2009 PISA Results: Basics, Basics, Basics

The most interesting session at WISE (apart from the panel the Jester was on, of course) was a lunch-time session announcing the recent PISA results. The Jester is a big fan of the Programme for International Student Assessment, which is likely to endure as the the primary yardstick for education for some time to come. (The New York Times has an article that provides more background and discusses the results. The complete results and the analysis are here: http://www.pisa.oecd.org.)

Several notable facts from the 2009 results…

  • Shanghai came in first in overall performance, followed by South Korea and Finland. (Officially, China is only a partial participant with a couple of its cities involved, so technically South Korea was the top country.)
  • In addition to having high scores on PISA, the top three countries tend to have little disparity in performance among students and less correlation of performance with household economic status.
  • Increasingly, school performance is decorrelated with either national per-capita GDP or with educational spending per student.
  • Shanghai has an interesting program where they give principals of good schools a raise and a transfer to less performing schools, with the mandate to improve them. They’re allowed to take along with them few teachers from their old school.
  • Accountability and autonomy of schools has an interesting, if unsurprising, interaction: Schools with autonomy do better if the larger school system has a lot of accountability. Schools with autonomy do poorer, if the larger school system has little accountability.
  • African countries are mostly not participating in PISA yet.

Relevant to ICT4D, with the exception of South Korea, the top-performing schools limit their use of technology. Neither Shanghai nor Finland have one-to-one PC programs, though in both, schools tend to have computer classrooms. Also, the analysis from PISA of what makes a good school system are common sense and very basic — a culture that values education and the profession of teaching, policies that consistently empower and reward good educators, high standards of achievement for all students, regardless of background, etc. Notably, technology does not emerge as a key element of a strong educational system. One of the summary documents notes, “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers and principals, since student learning is ultimately the product of what goes on in classrooms.”

When will we learn?

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