Noam Angrist, Simeon Djankov, Pinelopi Goldberg, Harry Patrinos, 09 April 2021

Human capital is a critical component of economic development. But the links between growth and human capital – when measured by years of schooling – are weak. This column introduces a better measurement, using a database that directly measures learning and represents 98% of the global population. The authors find that the link between economic development and human capital is strong when measured in this way. They also show that global progress in learning has been limited over the past two decades, even as enrolment in primary and secondary education has increased.

Nicolas Ajzenman, Eleonora Bertoni, Gregory Elacqua, Luana Marotta, Carolina Méndez, 03 April 2021

Low-income students are more likely to attend schools with less-qualified teachers, expanding the very achievement gaps that public education should help reduce. Although the problem of teacher sorting is well-documented, policy responses have tended to focus on increasing compensation at hard-to-staff schools, which can be both expensive and ineffective. This column presents the results of a novel and low-cost strategy implemented nationwide by the government of Peru that successfully encouraged highly qualified teachers to apply for job openings in disadvantaged schools.

Nicola Bianchi, Yi Lu, Hong Song, 27 March 2021

In most countries, there tends to be a large gap between urban and rural education outcomes. This column examines the impact of a 2004 Chinese education reform that connected high-quality teachers in urban areas with more than 100 million students in rural primary and middle schools through the use of satellite internet. Exposure to the reform in middle school significantly increased students’ academic achievement and their labour outcomes in the long run, suggesting that technology can be an effective way to close the rural–urban gap in education.

Evelina Björkegren, Mikael Lindahl, Mårten Palme, Emilia Simeonova, 11 March 2021

It is well documented that children from affluent families tend to be healthier than poor children, but distinguishing between the genetic and environmental causes of these health outcomes remains difficult. This column uses data from a large sample of Swedish children to compare those raised by their biological parents to adoptees. It finds that the link between parents’ education level and children’s long-term health is forged by mediating factors – from the formation of cognitive and non-cognitive skills to health-related life habits – and due primarily to investments in children’s human capital.

Dan Goldhaber, Scott A. Imberman, Katharine O. Strunk, Bryant Hopkins, Nate Brown, Erica Harbatkin, Tara Kilbride, 04 March 2021

Following the Covid-19 outbreak, in-person instruction in US schools was dramatically reduced in favour of hybrid and online teaching modes. School reopening is now a contentious issue, with the desire to limit community spread of the virus having to be weighed against the benefits to children of in-person teaching. This column uses regional data from Michigan and Washington to study the effects of different instructional modes on Covid-19 case rates. It shows that in-person teaching correlates with higher case growth in the community only when the pre-existing Covid-19 case rates are moderate or high.

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