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### Enhancing Student Academic and Social Skills Through Bogotá Charter Schools

Vanderbilt University

By Jenna Somers

Researchers at Vanderbilt University and William & Mary may have discovered a promising strategy for reforming education that could enhance the quality of education for students from low-income backgrounds. The findings of a study on public-private partnership schools in Bogotá, Colombia, known as schools in administration, reveal that students enrolled in these institutions exhibit higher cognitive and social-emotional skills compared to their counterparts from similar socio-economic backgrounds who are not enrolled in such schools. Additionally, parents and guardians expressed greater satisfaction with schools in administration and showed a decreased inclination to transfer their children to other schools.

Similar to charter schools in the United States, schools in administration in Colombia are privately managed but receive public funding. By leveraging both sectors, Colombia aims to optimize the use of public resources to deliver a higher quality education to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. These schools are held to the same accountability standards as public schools by the government to ensure quality. Moreover, non-profit organizations entrusted with managing these schools are required to demonstrate prior success in overseeing high-quality private institutions.

According to the principal investigator of the study and an associate professor of public policy, education, and economics at Vanderbilt, the positive outcomes in cognitive and social-emotional development among students in these schools could potentially revolutionize public education in Colombia. The enhanced cognitive skills, which encompass critical thinking, learning, and problem-solving abilities, were assessed using a standardized test. Students who excelled in these areas also demonstrated improved social awareness, emotional well-being, and overall mental health. The study revealed that parents of students in schools in administration exhibited a high level of contentment, with only 10 percent expressing a desire to switch schools, as opposed to 37 percent of parents whose children were not enrolled in such schools.

Barrera-Osorio, along with the co-principal investigator, an assistant professor of economics at William & Mary, highlighted several advantages of schools in administration that contribute to positive student outcomes. These institutions employ more full-time psychologists and offer extensive professional development opportunities for teachers compared to traditional public schools. Notably, teacher training programs at these schools focus on classroom management and subject matter expertise, whereas those in public schools emphasize student coexistence and socio-emotional management. The researchers observed a collaborative effort between schools in administration and public schools through teacher networks aimed at enhancing teaching methodologies.

While the study’s results hold promise for the future of affordable, high-quality education for underprivileged students in Colombia, the researchers emphasize the importance of further investigating the performance, benefits, and unique characteristics of schools in administration.

Significantly, this study is the first to compare students who applied to schools in administration and secured placements with those who applied but did not receive spots. The Colombian government devised a priority index based on students’ socio-economic and demographic profiles. The researchers paired students with identical priority index scores and, through a lottery system, assigned one student to a school in administration and the other to a different school. The validity of the findings rests on the fact that the students’ profiles were indistinguishable, except for their enrollment status in a school in administration.

This research was carried out in collaboration with [Organization] and the Bogotá Secretary of Education, with funding support from a one-year, $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

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