U.S. Ranks Low for Innovation in Education

By Michele Molnar — July 21, 2014 3 min read
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This post originally appeared on the Marketplace K-12 blog.


U.S. schools and classrooms rank near the bottom among the countries studied in a first-ever report on education innovation by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD.

Only the Czech Republic and Austria ranked lower, with New Zealand tying the United States in the OECD’s point system, which used data spanning 2000 to 2011. Denmark, Indonesia, Korea, and the Netherlands were found to have the most innovative educational systems.

The report, “Measuring Innovation in Education,” finds that, in general, more innovation has come from classroom practices than school practices in the countries studied over this time.

The opposite has been true in the U.S., where reformers often claim that innovative changes are not reaching the classroom. Indeed, the researchers’ findings corroborate that impression, according to Stephan Vincent-Lancrin, lead author of the study, referring to this chart as proof.

Comparing the U.S. to a country like Indonesia, which had a high innovation score, should not be interpreted as the superiority of Indonesia’s educational system. “They are trying to change a lot of things; they may have to change more than the U.S. as well,” he said, noting in an interview that the data show “the dynamic of the willingness to change.”

While the U.S. exhibits “very strong educational entrepreneurism,” in Vincent-Lancrin’s words, that was not part of the study. However, the report does take into account the use and availability of computers in schools. Here, he said, the U.S. is “pretty average,” not showing much change in the past decade.

Where the U.S. does stand out is in the use of assessments—a direct result of No Child Left Behind—and in the engagement of parents. In a separate, 4-page report on the U.S., the top five innovation policies and practices identified in this country were:

  1. More use of student assessments for monitoring school progress;
  2. More use of student assessments for national and district benchmarking;
  3. More use of student assessment data to inform parents of student progress;
  4. More external evaluation of secondary school classrooms; and,
  5. More service by parents on external school committees.

As for pedagogic practice, the top innovations found in the U.S. are:

  1. More observation and description in secondary school science lessons;
  2. More individualized reading instruction in primary school classrooms;
  3. More use of answer explanation in primary mathematics;
  4. More relating of primary school lessons to everyday life; and,
  5. More text interpretation in primary lessons.

Innovative pedagogic practices are increasing dramatically in all countries, in areas like relating lessons to real life, interpreting data and text, and personalizing teaching, the study’s authors found. In general, countries with greater levels of innovation see increases in certain educational outcomes, including higher—and improving—8th grade math performance, more equitable learning outcomes across ability, and more satisfied teachers.

Internationally, although many people consider education an innovation laggard, the researchers identified “a fair level of innovation in the education sector, both relative to other sectors of society and in absolute terms.” However, the speed of adoption in education is slower than average. The most “innovation intensity” is found in higher education.

Innovative educational systems generally spend more than non-innovative systems; however, their students are no more satisfied than those in less innovative systems. The authors found that most educational institutions included in their research have increased their per-student expenditure levels between 2000 and 2010 by similar amounts. Korea and the Czech Republic, while registering among the highest spenders, ranked at the opposite ends of the educational innovation spectrum; Korea was considered “above average” in innovation, and the Czech Republic near the bottom.

The authors acknowledge that measuring innovation in education is in its infancy, and make a case for developing an international survey that could be used to measure innovation.

“Innovation is a means to an end,” said Vincent-Lancrin. “We need to think of it not as an indicator of performance itself, but something that will translate into better educational outcomes.”

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