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.


Shanghai and Hong Kong: Two Distinct Examples of Education Reform in China

China has made huge strides in educating its population. During the Cultural Revolution, educated people, including teachers, were sent to rural areas to work in the fields. The teaching force was effectively destroyed. But, not three decades later, parts of the country – notably Shanghai – are among the contenders for top spots on the world’s education league tables. Hong Kong reverted back to China in 1997 and has also made significant reforms to its education system. This chapter looks at how China has made rapid progress, taking Shanghai and Hong Kong as examples of innovation. The main lessons include the government’s abandonment of a system built around “key schools” for a small elite and its development of a more inclusive system in which all students are expected to perform at high levels; greatly raising teacher pay and upgrading teacher standards and teacher education; reducing the emphasis on rote learning and increasing the emphasis on deep understanding, the ability to apply knowledge to solving new problems and the ability to think creatively. All of these are reflected in deep reforms to the curriculum and examinations. These changes have been accompanied by greater curricular choice for students and more latitude for local authorities to decide on examination content, which in turn is loosening the constraints on curriculum and instruction.


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