Lessons from PISA for the United States

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US President Obama has launched one of the world’s most ambitious education reform agendas. Under the heading “Race to the Top”, this agenda encourages US states to adopt internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace: recruit, develop, reward, and retain effective teachers and principals; build data systems that measure student success; and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices and turn around their lowest-performing schools.

But what does the “top” look like internationally? How have the countries at the top managed to achieve sustained high performance or to significantly improve their performance? The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) provides the world’s most extensive and rigorous set of international surveys assessing the knowledge and skills of secondary school students. This volume combines an analysis of PISA with a description of the policies and practices of those education systems that are close to the top or advancing rapidly, in order to offer insights for policy from their reform trajectories.


Germany: Once Weak International Standing Prompts Strong Nationwide Reforms for Rapid Improvement

For many years, the German public and policy makers assumed that Germany had one of the world’s most effective, fair and efficient school systems. It was not until 2000 that they discovered this not to be the case at all, and that in fact Germany’s schools ranked below the average when compared to the PISA-participating countries. Now, ten years into the 21st century, Germany has substantially improved its position in the PISA league tables. This chapter explains how Germany could have so misjudged the relative quality of its education system, how it could have fallen so far from where it had been generations before, what it did to reverse its unfavourable position, and what other nations might learn from this experience. It identifies the main factors behind Germany’s strong recovery as being the changes it has made to the structure of its secondary schools; the high quality of its teachers; the value of its dual system, which helps develop workplace skills in children before they leave school; and its development of common standards and curricula and the assessment and research capacity to monitor them.


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