School & District Management

PISA: How Top-Scoring Nations Get There

By Catherine Gewertz — December 07, 2010 1 min read

You have likely heard by now about the United States’ less-than-inspiring results on the latest PISA. (If not, see my colleague Erik Robelen’s story.) Those much-talked-about scores tell us which countries are producing the highest achievement among their 15-year-olds, but nothing about how they produced those results.

That’s discussed in another report issued today by the OECD, the same organization that oversees PISA. The study, “Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education: Lessons From PISA for the United States,” examines various aspects of education in high-performing or fast-improving countries, including distribution of resources, classroom environment, and assessment and accountability practices. It ends with lessons the United States can learn from these countries.

One of the things that might strike you as you look at these lessons is their reasonableness (outweighed, apparently, only by their seeming impossibility in most of this country). Here’s one: ensuring coherence of policies and practices across all aspects of the system and over sustained periods of time, with consistency of implementation. Wow. Really? Can you imagine?

This one got my attention, having heard endlessly this year about the fear of federal intrusion into local education decisionmaking: “balancing local responsibility with a capable center of authority and legitimacy to act.” Hmmm. It’s that capable center of authority that tends to make folks real nervous in our homeland.

The study was undertaken with researchers from the National Center on Education and the Economy, who have spent a lot of time on international education studies. You might recall, also, that the NCEE is working on a pilot program to create a board-exam system for high schools, modeled on systems used in other countries.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.