— Minahil Asim


Management Practices and Implementation Challenges in District Education Directorates in Ghana with Sheena Bell and Karen Mundy (University of Toronto), and Mike Boakye-Yiadom and Hope Nuzdor (University of Cape Coast) [Accepted with minor revisions at Education Administration Quarterly]   

Abstract: Sub-national actors and organizations are crucial mediators of policy implementation due to their proximity to schools. However, in low- and middle- income country contexts, little is known about their management practices and factors that shape the adoption of these practices to improve education delivery.  We explore the management context of five District Education Directorates in Ghana, and the factors that enable or constrain them to plan and implement policy through a qualitative study of semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and education policy and planning documents.  To understand how policy implementation happens within complex, multi-tiered bureaucracies, our theoretical framework uses four management functions described in Williams et al. (2021) to explore two different paradigms of how to change public bureaucracies: target setting and prioritization; measurement and monitoring; accountability and incentives; and problem-solving. We coded and analysed our data based on this framework and developed district-wide narrative memos to synthesize the findings. We identify three areas of (mis)alignment in management practices: across bureaucratic levels and among actors; around clear and consistent priorities for learning; in expected actions and availability of resources. These (mis)alignments can constrain or be leveraged by districts to improve education delivery in Ghana. We argue for better prioritization of goals towards learning and the efficient allocation of funds for management practices typical of effective organizations. 

The Missing Middle of Education Service Delivery in Low- and Middle- Income Countries (2023) Comparative Education Review (with Karen Mundy, Carly Manion, and Izza Tahir (University of Toronto))   

Abstract: Research in the context of decentralization has primarily focused on the role of school-based actors in improving educational outcomes for students in low- and middle-incomecountries (LMICs). The role of the“middle tier,”such as subnational staff at the regionalor district levels of educational leadership within the education bureaucracy, has not beensystematically understood. We conduct a rigorous review of academic and gray literaturein the English language andfind that (1) research on the middle tier is limited in the dis-course on education reform in LMICs; (2) in the available research, there is tension in thetheoretical conceptualization and the practices of the middle tier between differentfields ofstudy and research methods; (3) we know even less about whether and how the middle tiersupports improvements in student learning. Our article calls on researchers to investigatehow the middle tier can strengthen education service delivery in LMICs. 

Mobile Phones, Civic Engagement, and School Performance in Pakistan (2022) Economics of Education Review (with Thomas S. Dee (Stanford University))   

Abstract: The effective governance of local public services depends critically on the civic engagement of local citizens. However, recent efforts to promote effective citizen oversight of the public-sector services in developing countries have had mixed results. This study discusses and evaluates a uniquely designed, low-cost, scalable program designed to improve the governance and performance of primary and middle schools in the Punjab province of Pakistan. The School Council Mobilization Program (SCMP) used mobile-phone calls to provide sustained and targeted guidance to local school-council members on their responsibilities and authority. We examine the effects of the SCMP on school enrollment, and student and teacher attendance, using a “difference-in-difference-in-differences” (DDD) design based on the targeted implementation of the SCMP. We find that this initiative led to meaningful increases in primary-school enrollment (i.e., a 4.0 percent increase), and the improvements were sustained in the months after the program concluded.

Average vs. Distributional Effects: Evidence from an Experiment in Rwanda (2020) International Journal of Educational Development   

Abstract: Programs and policies in education overwhelmingly focus on improving the average academic achievement for students. However, educational interventions focused on literacy improvement can impact readers at different levels of the reading score distribution differently, and the distributional differences may be more pronounced by sex. In this paper, I explore data from a field experiment in a district in Rwanda that was intended to make classroom reading pedagogy more effective and engage students, families, and communities in reading activities outside of school to improve students’ reading outcomes.I study the distributional effects of the intervention on students on two higher-order reading outcomes – Kinyarwanda fluency and Kinyarwanda text comprehension, measured for students who met a basic literacy threshold. I find that a) the set of interventions had a positive and significant, albeit modest effect on students at or above the 25th percentile of the reading distributions b) the program had positive and significant effects on reading outcomes for girls only, and these effects differed along the reading achievement distribution. This work underscores the importance of tailoring programs and policies to the needs of different types of learners.

Parenting While Food Insecure: Links Between Adult Food Insecurity, Parenting Aggravation, and Children’s Behaviors (2019), Journal of Family Issues (with Kevin A. Gee (UC Davis))   

Abstract: Parents who experience food insecurity face not only uncertainty in obtaining food, but an invisible emotional burden, one that can potentially influence both their parenting behaviors and ultimately, their children. In our study, we investigated adult food insecurity’s link to parents’ aggravation and whether that aggravation influenced their children’s behaviors. Results, based on data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey, Kindergarten Class of 2010-2011 using first-difference regression, showed that parents (N = 7,820) of first graders who became food insecure experienced heightened parenting aggravation (0.525; p < .01). Our mediation analysis on a matched sample of food secure (n = 1,600) and insecure parents (n = 470) revealed that adult food insecurity was not directly associated with children’s behaviors; rather, it was indirectly related to lowered attentional focus (−0.062; p < .05) and inhibitory control (−0.093; p < .001) via parenting aggravation. Our findings underscore the importance of parenting aggravation in transmitting the effects of food insecurity on children’s behaviors.

Working Papers

“Great Expectations: Experimental Evidence from Schools in Pakistan” (with Ronak Jain (Harvard University) and Vatsal Khandelwal (Oxford University))   


We study whether conveying student-specific teacher expectations of high effort and achievement affects academic performance. Working with over 280 classrooms in Pakistan, we randomize whether students (a) receive individual-specific teacher expectations; (b) are additionally randomly paired with a classmate and asked to encourage each other; (c) simply receive information about their last test score, or (d) receive no message at all. We find that teacher expectations increase math scores by 0.2σ and the effect persists after six months. Moreover, we find that the treatment effect is especially large for those who were predicted to perform the worst and who randomly received a more ambitious expectation. Additionally, pairing students raises scores by 0.27σ, but only for those whose matched peer is similar to them in terms of baseline performance or teacher expectations. Finally, information provision alone only increases scores by 0.2σ in the short term; this effect is primarily driven by schools with low parental literacy. Our findings show that teacher expectations can have large effects on student performance and their effect can be strengthened by leveraging classroom interactions.

“Local Governance of Schools – a Double-edged Sword? Evidence from Pakistan”   

Abstract: An optimal policy design in service provision requires trading off the efficiency advantages of decentralization, with the capacity disadvantages at the local level. The School Council Mobilization Program (SCMP) in Punjab, Pakistan aimed to do exactly that: through regular and targeted phone calls, the program informed and nudged school management committees to utilize their allocated budget for school improvement activities and strengthen local governance of schools. Using multiple datasets and a difference-in-differences estimation strategy, I find that schools where members received the SCMP calls were 7 percent more likely to spend money and spent 50 percent more funds in absolute terms, compared to non-SCMP schools. However, outcomes on which members were encouraged to spend the money, such as improvement of school facilities and hiring of contract teachers, remained unchanged. Worse, students in SCMP schools scored lower in Math, English, and Urdu by approximately one-tenth of a standard deviation than students in non-SCMP schools. I argue that local governance interventions that do not focus on learning, and/or fail to include teachers in the design, make schooling worse-off for students.

Work in Progress

“Remediation and Post-secondary Outcomes” with Ijaz Bajwa, Zarak Sohail, and Anisha Saleem (Independent Researchers)   

Abstract: This evaluation seeks to address the overarching research question of how we can improve transitions from secondary to post-secondary institutions for students in low- and middle-income contexts. Specifically, we partner with a private school chain in Pakistan that designed a set of interventions to increase transition rates to higher education and employment. These include a 2-year college, the Alumni Development Programme (ADP), and paying for students to go to private test preparation and coaching centres. We study the effectiveness of these programs on application and enrolment behaviour in post-secondary institutions.

“Transitions to Post-Secondary Education in Low- and Middle- Income Countries” with Areej Tayem (University of Ottawa)   

Abstract: The aim of this work stream is to document research on post-secondary education (2 and 4-year colleges) in mainstream academic research across different disciplines in developing countries. Through a systematic review we will analyze what interventions and programs are successful at improving transition/college readiness of students from high school to post-secondary educational institutes in low- and middle- income countries. Our study will offer a framework for studying post-secondary education in low- and middle-income countries.

“How do Students Respond to Early Signals of College Readiness?” (with Briana Ballis (UC Davis), Scott Carrell (UC Davis), Michal Kurlaender (UC Davis), and Paco Martorell (UC Davis))   

Abstract: California has been at the forefront of the efforts to align K-12 assessments with indicators of college success. All 11th grade students in the state receive a ‘college readiness’ signal based on their performance on the state’s standardized tests for accountability. Students fall in four categories: 1-Not Ready, 2-Not Yet Ready, 3-ConditionallyReady, or 4-Ready for college, based on their performance on mathematics and English tests. Students deemed ready are exempt from any further developmental coursework in college and avoid any additional summer remediation. Students ‘conditionally ready’ are provided with information about what courses they can take during their senior year to become ready and be exempted from remediation. Using a Regression Discontinuity Design, we study the impact of the college readiness signal on students’ math course taking patterns and post-secondary outcomes, i.e., enrolment in college. Our preliminary results suggest there is no significant impact of the light touch signal on students right above and below the ‘conditionally ready’ score cutoff on students’ post secondary trajectory.