Amherst Magazine

Work in Progress

School Children in the Honduras

School children in Danli, Honduras, where a team from Amherst led a summer pilot study. 

By Emily Gold Boutilier 

In July, Javier Corrales, an associate professor of political science, traveled to Honduras to ask questions about a major experiment in public education: the creation of publicly funded schools that parents run themselves. Initially created in urban areas of Nicaragua and semi-rural areas in El Salvador, these “community-managed” schools were set up in Honduras and Guatemala in the late 1990s, in very poor, rural and remote villages where there had been no schools before. A decade later, no major study exists about the effect of the experiment on parental behavior outside of school.

Corrales and Steven Rivkin, a professor of economics, have received a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, as well as $35,000 from the Tinker Foundation, to study community-managed schools in Honduras and Guatemala. To the professors, the schools provide the perfect opportunity to learn how far, if at all, deliberate public policy can stimulate civil society.

What happens to a farmer who joins the parent committee that runs a school? “Does that change you somehow?” Corrales asks. “Does that make you a better citizen?” Have the schools given rise to a more robust community? Or do they simply empower one or two bullies in town? For the study, Corrales and Rivkin have received additional grant money from the Amherst Faculty Research Award Program.

During the July visit, Corrales helped to run a small pilot study. An educational consulting firm in Honduras is now conducting the broader survey of parents. As part of the grant, Daniel Altschuler ’04, a Rhodes Scholar, has spent time in Honduras managing the project on the ground and leading case studies. Chris Chambers-Ju ’04 will work for the team in Guatemala. Francisco Ramos-Meyer ’09 traveled to Honduras as an intern. Corrales and Rivkin plan to start analyzing results later this academic year.