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Lessons from PISA for the United States

image of Lessons from PISA for the United States

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.

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Japan: A Story of Sustained Excellence

Japan has been at or near the top of the international rankings on education surveys since those surveys began. This chapter explores how Japan may have achieved this consistent standing and what other countries might be able to learn from the Japanese experience. The Japanese education system is grounded in a deep commitment to children that is concrete and enduring. The research also attributes Japan’s success to a first-rate teaching force, superb family support for Japanese students at home, the way resources are focused on instruction and the strong incentives the system provides for students to take tough courses and study hard in school. The school curriculum in Japan appears very coherent, carefully centred on core topics, with a clear goal of fostering deep conceptual understanding. The academic programme follows a logical sequence and is set at a very high level of cognitive challenge. Though it is applied nationwide, Japanese teachers have a remarkable level of autonomy in its application. The entire approach is aided by the shared belief that effort and not ability is what primarily explains student achievement. There is no tracking in Japanese schools, classes are heterogeneous and no student is held back or promoted on account of ability. The system has a great deal of inherent accountability – to one’s parents, one’s peers and so on. While entrance exams are deeply important for progression to Japanese higher education, the system of teacher accountability in schools is interestingly not based on student assessments. These, and many other factors, have combined to produce one of the world’s besteducated and most productive workforces.

English

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