Benchmarking high-performing jurisdictions

The American think-tank (cue queasy feelings) the National Center of Education and the Economy is embarking on a curious study to compare jurisdictions that are deemed to be “high-performing” on international comparison tests such as The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) to see what can be discovered about the systematic and systemic features of educational excellence.

The study, led by Tina Isaacs of the Institute of Education at the University of London, will look at “the goals, standards, curriculum frameworks, assessment systems, teacher training on the curriculum/assessment systems, and the accountability systems for teachers, principals and schools in the selected jurisdictions”.

The selected jurisdictions will be Alberta and Ontario (Canada), Queensland and New South Wales (Australia), Shanghai and Hong Kong (China), Finland, Singapore, Japan, as well as Massachusetts and Florida (USA). Florida is the odd choice, as it does not score highly on international tests. It’s not clear why Florida is included.

I am certainly curious to see what this study turns up, but I’m not overly optimistic that it will find much that we don’t already know. So let me hypothesize. Dr. Isaacs will learn that a stable and veteran set of teachers will be a strong factor. Hmm, let’s see. Curriculum probably won’t matter too much. Accountability systems will largely be irrelevant except in one circumstance: when centralized student assessment is tightly correlated to the curriculum, students will perform better, and where centralized assessment is generically associated with underspecified competencies or skill sets, performance will be less good.

It’s not as though we haven’t looked at these issues before. But we know that think tanks tend toward accountability measures, so we’ll see what they come up with.

I wish Dr. Isaacs all the best in this study, and I hope I’m wrong, that there are still things to learn from this kind of inquiry. But I’m not holding my breath.

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