NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How to Get Good Grades

December 10, 2010

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) PISA study details and ranks the reading, mathematics and science skills of 15 year olds in each member country every three years.  But even more important than ranking school systems is knowing how to make them better, says the Economist.  

That is the aim of another new study by the consulting group McKinsey.  The consultancy selected school systems where it has seen standards rise and identified what they had in common.

  • For starters, McKinsey says, throwing money at education does not seem to do much good, at least in those countries that already send all their young people to school.
  • America, for example, increased its spending on schools by 21 percent between 2000 and 2007, while Britain pumped in 37 percent more funds.
  • Yet in this period, according to PISA, standards in both countries slipped.

What separates the big spenders from the improvers, McKinsey found, is the awareness that different types of school systems respond to radically different types of reform.  In countries where schools mainly seek to teach pupils to read, write and grasp some basic math, centralization seems to work.  All teachers should be directed to teach the same lessons from the same textbooks.

Once the school system can teach to basic standards, it should pay more attention to collecting detailed data on examination results.  This serves not just to make schools accountable, but helps to identify the best teaching methods.

Countries where schools have already attained a higher standard should become pickier in choosing teachers -- making teaching a high-status profession boosts standards.

At the very top of the global educational league table -- where only a handful of countries or systems within them manage to attain really high standards -- decentralization is the name of the game.  The authorities hand control over to teachers, most of whom are highly educated and motivated, so they can learn from each other and follow the best practices.

Source: "How to Get Good Grades," The Economist, November 25, 2010.

For text:

http://www.economist.com/node/17572635

For study:

http://www.mckinsey.com/clientservice/Social_Sector/our_practices/Education/Knowledge_Highlights/How%20School%20Systems%20Get%20Better.aspx

 

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