Opinion
School & District Management Opinion

OECD: Innovation Can Improve Learning, Equity, Efficiency and the Economy

By Tom Vander Ark — July 28, 2014 2 min read

“Innovation in the public sector in general, and in education in particular, could be a major driver for significant welfare gains,” says a new report from
the OECD,

Measuring Innovation in Education

.

The OECD report suggests innovation can 1) improve learning outcomes and the quality of education provision, 2) to enhance equity, 3) to improve efficiency
and 4) remain relevant to a changing economy.

Here’s the headline conclusion, “Countries with greater levels of innovation see increases in certain educational outcomes, including higher (and
improving) 8th grade mathematics performance, more equitable learning outcomes across ability and more satisfied teachers.”

Now for the backstory. The report uses data from 2003-09 so it’s five year old and doesn’t consider the mobile inflection and app revolution we’re living
through.

The report confuses improvement (i.e., doing things better) and innovation (i.e., doing things differently) as evidenced by the introduction, “The ability
to measure innovation is essential to an improvement strategy in education.

By surveying the public and employees of learning institutions, the methodology attempts to measure viable innovation categories including 1) new products
and services, 2) new delivery processes, 3) new ways to organizing activities, and 4) new marketing techniques. But the details don’t always add up.

And now for the punch line: the report scores the U.S. near the bottom of the pack. This strange and dated index puts Hungary, Indonesia, Slovenia, and
Russia in the top 10.

Here’s an example of a response that just isn’t credible: 70% of graduates employed in the education sector consider their establishments as highly
innovative, on par with the economy average (69%).

During the considered period of 2003-09, innovations in U.S. education included scaling great school networks with the backing of new talent development
organizations. Thousands of new high schools targeting low income students were developed. Big city districts made big strides in aligned instructional
systems and differentiated school support. Together, they formed the basis for portfolio strategies evident in most urban centers today. The other
big innovation of the last decade not evident anywhere else on the planet but not fully considered by this survey was the quite growth in online learning
in the U.S. During the considered period, students in most states gained access to full time online learning. Districts began expanding part time access to
online classes. Dropout recovery models were developed. Given school improvement, new school development, and new online options grad rates climbed by more
than 10 points (66% in 2001 to 81% in 2012).

The ironic thing about the index is that what the U.S. scores high on--what everybody loves to hate--the use of standardized testing. Some of the OECD
conclusions are interesting, some are just off base, they are all pre-revolution.

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The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.