Mexico’s compensatory education program began in the early 1990s. It is now implemented by the National Council for Educational Development (Consejo Nacional de Fomento Educativo, CONAFE), a division of the Mexican Secretariat of Public Education (Secretaría de Educación Pública, SEP). The SBM component of the Compensatory Education Program – the Support to School Management (Apoyo a la Gestión Escolar) or AGEs, started in 1996 and consists of monetary support and training (Capacitación a la Gestión Escolar, CAPAGES) to Parent Associations (Asociaciones de Padres de Familia), or APFs. The APFs can spend the money on the purpose of their choosing although spending is limited to small civil works and infrastructure improvements. Despite being a limited version of SBM, the AGEs represent a significant advance in the Mexican education system, where parent associations have tended to play a minor role in school decision-making. AGEs increase school autonomy through improved mechanisms for participation of directors, teachers, and parent associations in the management of the schools. The AGEs financial support consists of quarterly transfers to APF school accounts, varying from $500 to $700 per year according to the size of the school. The use of funds is specified in the Operational Manual of the project and is subject to annual financial audits for a random sample of schools. Among other things, the parents are not allowed to spend money on wages and salaries for teachers. The intervention was complemented, starting in 2003, with a training component (CAPAGEs) aimed at guiding parents in the management of the school funds transferred through the AGES. The CAPAGEs also provide parents with participatory skills to increase their involvement in school activities, and with information on achievement of students and ways in which parents can help improve their learning outcomes.
The AGEs give parents in poor and isolated communities the opportunity to interact in the school environment and participate in school-level decisions. The fund gives parents a formal role in the school, a reason to observe school activities, and a voice in school decision-making. This intervention attempts to empower poor parents in a context of high levels of inequality, poverty and disadvantage.
Parental empowerment programs should result in higher levels of participation by parents in the short term. This is followed by the creation of an improved school climate, which becomes a welcoming environment for disadvantaged students. In turn, this should lead to an increase in the medium term in school retention rates (lower dropout and repetition rates). In the long term, the positive school environment, with the increased levels of accountability generated, along with increased assessment of schools, should result in increased levels of student achievement and learning.
Previous research (Gertler et al. 2006) then, and AGEs principals, suggests that the AGEs increase parental participation and make parents more demanding. They are more likely to demand higher teacher attendance and pay more attention to their children’s learning needs. Gertler et al. (2006) argue that the AGEs induce parental participation and other changes at the school level, lead to improved schooling outcomes, namely, reduced repetition and failure rates (and perhaps improved test scores (Lopez Calva and Espinosa 2006)). However, it might be argued that improved outcomes are merely a result of the increased resources that the AGEs bring to the schools, regardless of participation. In the latter case, then increasing the AGEs grant (doubling in our experiment) could significantly improve outcomes even if levels of participation do not change. Alternatively, it could be that the increased grants will have no additional effect, compared to AGEs schools that do not receive the additional grant.
Alternatively, if Gertler et al. (2006) are correct, and the AGEs produce the improved outcomes as a result of parental empowerment (participation), then it could be conceived that enhancing AGEs support would lead to enhanced participation and further improved outcomes. However, participation can vary in non-enhanced-AGEs. Thus, the question of whether or not enhanced funding improves outcomes – either directly or indirectly through enhanced participation – is an empirical one. As is the question of whether or not variations in participation, regardless of funding amount, lead to changes in outcomes.
The relationship between extra funding and outcomes will be investigated by randomly selecting a small sample of existing AGEs schools that will receive extra grants (doubling the amount received) and comparing outcomes to a group of similar AGEs that will not receive the extra grant. We will thus be able to test whether: