in the fields of economics of education and development.