There exist substantial gaps between the promises and realities of basic education reforms in many parts of the world. Notably, most reforms have adopted a range of policy instruments in an ad hoc and uncoordinated manner, without a clear overall understanding of how they can be synergized. The objective of this paper is to improve the theory and practice of education governance from a policy instrument perspective. Our main argument is that the effective design needs to ensure the match of three key elements, namely between policy instruments and tasks at the macro level, and between instruments and their targets in the actual calibration.
Building on Christopher Hood’s NATO framework and the model of policy instrument choice, we show how different types of tools should be used to address the specific tasks of education governance. Given the relevance of procedural organizational instruments in fulfilling complex tasks when capacity constraints facing the government is high, they deserve closer scrutiny than existing literature has done. Using comparative cases of how two such instruments, namely teacher in-service training and career advancement, are deployed in government middle schools in Beijing and Delhi, we then highlight the importance of the match between policy tools and targets. When such match is overlooked, organizational instruments meant to offer support and build capacity are likely to be perceived as burden and dissatisfaction.