Tag Archives: OECD

Does preschool need PISA?

In his recent IOE Blog post, Peter Moss describes a new OECD study, called the International Early Learning Study (IELS), which is set to begin piloting in 2017. As Moss points out, while government officials are aware of what’s in store, few in the early childhood education field are. Moss and his colleagues have written an article intended to spark a broad conversation about this study will mean for early learning and they have identified five areas they view as causes for concern. Among their concerns, the authors point to the complexity of all educational systems and the potential harm of applying one standard to many different countries. To quote the IOE Blog post:

The IELS, and similar testing regimes, seek to apply a universal framework to all countries, all pedagogies and all services. This approach rests on the principle that everything can be reduced to a common outcome, standard and measure. What it cannot do is accommodate, let alone welcome, diversity – of paradigm or theory, pedagogy or provision, childhood or culture. The issue raised – and not acknowledged, let alone addressed by the OECD in its documentation – is how an IELS can be applied to places and people who do not share its (implicit) positions, understandings, assumptions and values.

As we often scan education news from around the world, this week we share links that provide some information about the issues and concerns facing several countries on the issue of preschool, or early childhood education. Here is a short list of articles that have been posted by online news organizations this summer.

 

IRELAND

Why we need more men working in our creches http://buff.ly/2aZGqPa

Preschools issue warning over free childcare scheme http://buff.ly/2aZOkYT

 

SCOTLAND

Bill to increase free pre-school childcare in Scotland – BBC News http://buff.ly/2aX1PKt

How will early years be affected by Brexit? | Nursery World http://buff.ly/2aX1Yxi

 

UNITED STATES

How the U.S. Is Failing Its Youngest Students http://buff.ly/2b5JcXn

 

AUSTRALIA

Reimagining NSW: tackling education inequality with early intervention and better research http://buff.ly/2axJ9CR

Why We Need To Teach Our Kids About Money In Early Childhood http://buff.ly/2aPaHCD

 

MALAYSIA

Study to gauge standard of English at preschools – Community | The Star Online http://buff.ly/2aPbTWv

Skills upgrade for pre-school teachers – Community | The Star Online http://buff.ly/2axLSMN

 

SINGAPORE

What goes on in the (not so) secret world of 4-year-olds http://buff.ly/2axLQEE

Free child care may limit options, increase burden on taxpayers: MSF http://buff.ly/2axMqCi

 

INDIA

Preschool or Child Care Market in India to Grow 21.84% by 2020 – Increasing Implementation of Childcare Services at Workplace – Research and Markets | Business Wire http://buff.ly/2aZNqf2

Preschool skills may predict kindergarten math success http://buff.ly/2aZNH1y

Pre-school boys should be treated more like girls, says study | Latest News & Updates at Daily News & Analysis http://buff.ly/2aD5MRL

34 per cent Muslim children have never been to pre-school: UNICEF : News http://buff.ly/2aX0PWN

Deirdre Faughey

The “biggest-ever” league table?

The latest education report from the OECD ranks 76 countries according to the percentage of the population that lacks basic skills. The report, by Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and Ludger Woessmann of the University of Munich, derives the ranking from the latest test scores from the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for 15-year-olds and the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) for 14-year-olds. In what BBC News called the “biggest-ever education league table,” Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan (again) top the charts. Coming in at number six, Finland is the top-ranking non-Asian country. Our latest scan of education news around the world finds many media reports highlighting the relative ranking of particular countries, but a number mention as well the report’s claims of a connection between improving performance on the tests and economic growth. At the same time, it is worth noting that not everyone agrees there is a straightforward relationship between performance on tests like PISA and TIMMS and economic outcomes. James Heckman and colleagues Tim Kautz, Ron Diris, Bas ter Weel, Lex Borghans, in particular, have emphasized that current tests like PISA and TIMMS “do not adequately capture non-cognitive skills, personality traits, goals, character, motivations, and preferences that are valued in the labour market, in school, and in many other domains.” As they explain in Fostering and measuring skills: Improving cognitive and non-cognitive skills to promote lifetime success and Hard evidence on soft skills, for many outcomes, the predictive power of non-cognitive skills rivals or exceeds that of cognitive skills.

“Global school rankings: Interactive map shows standards of education across the world,” The Independent

“Asian kids race ahead on learning: OECD,” The Australian

Bottom in EU on OECD education league, again,” Cyprus Mail

“New education rankings from the OECD put Finland in sixth position worldwide—the top European country and the first non-Asian country in the list,” yle UUTISET

“Ireland ranks 15th in global league table for maths, science; GDP would be boosted by 2.3 per cent if universal basic skill levels were achieved,” Irish Times

“OECD report links school achievement and economic growth; despite oil wealth, Arab world trails far behind,” Israel Times

“When it comes to education, Singapore is a world-beater,”  The Straights Times

“Turkey ranks 41st in education on OECD report of 76 countries,” Today’s Zambian

UK below Poland and Vietnam in biggest ever international education rankings, TES Connect

“Improving Basic Education Can Boost U.S. Economy by $27 Trillion,” U.S. News & World Report

–Thomas Hatch

Teaching time in the U.S.

In The Mismeasure of Teaching Time, Sam Abrams exposes the myth that teachers in the United States spend nearly twice as much time leading classes as teachers in many other OECD countries. Abrams, Director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, details basic contradictions in the U.S. figures reported by the OECD and repeated by many journalists and scholars. His analysis suggests that U.S. teachers still do spend more time teaching than their counterparts in other OECD countries, but only about 15 percent more. This is still an important difference, but, as Abrams argues, one that has overshadowed more significant differences: in particular, teacher pay and the structure of the school day. Soon after the study was published last week by the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education (CBCSE), we had a chance to ask Abrams when he first noticed the problems with U.S. figures, how he determined what was going on, and what the implications are for educators and the general public (see also recent EdWeek coverage). We share his response below:  

After repeatedly seeing this misinformation about teaching hours in books and articles, I wrote to the OECD in January 2012 to inform them that the U.S. hours were way off and provided as evidence terms of teacher contracts from several major school districts.  I moreover explained that I had been the scheduler of a public high school in New York City for seven years as well as a teacher for many more. The people I contacted at the OECD conceded the U.S. hours appeared inflated and relayed this information to the U.S. representative to the OECD, who, in turn, I was told, stood by the numbers.  I decided at that point to save my argument for a book I was writing on educational privatization.  But as that book was taking longer than expected and as this myth was getting repeated on a regular basis in op-ed pieces, think tank studies, and books, I decided in October of 2014, after compiling more evidence, to address the problem directly with the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), the source of the U.S. figures.

Tom Snyder, the NCES Program Director for Annual Reports and Information, could not have been more helpful. When presented with my case, as I wrote in my study, Snyder undertook with his staff a review of their data and a week later reported that the United States had indeed been inadvertently overstating teaching time. Snyder’s openness and cooperation was a lesson to me that researchers can get a lot more assistance from authorities than I had thought.

I should add that if I had not been a teacher, I would not have been in much of a position to question the data.  This implicitly points to the divide between policy and practice. As a teacher, I had never heard of Education at a Glance and I didn’t read many books about education policy.  I read books about history and economics, as I was a teacher of history and economics, and I struggled to keep up with reading and grading my students’ papers.  It was only after I became a researcher and began to work on my book on educational privatization in 2008 that I started reading a lot of books about education policy.  With my background as a teacher, I could quickly see that some policy analysis, like this argument about teaching time, didn’t hold up.

The salient implication of this finding is that we’ve been tilting at windmills. Teaching time is a phantom problem.  U.S. teachers do teach more than their OECD counterparts but, as I explain in my study, only marginally more.  The real and telling differences between teaching in the United States and other OECD nations concern relative pay and the structure of the school day.  These problems have been obscured by the difference in teaching time because the alleged difference has been so dramatic.  For journalists and scholars, that dramatic difference has been impossible to ignore.  And they’ve understandably focused on it at the expense of these two other real and telling differences.

As I noted in my study, U.S. primary teachers, according to Education at a Glance, earn 67 percent as much as their college classmates while their OECD counterparts earn 85 percent; U.S. lower-secondary teachers earn 68 percent compared to 88 percent for their OECD counterparts; and U.S. upper-secondary teachers earn 70 percent in contrast to 92 percent for their OECD counterparts.  The data on pay appear quite reliable, as I explain in my study, because the method of collecting data on pay differs substantially from the method of collecting data on teaching time.

In absolute terms, U.S. teachers may make as much as their OECD counterparts but not in relative terms, because in other OECD nations, on average, bankers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, and management consultants make much less.  So, this is a social contract issue.  It isn’t so much that U.S. teachers don’t earn much. It’s that their college classmates who went into banking, law, medicine, engineering, and consulting make a lot more.  Teachers accordingly get priced out.  It’s thus hard to attract people to the profession and hard to retain them if they come aboard.  Fixing this problem constitutes a steep challenge.  It would necessitate raising not only teacher pay but also marginal income tax rates as well as tax rates on long-term capital gains.  But we at least need to look at this problem with our eyes wide open.

What’s not hard to fix is the structure of the school day.  In this regard, as I explain in my study, U.S. practice differs significantly from that of many other OECD nations. The architects of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RTTT) wanted to close the achievement gap by identifying academic deficiencies through regular testing and by holding school administrators and teachers accountable for their students’ results. The goal of closing the achievement gap is clearly noble. But the high-stakes testing that defines NCLB and RTTT has had perverse consequences. In particular, it has reduced, as I documented in my study, time for play, art, music, and drama because school administrators have felt great pressure to pack more academic instruction and test prep into the school day in order to boost test results.

School administrators have had little choice.  Test results are ultimately relative.  If school administrators in one district reduce time for play, art, music, and drama to make more time for academic instruction and test prep, then school administrators in neighboring districts are hard pressed not to do the same.  We have a stadium effect.  If spectators in the first row at a basketball game rise to see a big play, then spectators in the next row must do the same. In a heartbeat, everyone in the arena is on their feet. The same holds for test prep and schools.  The result is a narrowed curriculum, intense pressure on students, teachers, and principals alike, and a tight day, lacking the breaks between classes necessary for students, teachers, and principals alike to regroup, reflect, and get some fresh air.

There has long been an assembly-line pace to the school day in the United States, with short breaks between classes and brief lunch periods. Raymond Callahan made that clear more than fifty years ago in his incisive book Education and the Cult of Efficiency, published in 1962. But with the high-stakes testing introduced by NCLB and RTTT, the pace has intensified.

As a coach for several years with the Ice Hockey in Harlem program in Central Park, I’ve come to learn that kids of all ages, from five to seventeen, crave and need play. We can’t get the kids off the ice at the end of practice. Kids need to improvise with their bodies and experience the joy of playing with their peers. At a certain point, as I write in my study, more academic time becomes counterproductive. Leaders of such major companies as SAS and Google, in this light, have understood that more work at the expense of relaxation and recreation likewise becomes counterproductive and have accordingly encouraged their employees to take breaks and designed their offices with relaxation and recreation in mind.

We could fix this, as I explain in my study, by getting rid of high-stakes testing.  We have had the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) since 1969 to test samples of students in fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades.  We need little more than that. If we could move on from high-stakes testing, then our schools would be a lot more like schools in many other OECD nations, and the lives of U.S. teachers would be a lot more manageable.

OECD report on homework

OECD’s recent report “Does Homework Perpetuate Inequities in Education?” has generated a variety of articles in countries like the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Those stories mention the reported range–from 14 hours in Shanghai to 3 hours in Finland–but often focus on how much or how little student in a particular country do in comparison to peers in other countries (or sometimes both). Many also mention the reported links between higher amounts of homework and a slight increase in test scores in mathematics in most countries, though, in the US, higher amounts of homework are linked to a slight decrease in math test scores. Not surprisingly, the results have been interpreted as proving “homework sucks” and as suggesting that homework is a “blessing.”

The news also begins to get into some of the complexities, such as the higher amount of homework that socioeconomically-advantaged students do in comparison to their peers, though barely touching some of the larger issues of the costs and benefits (personally and developmentally not just economically) of having children spend more or less time on homework. This is a tension and an issue across school systems, including China where, as Jiang Xueqin, deputy principal of Tsinghua University High School, describes in his interview with C.M. Rubin: “parents complain to each other that high stakes testing is robbing their children of their childhood, curiosity, and creativity,” at the same time that they are standing in line to enroll their four-year olds in cram schools.

More importantly, perhaps, how much homework children should have can be seen in light of the larger questions about how children (and adults) should spend all of their time. Both students in Finland and in South Korea only spend about 3 hours a week on homework, but what those Finnish and South Korean students do with the rest of the their out-of-school time, however, is dramatically different (as is evident from Amanda Ripley’s Wall Street Journey story last year on a teacher works in South Korea’s tutoring academies “The $4 million dollar teacher”). As Learning in and out of school in diverse environments (a report from the LIFE Center) points out, school occupies a relatively small fraction of the waking hours of people throughout their lifetimes. From that perspective, it’s not simply about whether to have more or less homework, it’s about breaking down the boundaries between what happens “in school” and “out of school” and supporting learning wherever and whenever it takes place.

“Where Teens Have the Most Homework,” The Atlantic

“’Long homework hours’ for UK families,” bbc.news

“Report shows Irish teens among highest for time doing homework,” Irish Examiner

“Six hours a week: Australian students record increased homework hours,” The Sydney Morning Herald

“Shanghai 15-year-olds do the most homework — eight hours a week more than Australians,” News.com.au

“Homework sucks and we have the research to prove it,” mic.com

“Homework: a blessing, not a battleground” (opinion), The Telegraph

“Study: Teens doing less homework,” stuff.co.nz

“Should schools ban homework?” CNNOpinion, Etta Kralovec, author of The end of homework

Learning in and out of school in diverse environmentsfrom the LIFE Center

The broader context of school choice in Sweden

While Swedish education is not in the news nearly as often as it’s higher-performing neighbor, Finland, it only took a mention of school choice to launch a series of articles and blog posts on Sweden in the past few weeks. The original source was an article in Slate by Ray Fisman, provocatively titled “Sweden’s School Choice Disaster.” While few disputed the characterization of the Swedish education system as “in crisis” (with the decline in international test scores as the primary basis), critics, including Andrew Coulson (from the Cato Institute), Tino Sanandaji (from National Review Online), and Coulson again (responding to Sanandaji) were quick to point out flaws in the analysis linking that decline to Sweden’s approach to privatization of public schools and school choice. Those critiques, in particular, point out the problems with connecting in any direct way the effects of a particular policy amidst so many other educational and contextual factors.

Perhaps co-incidentally, the OECD recently released its own report on the Swedish education system – “Shifting responsibilities: 20 years of education devolution in Sweden” – that discusses the larger decentralization agenda that Sweden put in place the 1990’s. Rather than singling out the effects of school choice, that report discusses a number of factors – including the speed with which reforms were pursued, the lack of a systemic vision, and inadequate capacity for local authorities to carry out their new responsibilities – that may have played a role in Sweden’s educational performance.

To get another perspective on the Swedish education system, we talked with Sam Abrams, a research associate at the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College. Abrams, who has written about the different path taken by Finland as well as the intensive use of technology by one for-profit Swedish school operator offering an alternative to conventional instruction, suggested that the problems highlighted in the OECD report derive from an impatience in Sweden for change. Providing a historical perspective, Abrams explained that the Swedes had been ruled by the Social Democratic Party from 1932 to 1976 and again from 1982 to 1991, leading to centralized authority and high taxation along with growing resistance from conservatives desiring laissez-faire policies. “Building on the rise of Margaret Thatcher and the fall of the Berlin Wall,” Abrams said, “the conservatives in Sweden swept to power in 1991 and implemented a host of market-based reforms, including a full-fledged voucher system for schools. Yet the passion for school privatization and choice outpaced practical concerns about maintaining academic standards, developing teachers, and preventing segregation.” Abrams, who is completing a book for Harvard University Press on international education reform, predicted the Swedes would soon rein in privatization and refocus their efforts at school improvement. As he put it, the Swedes have learned that teachers as well as students want choice, but that choice is no panacea.

All in all, while it’s clear that Sweden has pursued school choice and the educational system as a whole has not improved, understanding school choice and its effects in Sweden needs to take into account the historical, political, geographic, economic and cultural factors that influence the development of the education system and its outcomes. Even for countries like Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Sweden, which to outsiders may seem so similar, taken together these factors can generate remarkably different stories of educational development.

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

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

OECD measures financial literacy of students around the world

The OECD released the results of an exam that aimed to assess the financial literacy of students in Australia, Belgium (Flemish Community), Shanghai-China, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Israel, Italy, Latvia, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain and the United States. As we have done with other OECD test results, we conducted a search of international news reports on the results of this exam by country. Note that aside from the deluge of results from US media sources, Australia and New Zealand were two countries that reported extensively on the results  – with the Australian headlines distinctly contradictory. In general, much of the reporting focused on the fact that the majority of teenagers in the world don’t know enough about financial issues. The OECD noted that, similar to results on other OECD tests, student performance tends to fall along class lines, with “more socio-economically advantaged students scor[ing] much higher than less-advantaged students on average across participating OECD countries and economies.”

We also spoke with Anand Marri, Vice president and Head of Economic Education at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and Associate Professor at Teachers College Columbia University, about the results. He pointed out that the financial literacy of students likely reflects the financial literacy of teachers as well as other adults. Without a concerted effort to enable teachers to develop their financial literacy and to make financial literacy an explicit part of the curriculum, we should not expect many students to develop financial skills on their own. Yet in the United States, only 15 out of 50 states have graduation requirements related to personal literacy and the vast majority of social studies teachers have not taken more than one economics course. He also noted, as the OECD report pointed out, that financial literacy is highly correlated with performance in math and reading, but that it would be particularly interesting to know more about the teaching of financial literacy and the preparation of those who teach financial literacy in countries that score higher in financial literacy than their math and reading performance would predict (like Australia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, the Flemish Community of Belgium and New Zealand).

Australia 

Aus students lack financial literacy skills: OECD (www.ifa.com.au)

Disadvantaged youth have poor financial literacy – study (www.probonoaustralia.com.au)

Australian students get top marks for financial literacy (www.financialstandard.com.au)

Aussie teens show financial smarts (www.dailytelegraph.com.au)

Columbia

Columbian students last place Pisa financial literacy exam (www.colombiareports.co)

Central Eurpoe, Baltic countries:

Central European, Baltic Teens Score Well in OECD Financial Test (http://blogs.wsj.com)

Czech Republich

Czech teenagers rank sixth in international financial literacy survey (http://radio.cz/en)

Israel

Israeli teens get a failing grade for financial literacy (www.haaretz.com)

Italy

Italian teens can’t handle money: Report (www.thelocal.it)

Shanghai – China

Students in Shanghai score highest for financial literacy (Irish Times)  

Spain

Spanish 15-year-olds lack financial literacy proficiency (www.globalpost.com)

US

American Students score below average in financial literacy (www.forbes.com)

American teenagers outranked by Chinese in money smarts (www.cnn.com)

US Students fail to make the grade on financial literacy (www.time.com)

New Zealand  

Financial literacy depends on wealth (www.stuff.co.nz)

Pisa results shed the spotlight on financial literacy levels (http://www.scoop.co.nz)

Kiwi teens 5th best at managing money (www.3news.co.nz)

UK

Is the UK falling behind? OECD results underscore the importance of financial literacy for future growth (http://www.economicvoice.com)