Archives for category: International

For years, I used to see this graffiti in the New York City subways and on random walls: “Question authority.”


This is the message from Yong Zhao, who was born and educated in China and now is a professor at the University of Oregon.


In this post, EduShyster interviews Zhao about his new book, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and the Worst) Education System.


She questions his views about testing, PISA, and the future of education reform.


Yong Zhao is refreshingly candid. He thinks America became a great nation because it did not put too much emphasis on standardized testing.


Standardized testing, he argues, is synonymous with authoritarianism. It kills the creativity, the divergent thinking, the skeptical mindset that is necessary for entrepreneurialism and innovation.


He says it is not too late to change, not too late to escape “the witch that cannot be killed.”

As a nation, we worry far too much about PISA scores, which rank and rate students according to standardized tests. Many nations have higher average scores than we do, yet we are the most powerful nation on earth–economically, technologically, and militarily. What do the PISA scores mean? In his new book, “Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and the Worst) Education in the World,” Yong Zhao says that the East Asian nations have the top scores because they do heavy-duty test prep. One thing is clear: the PISA scores do not predict the future of our economy. They never have. Our students have never had high scores on international tests, not since the first international test of math was administered in 1964, and our seniors scored last among 12 nations. We went on over the half-century since then to outcompete the other 11 nations with higher test scores.

Let’s look at some other international measures, those that reflect the well-being of children. According to a UNICEF survey (, we lead the industrialized nations of the world in child poverty. (Actually, UNICEF finds that Romania has even higher child poverty than we do, but anyone who has been to that nation would not rank the mighty, rich, and powerful U.S. in the same league with Romania, still struggling to overcome 50 years of Communist misrule and impoverishment). When it comes to child poverty, we are number 1.

While we obsess over test scores, we ignore other important indicators, for example, the proportion of children who are enrolled in a quality preschool program. The Economist magazine published an international survey of 45 nations, in relation to quality and availability, and the United States ranked 24th, tied with the United Arab Emirates. The Nordic countries led the survey with near universal high-quality preschool.

Another number reflects our government’s failure to invest in what works. The March of Dimes in partnership with other organizations conducted an international survey of the availability of good prenatal care programs for pregnant women. Preterm births are the leading cause of death among newborns; it is also a significant cause of cognitive and developmental disabilities. Of 184 nations surveyed, we ranked 131, tied with Thailand, Turkey, and Somalia.This problem could easily be solved by just a few of our billionaire philanthropists.

So what do you think matters most? The test scores of 15-year-old students or the health and well-being of our young children? Might there be a connection?

Standardized tests are an accurate predictor of family income and education. Reduce poverty, and scores will rise. Scores on the SAT college admission test, for example, mirror students’ family background. Students from the poorest families score the lowest, and students from the richest families score the highest. The gap between those at the bottom and those at the top is 400 points. As one Wall Street Journal blogger put it, the SAT might just as well be known as the Student Affluence Test.

Our policymakers’ obsession with test scores is unhealthy and counter-productive. They think the way to raise scores is to make the standards and curriculum harder and test more. Today, little children are taking 8 or 9 hours of tests, and as the standards grow “harder,” the failure rate goes higher. We are the most over-tested nation in the world, and the benefits accrue to testing corporations like Pearson and McGraw-Hill, not to children. The tests themselves are a dubious measure. There are better ways to know whether children are learning than standardized tests. Why else would our elites send their children to schools that seldom use them? What’s good enough for the children of Bill Gates and Barack Obama should be good enough for other people’s children.

We should stop obsessing about test scores and start obsessing about the health and well-being of children and their families. The gains would be far more valuable than a few points on a standardized test. That is the only way we will assure children a good start in life and a fair chance to succeed in our society.

This is a newsletter from Australia, written by Phil Cullen in a blog called The Treehorn Express.

Treehorn Express

Facts About Australian Schooling

Schooling in Australia is a state responsibility. Each state, however, relies on the distribution of money collected from its citizens by the commonwealth government, which then places conditions on the way the money must be spent by the states. It is a strange relationship. Because this arrangement locates exceptional power in the centre, the federal minister for education assumes full responsibility for all levels of schooling; and this allows the incumbent political party to determine aspects of schooling, some of which might be at odds with a state’s notions. :”There has been concern at the political level over the intrusion of the Commonwealth government and Commonwealth agencies into the field of education, traditionally and constitutionally a State responsibility. Some of these enterprises appeared to have a philosophical basis different from that underlying State activities in education” [M.J.Ahern Q, Hansard 04-04-78] . Such differences depend a great deal on the federal minister’s view of schooling. Few state ministers ever disagree and things runs smoothest when both governments share the same political ideology. The federal minister possesses enormous personal power and is allowed to indulge his or her will – from the sublime to the ridiculous – without reference. No state has reclaimed its right to supervise the curriculum requirements of schooling since the drastic changes to schooling in Australia in 2008, for instance; so the federal minster can do as he or she likes e.g introduce a high stakes testing regime or call for a curriculum review or whatever is part of a personal fancy. The state ministers have yet to test the limits of their own power over schooling in their own state.

SCHOOLS Children can attend a public state school for twelve years, free of charge. If they have rich or frugal parents, they can attend a private school at high cost. There is little difference, if any, in quality.
School years operate according to the calendar year, and promotion is year by year from Year 1 to Year 12.
Most children sit still in classrooms for twelve years or more. In some schools, the children must all face the same way for most of each school day. This benefits the sermonising teaching tactics required to practise for the annual testing program.

AGE Children can start school at age five, even though they need not do so. Many prefer to wait for sound reasons. In some states they may attend when as young as four and a half. Laws of compulsory education differ in each state, so the age of admission differs and causes disruption to people who change states, but there is little interest in stabilizing national ages of schooling,

TESTING & CURRICULUM The present-day written curriculum is over-burdensome. It’s huge. Any additions would be insane. Despite its extent, only certain aspects of literacy and numeracy need be taught. These are tested each year – Years 3,5,,7,9 – using a cold heatless format – in May. Results are available some months later, but there are moves to provide the tests quicker, more often, electronically. This testucating ideology is aimed at bringing each child up to the exact same standard on the exact same day….nothing more, nothing less. The tests have little relevance to the intellectual development of children, but they are handy for descriptive purposes by those who know only a little bit about classroom practices and nothing about the effects of testing on child development.

Since most schools are not trusted to describe a pupil’s suitability for his or her career opportunities or have its own evaluation and reporting program, intense testing is also undertaken towards the end of Year 12. A certificate is issued to school graduates, purporting to describe the level of competency in school subjects undertaken; and employers interpret them as best they can. If employers wish to know about the more essential qualities required, they have to make their own arrangements.

SYLLABUS LEVELS A curriculum usually refers to the learning entitlements of children when they attend school. A syllabus details requirements for pupils to reach curriculum goals. Australia has three levels of syllabus requirements according to the prevailing schooling ideology. The tri-level system introduced to Australia in 2008 distinguishes the requirements: 1. Testable aspects of literacy and numeracy are high level. Schools need only teach these, to be regarded as a ‘good’ school. Nothing else needs to be taught. 2. Mid-level interest can be taken in science, history, geography, social studies according to the level of pressure by people in authority. 3. Music and Art and similar airy-fairy subjects don’t count very much. They take time from test preparation. They command some attention on special occasions; and the results are usually spectacular.

‘STUDENTS’ Children at school are described as ‘students’, because the term has no relationship to schooling per se. It’s a safe description. It infers that children at school don’t have to be taught. They study. More serious authorities [e.g. Britain] describe all school attenders as ‘pupils’, using the O.E.D. meaning that suggests learning at a school involves the use of teachers. Although pupilling involves a teaching/learning contract between two people, Australia prefers the United States descriptor of ‘student’ because it follows the U.S. in all things as blindly as possible; especially schooling arrangements. The word doesn’t mean anything special.

PRIVATE or PUBLIC There are differing opinions as to quality of offerings. Australia has joined the U.S. in the press for the privatisation of schooling despite the high quality education by public schools. A private school can be a very profitable business and Australia’s ruling governments in recent times have been controlled by the neoliberalist philosophy of privatisation. People tend to believe that private and systemic schools are better, despite the results from various scrutinies. Many see NAPLAN tests as an admission ticket to the ‘best’ private or select school. Indeed some such schools, whose notions of pupilling is limited, ‘brand’ their intakes for streaming purposes using test scores. The brands last forever. But………

Nice people go to private schools. Some public schools contain a lot of foreigners, some of whom are Muslims.

HOME SCHOOLING is permitted, albeit grudgingly. A worthy alternative to institutionalised forms of instruction, it is becoming very popular with parents who are able to do so and who enjoy sharing their children’s educational development within a family setting. Such parents disapprove of test-driven forms of schooling, threatening their children’s welfare. Some use reliable diagnostic tests as required when required. While little state assistance is offered to these home-based forms of pupilling in a pure form, local coteries of home schoolers in various localities share teaching experiences, learning enterprises and shared evaluation techniques.


1.The printing and sale of Practice Tests and associated texts is now in the multi-million dollar range. Schools prescribe them even though their popularity is a reflection on the profession; and parents use them extensively at home or on holidays. 2. The rise in the number of ‘back-yard mechanics’ aka tutoring shops that concentrate on NAPLAN tests, has been quite staggering. A quick google will indicate the extent. Costs range from $20 to $50 per hour. 3. The use of pharmaceutical supplements to enhance performance is not disallowed nor discouraged by education authorities. While the rugby league and Australian football authorities have taken this matter seriously, no warnings or cautions have ever been provided to the public by educational jurisdictions. Neither has the extent of the use nor the side effects of such usage been researched extensively. Medical assistance for those children who are in distress, vomit and become emotionally ill or cannot sleep during the preparation period is, of course on the increase as part and parcel of the testing industry. Sadly, it would appear that child health and social welfare is at a low level of interest to the various state authorities while testing resides within..

MAJOR CONTEMPORARY ISSUES The dramatic changes to schooling in 2008, when these testing devices were introduced to control the curriculum, have caused wide rifts in professional conversations. The gulf between what is now called the ‘testucation’ community and the ‘education’ one is wide. As with most macabre political issues, the gap will slowly close. and this repulsive use of Standardised Blanket Testing to mould children according to a one-size-fits-all pattern. using tactics that run counter to all the sacred beliefs of caring for kids, should disappear. Its disappearance needs encouragement.

The belittlement of teachers has never been been so high. The blame for the muck-up in the 2014 NAPLAN writing test was said to be theirs. Their over-zealous practising disposed the testucating hierarchy to try to ‘catch’ them by requiring a most peculiar response to a weird question…..and their attempts rebounded.
Small wonder there is a heavy resignation rate. Those who continue to teach in the face of extreme unethical behaviour are surely amongst the greatest of all times; producing such quality all-round products in the face of the requirements of test tyrants and muddled, muffled political deviants.

That’s Australian schooling…… girt by political unscrupulousness in a sea of arrested intellectual development. It’s been so for six years now. Time to stop the rot. The damage has been too costly for our future.

OUR FUTURE Our present schooling system is clearly a product of our obsession with all things American. Australia seems to be compelled to copy quasi-educational. unsubstantiated Yank gimmickry that usually ends up in disaster. High-stakes testing, charter schools, performance pay, core curriculum, common core syllabuses and serious judgements made on unreliable testing procedures are features of this American/Australian system. Australian classroom-experienced teachers have the capacity to design a system, uninfluenced and unsupervised by the testing fraternity, that will establish a high-level learning culture based on love of learning, instead of on a fear of it. Encouragement to learn can easily replace the fear-of-failure syndrome now dominating our classrooms. Our future depends of the freedom to learn. It needs to be released from bondage before any progress can be made.
Phil Cullen [ support of a fair-dinkum, no-nonsense,kid-oriented Australia] 41 Cominan Avenue, Banora Point Australia 2486 07 554 6443


Reformers like to tell us that they are in a hurry. They want everything reformed now, or yesterday. They can’t wait. They can’t even wait to find out if their reforms make any sense. Their motto might as well be, “Don’t just stand there, reform something.”


But Andy Hargreaves explains here why the hurry up approach doesn’t work. Hargreaves is one of our most sensible thinkers about education. He is now advising the Ontario minister for education.


Ontario, he writes, has tried to learn from the mistakes of others. It has aimed for slow and steady improvement, not overnight transformation by forced march of teachers, administrators, and students.


It paced the change agenda so that achievement gains would be steady and sustainable rather than spectacular but unstable. It also provided a stronger spirit and much higher levels of support than in England in terms of resources, training, partnership with the teacher unions and an emphasis on school-to-school assistance.
Ontario’s literacy gains of 2-3 percent or so every year seemed both steady and cumulatively substantial and sustainable. But even its more advanced strategy had its limitations. The literacy gains were not matched by similar gains in math over the whole reform period, and in the past four years, math results have actually fallen. In practice, reformers now acknowledge, the numeracy strategy was not nearly so intensive as the literacy strategy. What is the lesson to be learned? In practice, even Ontario, with all its change knowledge, couldn’t implement wholesale changes in literacy and numeracy together, so one half of the strategy fell by the wayside by default.


Hargreaves concludes that it is better to sequence reform plans, not do everything at once in a crash course.


It is better still to know that the reform plans make sense, which ours in the U.S. do not.

Laura H. Chapman is a frequent contributor to the blog and a curriculum consultant in the arts.

Shortly after releasing the Standards with much publicity about international benchmarking, the CCSSO helped to fund a study that shows the Standards are not, in fact, closely aligned with the standards of nations that score higher on international tests.
In mathematics, for example, the nations with the highest test scores—Finland, Japan, and Singapore—devote about 75% of instruction to “perform procedures” compared to the CCSS emphasis at about 38%.

These same nations give almost no attention to “solve non-routine problems” compared to the CCSS.

In ELA, countries that score at the highest level also have patterns of emphasis in different grade spans that differ substantially from the CCSS, with a greater emphasis overall on “perform procedures” than in the CCSS.

The big surprise is that a significant part of “perform procedures” in mathematics and ELA is following directions and completing highly conventional assignments, free of elaborated analysis and generalization.

In other words, compliance with the conventions of schooling has a strong association with higher test scores. Wowzie. Who would have guessed that learning to follow directions mattered so much?

Note also that the former president of the American Educational Research Association, Andrew Porter, was among others who did this study and made the connection of the CCSS to the “new US intended curriculum. See: Porter, A.; McMaken ,J.; Hwang, J. ; & Yang, R. (2011). Common core standards: The new U.S. intended curriculum. Educational Researcher, 40(3). 103-116. DOI: 10.3102/0013189X11405038

A report from the OECD, which sponsors the international assessment PISA, finds that competition among schools for students (“choice”) is not associated with higher math scores but is associated with higher levels of social segregation.

“PISA results…show that, on average across countries, school competition is not related to better mathematics performance among students. In systems where almost all 15-year-olds attend schools that compete for enrollment, average performance is similar to that in systems where school competition is the exception.

“What this means is that school choice may actually spoil some of the intended benefits of competition, such as greater innovation in education and a better match between students’ needs and interests and what schools offer, by reinforcing social inequities at the same time.”

In the U.S., school choice began as an integral part of the opposition to court-ordered desegregation. The word “choice” was a code word for segregation. Southern politicians were all for choice because it would allow white students to “escape” to white schools, leaving black students in all-black schools. Today, charter schools are more segregated than district schools, even in districts that have high levels of segregation, according to the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. today, the media celebrates all-black schools if they get high test scores. Charters have become a way of enabling renewed segregation.

Which is the most powerful player behind the scenes in corporate reform?

This article says, without doubt, McKinsey.

Where did David Coleman, architect of the Common Core standards, get his start: McKinsey.

Which firm pushes the narrative of a “crisis in education”: McKinsey.

Which firm believes that Big Data will solve all problems? McKinsey.

Look behind the screen, behind the curtain: McKinsey.

“Tony Little, headmaster of Eton, says that the U.K.’s testing system is unimaginative and misleading.

“England’s “unimaginative” exam system is little changed from Victorian times and fails to prepare young people for modern working life, Eton’s headmaster has said.

“Tony Little said there was a risk that “misleading” test scores may become more important than education itself, and warned against a narrow focus on topping rankings.

“There is a great deal more to an effective and good education than jostling for position in a league table,” Little wrote in a Viewpoint article for the Radio Times.

“He said England’s attempts to copy the highly academic schooling offered in areas of the far east such as Shanghai was ironic, since schools there were now looking at the value of giving children a more rounded education.

“Here is the irony; we seem intent on creating the same straitjacket the Chinese are trying to wriggle out of,” he wrote. “We should be wary of emulating Shanghai just as they themselves see some value in the liberal values of an all-round education – something we have traditionally been good at.”

“Shanghai is rated the top education system in the OECD’s Pisa tests (Programme for International Student Assessment), which compare the performance of children in 65 countries.

“English children’s comparatively poor performance in the rankings was cited by Michael Gove, the former education secretary, as justification for introducing more traditional exams, academies and free schools. Liz Truss, a former education minister, visited to Shanghai to learn the secrets of its success…..

“But Little said England’s exam system was outdated. “[The exam system] obliges students to sit alone at their desks in preparation for a world in which, for much of the time, they will need to work collaboratively.”

“Little, who is due to retire next year, gave his support to a Lancashire primary school that found itself in the spotlight after a letter telling pupils them not to worry about their test results went viral.”

This is the most absurd “report” yet. This organization says that the U.S. does not have an “efficient” school system. Finland has the most efficient school system. What can we do to become more efficient? Cut teachers’ salaries and increase class size.

Funny, when I visited Finland in 2011, I saw many classes, none larger than 16. Teachers’ pay is equivalent to U.S. pay.

“The Efficiency Index –which education systems deliver the best value for money? was released today.

US ranks nineteenth out of thirty countries in new ranking of education system efficiency

Released 19.01 EDT Thursday September 4 2014

The US ranks in the bottom half of a new international comparison of the efficiency of education systems across OECD countries – lower than Japan, Korea and many northern European countries.

The Efficiency Index –which education systems deliver the best value for money?, commissioned by GEMS Education Solutions, is the first comprehensive international analysis that looks at how efficiently education budgets are allocated in each country.

It ranks 30 OECD countries based on their expenditure on teacher costs, which account for 80 per cent of education budgets, and the pupil outcomes they achieve. In this way, it calculates which system generates the greatest educational return for each dollar invested.

The report is written by Professor Peter Dolton, Professor of Economics at Sussex University and a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics; Dr Oscar Marcenaro Gutie�rrez, Associate Professor at the University of Ma�laga; and Adam Still, Education Finance and Development Specialist at GEMS Education Solutions.

The index ranks Finland as the most efficient country in the OECD. According to the index’s econometric model, which calculates the proven statistical link between teacher salaries or class size and PISA scores, the US could match Finland high PISA’s results and still make efficiency savings by increasing class sizes and making a modest cut in teacher salaries. It finds that these results could be achieved even if the US was to increase its pupil/teacher ratio by 10 per cent.

Alternatively, if it were more efficient, the US could match Finland’s PISA results and still reduce teacher salaries by 4.7 per cent from the US average teacher salary of $41,460 to $39,520. The index argues that the US should consider addressing both teacher salary and class sizes to improve its education efficiency. As the largest country in the OECD, its overall education spend is five times that of any other country in the study and its teacher salaries are comparatively high.

The report stops short of advocating particular changes to salaries or class size in each country. It makes clear that there may be labour market, cultural, economic or political reasons why this ‘maximum’ efficiency is not possible without negative consequences. The authors have not examined the practical impact of such changes in each country. However, by showing how far countries fall short of the OECD’s most efficient system, the index provides an instructive point of comparison when Governments are allocating budgets.

The report groups the countries according to their efficiency:

1. Elite Performers: Finland, Japan and Korea score very well in both the efficiency and quality stakes.

2. Efficient and Effective: Australia, Czech Republic, New Zealand and Slovenia are all performing relatively well on efficiency and producing high PISA scores.

3. More Effective than Efficient: Overspending (too high salaries) or bloated (too many teachers): Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland. These countries perform better in terms of quality than efficiency. This may be because their system generates other outcomes that aren’t captured by PISA rankings. Alternatively, it may be because their systems are over-resourced beyond the threshold required to achieve high educational outcomes.

4. More Efficient than Effective: Underspending or underperforming: Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Norway, Sweden, UK and USA. These countries are more efficient than educationally effective. This could be because they have resource constraints that prevent them from improving quality such as low salaries may prevent the recruitment of highly skilled teachers. Alternatively, if extensive resources are already being spent, it could that the education system is flawed – and that policy changes, rather than additional resources, would improve education outcomes.

5. Inefficient and Ineffective: Brazil, Chile, Greece, Indonesia, Turkey These systems are inefficient and at the same time fail to produce good pupil outcomes.

The report finds that changes to teacher salary and pupil teacher ratio can improve efficiency because, out of 63 different inputs into the education system – from teaching materials to infrastructure – these were the only two that had a statistically significant impact on pupils’ PISA scores.

This is a powerful insight for policy makers since, unlike a child’s socio-economic background, parental support, or a child’s aspirations, governments have the policy levers to change both teacher salary and class sizes.

The report acknowledges that some countries, such as Switzerland and Germany, which both spend lavishly on their education system and achieve good results, may choose to pursue policies in which educational efficiency is not their priority. For instance, they may feel that PISA does not capture all the student outcomes that their system is aiming for.

Together, the 30 OECD countries in the study spent $2.2 trillion dollars on their education systems each year, and the average proportion of GDP that countries spend on education has been rising for decades. In an environment where state education budgets are likely to continue to be stretched and face competition from other spending priorities, the Efficiency Index sheds light on the effectiveness of the spending choices that policy-makers are currently making.


Over the last 15 years Finland’s education system has been the most efficient in the OECD. Other high performers include Korea, Japan and Hungary and the Czech Republic. In contrast, Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy exhibit low efficiency.

Excellent outcomes are still possible with relatively large class sizes – despite a focus on reducing class-sizes in many western education systems. Finland and Korea, the two countries studied with the most efficient education systems, achieve good results, have relatively large class sizes – the 3rd and 5th largest of the OECD countries – and pay teachers moderate wages.

The US is in the bottom third of the efficiency index. As the biggest OECD country, it has an overall education spend five times higher than any other country in the study and pays very high teachers salaries.

Countries can be inefficient if they both underpay or overpay teachers. Some countries such as Indonesia and Brazil are inefficient because their low teachers pay makes it hard to recruit and retain high-calibre individuals into the profession. Modest extra expenditure would result in significantly better educational outcomes. Equally, higher salaries given to teachers who are already achieving excellence, such as those paid in Switzerland and Germany, may fail to increase performance and therefore harm efficiency.

In general those countries that demonstrate high efficiency also attain high educational outcomes. Five out of the top ten countries in the Efficiency Index are also in the PISA top ten.

Chris Kirk, Chief Executive, GEMS Education Solutions:

“GEMS Education Solutions commissioned the efficiency index to inform the debate about which items of educational expenditure are likely to make the greatest impact on the attainment of children.

It allows us to see which systems around the world produce the best results per pound, providing a data driven analysis that can inform policy choices. It clearly shows that some countries spend their available resources more efficiently than others.

“At a time at which many countries are struggling with tight public budgets. It also sends an important message to poorer countries that significant educational improvement is possible even with limited investment.”

Marc Tucker writes that we test students more than any of the high-performing nations in the world.

Here is a graph that demonstrates the differences.

Tucker proposed a new accountability system for the U.S. that puts us more in line with common practice.

Here are his key points:

“The ideas outlined by Marc Tucker in Fixing Our National Accountability System signify a departure from conventional thinking on the issue of accountability. Rather than focus on punishing teachers for the results of a system that others designed, the core components of this report rest on three fundamental principles:

1) Testing: Instead of testing all of our students every year with low-quality tests, students would take high-quality accountability tests, covering a full core curriculum, only three times in their school career. In some off years, tests in math and ELA would be administered only to samples of students by computer and would not carry high stakes for teachers or students.

2) Use of Data: Data from these tests would be used to identify schools that might be in trouble, and to deploy a team of expert educators to assist in resolving the issues with the help of districts and/or states. This data would be available to the general public but it would not include a rank or grade.

3) Policies for Professionals: Enact policies that make it attractive for our nation’s strongest teachers and principals to work in the most at-risk schools – these very same policies would also make teaching an attractive career for some of our best high school graduates and transform teaching into a high status profession.”


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