News coverage of the 2012 PISA exam focused on the U.S.’s slipping performance in comparison to East Asian nations (and perpetual overachiever Finland). But as Andreas Schleicher detailed in his March 26 presentation, the exhaustive study of education systems that accompanied the exam reveals much more about the world’s most effective schools.
Five Lessons from PISA:
1. Top school systems develop – and keep – great teachers. Whether through high salaries, cultural respect for teachers, or opportunities to grow, advance, intellectually engage, and generally stay interested in the work, these countries keep their experience-rich educators in schools. In the U.S., nearly half of teachers leave after five years or less. 2. Schools and teachers are empowered to make decisions – but only if standards are shared and performance data is transparent. In systems where expectations are murky or leaders make decisions without teacher input, school autonomy can actually hurt student performance.
3. Privileged students will always do well – so the best school systems invest elsewhere. The U.S., like its below-average brethren Mexico and Lithuania, tends to spend more per capita on well-off students than their lower-income peers. Top performer Shanghai and fast improver Canada funnel dollars strategically to help the students who stand to benefit most. As a result, Ontario’s immigrant students – 40% of the population – perform on par with native-born students.
4. High standards for all students is a non-negotiable. Low performing systems vary their expectations according to all kinds of factors – where students are from, how they perform, where the system thinks they’re headed – allowing factors like socioeconomic status to play a larger role. Top performing systems have clear, high, universal, shared expectations for all students – and high-stakes gateways to advancement that hold those students accountable. That’s why the children of housecleaners in China outperform the children of professionals in the U.S. 5. Where education matters to everyone, students flourish. Top-performing school systems are often successful because the surrounding culture values them. Teachers are trusted and respected. Students own their education and are less likely to blame outside factors when they stumble. And parents show they care: having a parent who asks “how was school?” every day is as predictive of student success as socioeconomic status. Learn More: