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TEDGlobal 2012

Andreas Schleicher: Use data to build better schools

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How can we measure what makes a school system work? Andreas Schleicher walks us through the PISA test, a global measurement that ranks countries against one another -- then uses that same data to help schools improve. Watch to find out where your country stacks up, and learn the single factor that makes some systems outperform others.

- Education surveyor
What makes a great school system? To find out, Andreas Schleicher administers a test to compare student performance around the world. Full bio

Radical openness is still a distant future
00:16
in the field of school education.
00:19
We have such a hard time figuring out
00:21
that learning is not a place but an activity.
00:23
But I want to tell you the story of PISA,
00:28
OECD's test to measure the knowledge and skills
00:31
of 15-year-olds around the world,
00:33
and it's really a story of how international comparisons
00:35
have globalized the field of education that we usually treat
00:40
as an affair of domestic policy.
00:43
Look at how the world looked in the 1960s,
00:46
in terms of the proportion of people
00:48
who had completed high school.
00:50
You can see the United States ahead of everyone else,
00:53
and much of the economic success of the United States
00:57
draws on its long-standing advantage
00:59
as the first mover in education.
01:02
But in the 1970s, some countries caught up.
01:05
In the 1980s, the global expansion
01:08
of the talent pool continued.
01:11
And the world didn't stop in the 1990s.
01:13
So in the '60s, the U.S. was first.
01:17
In the '90s, it was 13th,
01:19
and not because standards had fallen,
01:22
but because they had risen so much faster elsewhere.
01:24
Korea shows you what's possible in education.
01:28
Two generations ago, Korea had the standard of living
01:32
of Afghanistan today,
01:35
and was one of the lowest education performers.
01:37
Today, every young Korean finishes high school.
01:41
So this tells us that, in a global economy,
01:47
it is no longer national improvement that's the benchmark for success,
01:50
but the best performing education systems internationally.
01:54
The trouble is that
02:00
measuring how much time people spend in school
02:02
or what degree they have got is not always
02:04
a good way of seeing what they can actually do.
02:06
Look at the toxic mix of unemployed graduates on our streets,
02:11
while employers say they cannot find the people
02:15
with the skills they need.
02:17
And that tells you that better degrees don't automatically translate
02:21
into better skills and better jobs and better lives.
02:24
So with PISA, we try to change this
02:29
by measuring the knowledge and skills
02:31
of people directly.
02:33
And we took a very special angle to this.
02:37
We were less interested in whether students can simply
02:38
reproduce what they have learned in school,
02:41
but we wanted to test whether they can extrapolate
02:44
from what they know
02:47
and apply their knowledge in novel situations.
02:49
Now, some people have criticized us for this.
02:53
They say, you know, such a way of measuring outcomes
02:55
is terribly unfair to people, because we test students
02:57
with problems they haven't seen before.
03:00
But if you take that logic, you know,
03:03
you should consider life unfair, because
03:05
the test of truth in life is not whether we can remember
03:08
what we learned in school,
03:11
but whether we are prepared for change,
03:12
whether we are prepared for jobs that haven't been created,
03:16
to use technologies that haven't been invented,
03:18
to solve problems we just can't anticipate today.
03:20
And once hotly contested,
03:25
our way of measuring outcomes has actually quickly become the standard.
03:28
In our latest assessment in 2009,
03:31
we measured 74 school systems
03:33
that together cover 87 percent of the economy.
03:37
This chart shows you the performance of countries.
03:40
In red, sort of below OECD average.
03:44
Yellow is so-so, and in green are the countries doing really well.
03:47
You can see Shanghai, Korea, Singapore in Asia;
03:50
Finland in Europe;
03:55
Canada in North America doing really well.
03:56
You can also see that there is a gap of almost
04:01
three and a half school years between
04:03
15-year-olds in Shanghai and 15-year-olds in Chile,
04:05
and the gap grows to seven school years
04:08
when you include the countries with really poor performance.
04:11
There's a world of difference in the way in which
04:15
young people are prepared for today's economy.
04:17
But I want to introduce a second important dimension
04:22
into this picture.
04:26
Educators like to talk about equity.
04:28
With PISA, we wanted to measure how they actually deliver equity,
04:33
in terms of ensuring that people
04:36
from different social backgrounds have equal chances.
04:39
And we see that in some countries, the impact
04:42
of social background on learning outcomes
04:44
is very, very strong.
04:46
Opportunities are unequally distributed.
04:47
A lot of potential of young children is wasted.
04:50
We see in other countries that it matters much less
04:53
into which social context you're born.
04:56
We all want to be there, in the upper right quadrant,
05:00
where performance is strong and learning opportunities are equally distributed.
05:02
Nobody, and no country, can afford to be there,
05:07
where performance is poor
05:09
and there are large social disparities.
05:11
And then we can debate, you know, is it better
05:14
to be there, where performance is strong
05:16
at the price of large disparities?
05:18
Or do we want to focus on equity and accept mediocrity?
05:21
But actually, if you look at how countries come out on this picture,
05:27
you see there are a lot of countries that actually
05:30
are combining excellence with equity.
05:32
In fact, one of the most important lessons from this comparison
05:37
is that you don't have to compromise equity
05:40
to achieve excellence.
05:43
These countries have moved on from providing excellence
05:46
for just some to providing excellence for all,
05:48
a very important lesson.
05:51
And that also challenges the paradigms of many school systems
05:53
that believe they are mainly there to sort people.
05:58
And ever since those results came out, policymakers,
06:03
educators, researchers from around the world
06:05
have tried to figure out
06:07
what's behind the success of those systems.
06:08
But let's step back for a moment
06:12
and focus on the countries that actually started PISA,
06:14
and I'm giving them a colored bubble now.
06:17
And I'm making the size of the bubble
06:19
proportional
06:23
to the amount of money that countries spent on students.
06:24
If money would tell you everything
06:28
about the quality of learning outcomes,
06:30
you would find all the large bubbles at the top, no?
06:32
But that's not what you see.
06:35
Spending per student only explains about,
06:38
well, less than 20 percent
06:40
of the performance variation among countries,
06:42
and Luxembourg, for example, the most expensive system,
06:46
doesn't do particularly well.
06:48
What you see is that two countries with similar spending
06:51
achieve very different results.
06:53
You also see -- and I think that's one of the most encouraging findings --
06:55
that we no longer live in a world that is neatly divided
06:59
between rich and well-educated countries,
07:03
and poor and badly-educated ones,
07:05
a very, very important lesson.
07:08
Let's look at this in greater detail.
07:11
The red dot shows you
07:14
spending per student relative to a country's wealth.
07:16
One way you can spend money is by paying teachers well,
07:20
and you can see Korea investing a lot
07:23
in attracting the best people into the teaching profession.
07:25
And Korea also invests into long school days,
07:28
which drives up costs further.
07:30
Last but not least, Koreans want their teachers
07:33
not only to teach but also to develop.
07:35
They invest in professional development and collaboration
07:38
and many other things.
07:40
All that costs money.
07:42
How can Korea afford all of this?
07:44
The answer is, students in Korea learn in large classes.
07:46
This is the blue bar which is driving costs down.
07:50
You go to the next country on the list, Luxembourg,
07:54
and you can see the red dot is exactly where it is for Korea,
07:57
so Luxembourg spends the same per student as Korea does.
08:00
But, you know, parents and teachers and policymakers
08:04
in Luxembourg all like small classes.
08:07
You know, it's very pleasant to walk into a small class.
08:09
So they have invested all their money into there,
08:12
and the blue bar, class size, is driving costs up.
08:14
But even Luxembourg can spend its money only once,
08:17
and the price for this is that
08:22
teachers are not paid particularly well.
08:24
Students don't have long hours of learning.
08:26
And basically, teachers have little time to do anything else than teaching.
08:29
So you can see two countries spent their money very differently,
08:32
and actually how they spent their money
08:35
matters a lot more than how much they invest in education.
08:38
Let's go back to the year 2000.
08:44
Remember, that was the year before the iPod was invented.
08:46
This is how the world looked then
08:50
in terms of PISA performance.
08:52
The first thing you can see is that the bubbles were a lot smaller, no?
08:57
We spent a lot less on education,
09:00
about 35 percent less on education.
09:01
So you ask yourself, if education has become so much more expensive,
09:03
has it become so much better?
09:07
And the bitter truth really is that, you know,
09:10
not in many countries.
09:13
But there are some countries which have seen
09:16
impressive improvements.
09:18
Germany, my own country, in the year 2000,
09:21
featured in the lower quadrant,
09:25
below average performance, large social disparities.
09:26
And remember, Germany, we used to be one of those countries
09:30
that comes out very well when you just count people who have degrees.
09:32
Very disappointing results.
09:35
People were stunned by the results.
09:37
And for the very first time, the public debate in Germany
09:40
was dominated for months by education,
09:44
not tax, not other kinds of issues, but education
09:47
was the center of the public debate.
09:50
And then policymakers began to respond to this.
09:53
The federal government dramatically raised its investment in education.
09:56
A lot was done to increase the life chances of students
10:00
with an immigrant background or from social disadvantage.
10:04
And what's really interesting is that this wasn't just about
10:07
optimizing existing policies,
10:11
but data transformed some of the beliefs and paradigms
10:15
underlying German education.
10:18
For example, traditionally, the education of the very young children
10:20
was seen as the business of families, and you would have cases
10:24
where women were seen as neglecting their family responsibilities
10:27
when they sent their children to kindergarten.
10:30
PISA has transformed that debate,
10:33
and pushed early childhood education right at the center
10:35
of public policy in Germany.
10:38
Or traditionally, the German education divides children
10:41
at the age of 10, very young children,
10:44
between those deemed to pursue careers of knowledge workers
10:47
and those who would end up working for the knowledge workers,
10:51
and that mainly along socioeconomic lines,
10:55
and that paradigm is being challenged now too.
10:57
A lot of change.
11:01
And the good news is, nine years later,
11:04
you can see improvements in quality and equity.
11:07
People have taken up the challenge, done something about it.
11:10
Or take Korea, at the other end of the spectrum.
11:12
In the year 2000, Korea did already very well,
11:14
but the Koreans were concerned that only a small share
11:17
of their students achieved the really high levels of excellence.
11:20
They took up the challenge,
11:24
and Korea was able to double the proportion of students
11:26
achieving excellence in one decade in the field of reading.
11:30
Well, if you only focus on your brightest students,
11:34
you know what happens is disparities grow,
11:37
and you can see this bubble moving slightly to the other direction,
11:39
but still, an impressive improvement.
11:42
A major overhaul of Poland's education
11:45
helped to dramatically reduce between variability among schools,
11:48
turn around many of the lowest-performing schools,
11:51
and raise performance by over half a school year.
11:54
And you can see other countries as well.
11:59
Portugal was able to consolidate its fragmented school system,
12:01
raise quality and improve equity,
12:04
and so did Hungary.
12:07
So what you can actually see, there's been a lot of change.
12:08
And even those people who complain and say that
12:12
the relative standing of countries
12:15
on something like PISA is just an artifact of culture,
12:17
of economic factors, of social issues,
12:20
of homogeneity of societies, and so on,
12:23
these people must now concede that education improvement is possible.
12:26
You know, Poland hasn't changed its culture.
12:31
It didn't change its economy. It didn't change
12:34
the compositions of its population.
12:36
It didn't fire its teachers. It changed its education policies
12:39
and practice. Very impressive.
12:41
And all that raises, of course, the question: What can we learn
12:44
from those countries in the green quadrant
12:47
who have achieved high levels of equity,
12:49
high levels of performance, and raised outcomes?
12:51
And, of course, the question is, can what works in one context
12:55
provide a model elsewhere?
12:59
Of course, you can't copy and paste education systems wholesale,
13:02
but these comparisons have identified a range of factors
13:05
that high-performing systems share.
13:09
Everybody agrees that education is important.
13:12
Everybody says that.
13:15
But the test of truth is, how do you weigh that priority
13:17
against other priorities?
13:20
How do countries pay their teachers
13:22
relative to other highly skilled workers?
13:24
Would you want your child to become a teacher
13:28
rather than a lawyer?
13:30
How do the media talk about schools and teachers?
13:32
Those are the critical questions, and what we have learned
13:34
from PISA is that, in high-performing education systems,
13:37
the leaders have convinced their citizens to make choices
13:41
that value education, their future,
13:44
more than consumption today.
13:47
And you know what's interesting? You won't believe it,
13:49
but there are countries in which the most attractive place
13:51
to be is not the shopping center but the school.
13:54
Those things really exist.
13:57
But placing a high value on education
14:00
is just part of the picture.
14:02
The other part is the belief that all children
14:04
are capable of success.
14:07
You have some countries where students
14:11
are segregated early in their ages.
14:13
You know, students are divided up,
14:15
reflecting the belief that only some children
14:17
can achieve world-class standards.
14:19
But usually that is linked to very strong social disparities.
14:23
If you go to Japan in Asia, or Finland in Europe,
14:27
parents and teachers in those countries
14:30
expect every student to succeed,
14:32
and you can see that actually mirrored in student behavior.
14:36
When we asked students what counts
14:40
for success in mathematics,
14:42
students in North America would typically tell us,
14:45
you know, it's all about talent.
14:48
If I'm not born as a genius in math, I'd better study something else.
14:49
Nine out of 10 Japanese students say
14:54
that it depends on my own investment, on my own effort,
14:56
and that tells you a lot about the system that is around them.
15:01
In the past, different students were taught in similar ways.
15:05
High performers on PISA embrace diversity
15:10
with differentiated pedagogical practices.
15:14
They realize that
15:17
ordinary students have extraordinary talents,
15:19
and they personalize learning opportunities.
15:22
High-performing systems also share
15:26
clear and ambitious standards across the entire spectrum.
15:28
Every student knows what matters.
15:31
Every student knows what's required to be successful.
15:34
And nowhere does the quality of an education system
15:38
exceed the quality of its teachers.
15:41
High-performing systems are very careful
15:43
in how they recruit and select their teachers
15:46
and how they train them.
15:48
They watch how they improve the performances of teachers
15:50
in difficulties who are struggling,
15:53
and how they structure teacher pay.
15:55
They provide an environment also in which teachers work together
15:58
to frame good practice.
16:02
And they provide intelligent pathways for teachers to grow
16:05
in their careers.
16:09
In bureaucratic school systems,
16:12
teachers are often left alone in classrooms
16:13
with a lot of prescription on what they should be teaching.
16:15
High-performing systems are very clear what good performance is.
16:18
They set very ambitious standards, but then they enable
16:22
their teachers to figure out,
16:24
what do I need to teach to my students today?
16:26
The past was about delivered wisdom in education.
16:30
Now the challenge is to enable user-generated wisdom.
16:35
High performers have moved on from professional
16:40
or from administrative forms of accountability and control --
16:44
sort of, how do you check whether people do what they're supposed to do in education --
16:47
to professional forms of work organization.
16:51
They enable their teachers to make innovations in pedagogy.
16:54
They provide them with the kind of development they need
16:58
to develop stronger pedagogical practices.
17:01
The goal of the past was standardization and compliance.
17:05
High-performing systems have made teachers
17:10
and school principals inventive.
17:13
In the past, the policy focus was on outcomes,
17:16
on provision.
17:19
The high-performing systems have helped teachers
17:21
and school principals to look outwards to the next teacher,
17:24
the next school around their lives.
17:26
And the most impressive outcomes of world-class systems
17:29
is that they achieve high performance across the entire system.
17:31
You've seen Finland doing so well on PISA,
17:34
but what makes Finland so impressive
17:37
is that only five percent of the performance variation
17:38
amongst students lies between schools.
17:42
Every school succeeds.
17:45
This is where success is systemic.
17:47
And how do they do that?
17:50
They invest resources where they can make the most difference.
17:52
They attract the strongest principals into the toughest schools,
17:54
and the most talented teachers
17:59
into the most challenging classroom.
18:02
Last but not least, those countries align policies
18:03
across all areas of public policy.
18:07
They make them coherent over sustained periods of time,
18:09
and they ensure that what they do is consistently implemented.
18:12
Now, knowing what successful systems are doing
18:17
doesn't yet tell us how to improve.
18:19
That's also clear, and that's where some of the limits
18:22
of international comparisons of PISA are.
18:24
That's where other forms of research need to kick in,
18:28
and that's also why PISA doesn't venture into
18:30
telling countries what they should be doing.
18:33
But its strength lies in telling them
18:35
what everybody else has been doing.
18:36
And the example of PISA shows that data
18:39
can be more powerful than administrative control of financial subsidy
18:41
through which we usually run education systems.
18:45
You know, some people argue that
18:49
changing educational administration
18:52
is like moving graveyards.
18:54
You just can't rely on the people out there to help you with this. (Laughter)
18:56
But PISA has shown what's possible in education.
19:01
It has helped countries to see that improvement is possible.
19:06
It has taken away excuses from those who are complacent.
19:10
And it has helped countries to set meaningful targets
19:14
in terms of measurable goals achieved by the world's leaders.
19:17
If we can help every child, every teacher, every school,
19:21
every principal, every parent see what improvement is possible,
19:25
that only the sky is the limit to education improvement,
19:29
we have laid the foundations
19:32
for better policies and better lives.
19:33
Thank you.
19:36
(Applause)
19:38
Translated by Joseph Geni
Reviewed by Morton Bast

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About the speaker:

Andreas Schleicher - Education surveyor
What makes a great school system? To find out, Andreas Schleicher administers a test to compare student performance around the world.

Why you should listen

First, a few acronyms: Andreas Schleicher heads the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). What it means is: He's designed a test, given to hundreds of thousands of 15-year-olds around the world (the most recent covered almost 70 nations), that offers unprecedented insight into how well national education systems are preparing their students for adult life. As The Atlantic puts it, the PISA test "measured not students’ retention of facts, but their readiness for 'knowledge worker' jobs—their ability to think critically and solve real-world problems."

The results of the PISA test, given every three years, are fed back to governments and schools so they can work on improving their ranking. And the data has inspired Schleicher to become a vocal advocate for the policy changes that, his research suggests, make for great schools.

Get Andreas Schleicher's slide deck from this talk >>

More profile about the speaker
Andreas Schleicher | Speaker | TED.com