You may remember when the U.S. used to be scolded for giving advice to other countries on how to better manage their affairs. On the topic of education, we now seem to be the ones on the receiving end. Whether we like hearing outside advice or not, the fact is that some thought-worthy points have been made by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in their recent report Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education: Lessons from PISA for the United States. Some selected quotes:
Fifteen-year-olds in the United States usually rate themselves comparatively highly in academic performance in PISA, even if they did not do well comparatively. This may be partly due to culture, but one interpretation is also that students are being commended for work that would not be acceptable in high-performing education systems.
Across OECD countries, students in school systems that require standards-based external examinations perform, on average, over 16 points higher than those in school systems that do not use such examinations. … In contrast to standards-based external examinations, PISA does not show the prevalence of standardised tests to be systematically related to performance.
While performance data in the United States are often used for punitive accountability purposes, other countries tend to give greater weight to guide intervention, reveal best practices and identify shared problems.
…in international comparisons of children in primary school (TIMSS and PIRLS), the United States does relatively well by international standards, which, given the country’s wealth, is what would be expected. The problem is that as they get older, children make less progress each year than children in the best-performing countries do.
The generally weak relationship between resources and performance observed in past research is also seen in PISA. At the level of the education system, and net of the level of national income, the only type of resource that PISA shows to be correlated with student performance is the level of teachers’ salaries relative to national income.