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Nº 14 - January 2012

Teaching Socio-Emotional Abilities in Latin American Schools? The Role of Non-Traditional Teachers

Mariana Alfonso Marina Bassi Christian Borja

can schools foster student's relevant socio-emotional abilities? The IDB, with the support Summary: How of distinguished local academic institutions, partnered with Enseña Chile, organization that recruits outstanding and highly motivated young professionals to teach for two years in disadvantaged schools, to study this question among others. This brief presents results suggesting that there is a positive association between Enseña Chile professionals and socio-emotional abilities, and that these teachers transmit positive attitudes to their students.

Teachers and Students‘ Socio - Emotional Abilities The skills that the modern labor market and society demand from youth are becoming increasingly complex. Evidence shows that, in addition to solid cognitive skills, a set of “soft” socio emotional abilities are relevant to have a good career path and achieve other important socioeconomic outcomes in life (Heckman, Stixrud and Urzua, 2006; Urzua, 2008). In this context, identifying education programs and experiences that have a noticeable impact not only on cognitive skills, but also on relevant socio-emotional skills is critical for a better design of educational reforms and policies. Teachers clearly play an important role in teaching these socio-emotional skills. Research has shown that a good teacher can foster the relationship between students’ academic performance and their socio-emotional abilities (Bandura 1977; Rosenberg, 1965).

Enseña Chile: Attracting Top Universidy Graduates into Teaching Enseña Chile is the first adaptation of the Teach for America model in Latin America, and seeks to attract human capital of the highest quality in the most vulnerable urban and rural schools in Chile. It follows a rigorous selection process that allows for identification of college graduates with competencies to become not only great teachers, but also leaders and social entrepreneurs. The hypothesis is that when teachers posses these competencies, the students’

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socio-emotional skills may be enhanced. None of the impact evaluations of Teach for America address the effect of this kind of program on socio-emotional abilities. To test this hypothesis, among others, for the first time the Inter-American Development Bank partnered with Enseña Chile, the Center for Public Policies (PP-UC) at the Catholic University of Chile, the Center for Measurement (MIDE-UC) at the same university, and Grupo Educativo to conduct an evaluation of Enseña Chile. This evaluation involved the application of a battery of tests and questionnaires to measure changes in learning outcomes in Math and Spanish, in intellectual and socio-emotional abilities, and to collect data about teachers and students’ socioeconomic background. Information was collected from treatment and comparison groups twice during the 2010 academic year 1, with the baseline conducted in May and the follow-up in November. The total sample (both ECh participants and the comparison group) includes 4,618 students in their first year of secondary school, 117 teachers and 57 schools.

Measuring Socio-Emotional Abilities Two types of socio-emotional abilities were measured in students, namely self-esteem and social skills. Both instruments are self-applied and have been designed by MIDE-UC. The instrument for self-esteem follows the widely-used method of Rosenberg scales with two different wording frames: positively and negatively worded items. The specific instrument used here consists of 10 items with the objective of measuring self-esteem as a global and onedimensional construct. In addition, this instrument has the advantage of including both positive and negative frames to minimize response bias. In particular, “[n]egatively worded items act as cognitive speed bumps that require respondents to engage in more controlled, as opposed to automatic, cognitive processing” (Chen, Redina-Gobidoff and Dedrick, 2010). This means that these modules will tend to offset any biased perceptions and rather reveal the true perception with regards to student’s self-esteem. The instrument for measuring social skills includes 20 items, divided into 3 major categories: personal relationships and peer participation, conflict resolution, and aspects related to assertive communication. An example of an item of this instrument is “I am able to express disagreement with another person without offending him/her”.

ECh Teachers Improve Students’ Overall Socio-Emotional Abilities Baseline data indicate that students who have an ECh teacher (“treatment”) and students who have a traditional teacher (“comparison”) have the same reported levels of self-esteem and social skills. However, at follow-up we find that ECh-benefited students show statistically significant higher scores in the two socio-emotional ability tests (self-esteem and social skills) than comparison students. The difference between ECh students and the comparison group in the self-esteem measure is 2.8 points (or 78% of the standard deviation at baseline) and 3.1 points in the social skills measure (40% of the standard deviation at baseline), which are of important magnitude considering the short time between the baseline and follow-up 1 To generate a comparison sample, we use propensity score matching (PSM). PSM matches students that participated in the program with

students that did not, in terms of observable characteristics. The propensity score is estimated using a probit model where the dependent variable is a dummy indicating if the student participated in the program or not. After estimating the student-level probability model, the probability of participating in the ECh program is computed for each student, matching comparison students using the nearest neighbor technique.


measurements. Further research should confirm strict causality and the magnitude of the effects; however, these results provide important evidence about the first years of the program.

Disentangling the ECh Effect on Socio-Emotional Abilities Results presented so far do not tell which specific areas are driving the overall effect. Thus, we estimate the ECh effect separately on positive and negativeworded items, and along the distribution of social skills 21 . Findings indicate that students who have ECh teachers show significantly higher increases on their own positive perceptions than students who have traditional teachers, while differences between EChbenefited students and the comparison group for negative-worded items are close to zero and statistically insignificant. The finding that ECh can be positively associated with higher increases of the positively worded responses indicates that ECh teachers seem to change self-esteem over time predominantly through transmitting positive attitudes. These results are consistent with the program’s objectives of attracting and placing teachers that encourage selfconfidence (instead of self-depreciation) in their students. ECh teachers also seem to have significant effects on their students’ social skills, as compared to Figure 1: The Effect of an ECh Teacher traditional teachers. Within an academic year, students on Students’ Socio-Emotional Abilities in the lowest end of the social skills distribution who have an ECh teacher show an increase of around onethird of a standard deviation compared to students with Source: Own computations based on Enseña Chile traditional teachers, even after controlling for learning 2010 baseline and follow-up databases. outcome differences in Math and Spanish between Notes: *** indicates statistical significance at 1% baseline and follow-up.

2 These estimates are shown in Figure 2. The bars show the difference between ECh students and non-ECh students in the change in the levels of

measured skills after one school year. The left side of figure 2 presents the estimates of four different models used for estimating the association of an ECh teacher with the different self-esteem subtests, while the right side coefficients from quantile regressions that break the distribution of the social skills scores in equal sizes.


Figure 2: ECh Teachers and Students’ Self-Esteem and Social Skills

Source: Own computations based on Enseña Chile 2010 baseline and follow-up databases. Notes: * significant at 10%; ** significant at 5%; *** significant at 1%. Social skills coefficients are estimated using quantile regression with bootstrapped standard errors. “Controlling for differences in cognitive scores” means that results in Spanish and math tests were included among the right-hand-side variables as controls.

Concluding Remarks and Perspectives Socio-emotional skills are proving to be as important as cognitive abilities to achieve positive results in the labor market and society in general. The challenge that arises then is to find successful interventions that can effectively foster those relevant “soft” skills (as well as cognitive abilities). Using innovative instruments to measure students’ socio-emotional abilities, the IDB and its partners aimed at making a contribution by collecting this type of information from the Enseña Chile program in 2010. Most attitudes and characteristics prevalent in ECh teachers point to developing socio-emotional skills among children in a crucial age. Still, the approach used by ECh of incorporating motivated teachers with leadership attributes needs to be tested further at a national scale. The results presented in this note constitute an important first step to highlight areas of future research.

References Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Carneiro, P. and Heckman, J. (2003). Human Capital Policy.  IZA Discussion Papers 821, Institute for the Study of Labor. Chen, Y., Rendina-Gobioff, G. and Dedrick, R. (2010). Factorial Invariance of a Chinese SelfEsteem Scale for Third and Sixth Grade Students: Evaluating Method Effects Associated with Positively and Negatively Worded Items. The International Journal of Educational and Psychological Assessment, 6(1), 21-35. Heckman, J., Stixrud, J. and Urzua, S. (2006). The Effects of Cognitive and Noncognitive Abilities on Labor Market Outcomes and Social Behavior. Journal of Labor Economics, 24(3), 411-482. Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the Adolescent Self-Image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

About the Authors

Mariana Alfonso and Marina Bassi are specialists in the Education Division at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Christian Borja is a consultant for the Education Division of the IDB.


idb briefly noted: no. 14: january 2012: teaching socio-emotional abilities in latin american sch...