New OECD report leads to questions about educational innovation

While the OECD has released a number of reports this year, their most recent report addresses the measurement of educational innovation at the classroom and school levels. In this report, the OECD looked at “innovations” in education improvement strategy and ranked 19 countries accordingly. The report acknowledges that while the private sector has established innovation indicators derived from research and development (R&D) statistics and innovation surveys, the measurement of innovation and its effectiveness in the public sector is still in its infancy. Creating such measurements might be more difficult, as the report states that “cultural values, social policies and political goals can lead to differing prioritization of these different objectives across countries.” Innovation indicators will need to be linked to specific objectives, such as learning outcomes, if they are to be better understood.

Denmark came in first place, followed by Indonesia, Korea and the Netherlands. While I could not easily find news reports that focused on the high ranking of Korea, and the sole report I found on the Netherlands referred to parental concerns over a lack of educational innovation, multiple sources published reports that pointed to the near-bottom ranking of the US. Yet, even with the report citing a ‘dearth’ of innovation in the US, EdWeek has a feature article on the ways in which school principals in the US are increasingly acting like entrepreneurs and innovators in business.

Interestingly, as Pasi Sahlberg pointed out in his recent article in The Washington Post, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Finland—all high performing countries—have sought out innovative ideas for education from the United States, where many such ideas are largely ignored by the country’s education reformers. So, not only is educational innovation difficult to measure for the ways in which the concept of innovation might be country-specific, as the OECD explained, it might also prove difficult to measure due to the ways in which innovative ideas can travel, as countries share and borrow ideas from one another. In his brief response to Sahlberg’s article, Howard Gardner pointed out that innovative ideas have a history of being co-opted, borrowed, and misunderstood. Further, he notes that it is a mistake to attribute these ideas to sole individuals, such as himself–for he was inspired by other scholars, and all scholars are influenced by the freedom or constrictions of the conditions in which they work. To that point, a recent study of Norwegian teachers, which aimed to study those conditions in which “newness is created,” showed that innovative work is brought into being when “pluralities of perspectives” are taken into account.

In The Washington Post, Valerie Strauss also questioned the meaning innovation by looking at the language used in the report. She notes that Hong Kong’s main innovation was “more peer evaluation of teachers in primary and secondary education”; Korea’s main innovation was “more peer evaluation of teachers in secondary education”; and Singapore’s main innovation was “more use of incentives for secondary teachers.” But is innovation a matter of degree? Reports such as this one raise questions about how we can measure concepts without a shared understanding of what those concepts mean. As the news report from Indonesia points out, even Indonesian education experts were surprised to see the country at the top of the list, especially when it has been ranked among the lowest performing countries in math and science on the 2013 OECD Pisa exam.

Deirdre Faughey

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