INTERNATIONAL LESSONS FROM SUCCESSFUL EDUCATION SYSTEMS
Wednesdays 1:00 – 4:00 pm
A-317 COURSE DESCRIPTION
The performance of education systems has become a common indicator of success or failure of nations’ prosperity. Educational performance has both economic and social importance when countries are seeking more ecological sustainability and inclusive economic growth. Rates of economic growth are often associated with common human capital measures, such as level of educational attainment, economic efficiency of education, or test scores in international student assessments. In addition to these indicators, some countries aim at enhanced equality, better social mobility, or broader civic engagement through targeted investments in young people and their education.
International benchmarking of education systems is a rather recent phenomenon. The growing popularity of educational indicators in the 1990s (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), United Nations (UN) and World Bank (WB) data) and international student assessments in the 2000s (especially OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment or PISA) provided governments and media more comprehensive and comparable tools to compare educational performance in different parts of the world. These international student assessments have become the most significant pretext for national policy development and education reforms throughout the world.
Global benchmarking of education systems created a group of countries or jurisdictions where educational performance has exceeded that of other countries as measured by standardized student assessments. These are often called high-performing education systems. High educational performance, however, has varying meanings from one situation to another. South Korea, Japan, Canada (or some of its provinces), Singapore and Finland have been identified as the most successful education systems because of their high scores in international student assessments, system-wide educational equity and relatively high participation rates in education. International development organizations, such as the World Bank and regional Development Banks, and private corporations, such as McKinsey and Pearson, frequently rely on these high-performing education systems as sources of ‘best practices’ in their policy advice and business operations.
This course will take a closer critical look at what constitutes high performance in education in international contexts and how transferrable the factors are that have made some education systems successful. Basic questions are: What should a successful education system look like? How are high performing education systems similar? Can these success factors be transferred to other systems, and if so, under what conditions? What are the practical rules of good international policy analysis and advice? What have we learned about international comparisons and tests like PISA?
There are three primary elements in this course. The first part of the course explores the concept of high performance at the level of the education system. This includes an analysis of the education policies and reforms of some of the current high performing systems (such as Finland, Singapore and Canada), a study of the global education reform movement (GERM) that has emerged as a result of international benchmarking and policy exchange, and a critical review of international student assessments and surveys (PISA, TIMSS, PIRLS, TALIS) and their use and misuse in policy development and national education reforms.
The second part of the course is an experiential exercise of policy advice and intervention design. Through real case studies of education reform projects students will study the process of how to use lessons from high performing education systems in situations where national education policies and reforms need to be guided by wise international practices. These include strategies and implemented interventions of international development organizations, such as the OECD and the World Bank. Students will prepare a plan for one selected country and present it in a simulated situation of expert advisory or technical assistance.
The third part of this course culminates in a synthesis of the two other parts described above. It discusses technical and ethical aspects of transferability of education reform ideas from high performing education systems to other contexts. It also identifies some of the key areas of expertise – both knowledge and skills – that are required in international educational change work from various aspects and situations.
Overall goal of this course is to help students to understand concepts, principles and limitations of international education policy exchange, and to develop practical skills related to policy analysis and designing education reforms.
All participants of this course will:
- Explore the characteristics of high-performing education systems and compare and contrast the differences between successful education systems around the world.
- Learn to think deeply and critically about international education benchmarking, international student assessments like the OECD PISA, the opportunities and limitations of transporting policy ideas between systems, and the main principles of policy borrowing and lending to develop education systems around the world.
- Learn to distinguish evidence-based facts from myths in international education policy and reform.
- Develop knowledge, skills and attitudes that are needed in policy analysis and advisory including writing, negotiation, communicating using social media and inquiry.
METHODS OF STUDY
This course will combine different methods of study depending on the learning objectives and topics covered. In addition to individual and group reading, in-class discussions, and experiential activities, students will engage in a review of policy analysis and practices in one or more educational policy settings. The cross cutting method of teaching in this course consists of various models of small group learning that are employed in all three parts of the course.
Successful performance in this course will be based in part on given reading assignments. In each class one of the assigned texts will be randomly chosen to be discussed in more detail in small groups first and then with whole class. The readings will be selected for their diverse nature relevant to the theme of the course ranging from typical scientific writings and analytical papers to more practice focused policy assessments, op-eds, blogs, and project documents. Exercises and role-plays during the course require thorough and critical reading of assigned texts. It is advisable for students to be able to access the readings in print or electronically during each class. Familiarity with all the material will be presumed for every student. Social media (Twitter) is one learning tool and object of study during this course and therefore highly recommended for all.
The purpose of this teaching approach is to advance understanding about the course content but also to foster a range of learning and thinking skills in relation to educational change issues. These include confidence, accuracy, and appropriateness in the use of analytical language; ability to take a critical and independent stance in relation to educational communication and writing; ability to evaluate competing practical and theoretical orientations; ability to evaluate conflicting evidence; ability to assess the strength or weakness of fit between evidence from high-performing school systems and practical application of some of their lessons in other settings.
This course requires that students:
- Attend and participate in class meetings and planned activities.
- Complete weekly readings to be properly prepared for each class.
- Complete four assignments:
– Response to an article, editorial or op-ed (about 300 words)
– Op-ed on the role of international education benchmarking, international student assessments, or other relevant topic (about 500 words)
– Small group role play or simulation on the lessons from high-performing school jurisdiction to a selected education system (includes a written description of the role play)
– Final paper that consists of a personal refection of transferability of education reform ideas from high-performing education systems from theoretical, practical and ethical perspectives (1500 words)
REQUIRED COURSE BOOKS
Hargreaves, A. & Shirley, D. (2012). The Global Fourth Way. The Quest for Educational Excellence. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.
Malone, H. (Ed.) (2013). Leading Educational Change. Global Issues, Challenges, and Lessons on Whole-system Change. New York: Teachers College Press.
Sahlberg, P. (2011). Finnish Lessons. What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland. New York: Teachers College Press.
Tucker, M. (Ed.). (2011). Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World’s Leading Systems. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Watch course introduction here
Link to HGSE website here