The secrets of successful schools have nothing to do with money. Some of the best schools around the world are in poor communities and poor countries. Findings from international research show that a school’s ability to teach its students well doesn’t depend on how much money is spent. Nor does a school’s success depend on the socioeconomic status of the students’ families or communities.
Every three years, 15-year-olds around the world are tested on their knowledge and understanding of reading, mathematics, and science. The findings allow comparisons across countries, with breakdowns available by region, sex, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development coordinates this testing via the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA. PISA test scores are ranked by province or state, as well as by country, in each of three content areas (reading, mathematics, science).
The United States has not done very well in these tests, especially when their relative prosperity is considered. Canada—which pays its teachers more, but spends less on education as a whole—has done considerably better. Looking at the most recent available PISA scores (2009), the US was 30th out of 62 countries in math (Canada was 9th); 15th in reading (Canada was 4th); and 21st in science (Canada was 7th). Most troubling perhaps for the US, even the advantaged students there do less well than disadvantaged students elsewhere. (The 2012 PISA results will be published in December, 2013.)
According to analyses of the international findings, one of the secrets of successful schools is the establishment of a positive and encouraging learning culture where kids believe they can succeed. Another secret of successful schools is to choose strong teachers—subject-area specialists who are dedicated to, and supported in, continuous improvement. These teachers promote their students’ content mastery, but they also encourage success-oriented habits of mind such as perseverance, hard work, and resilience. Another of the secrets of successful schools is that they nurture links to the students’ parents, and work hard to engage families in school activities and culture.
Recently, America Achieves and the OECD have collaborated to create a way for high schools in the US to compare themselves with other schools elsewhere. This will allow them to measure their progress, with a focus on the continuous improvement that is one of the secrets of successful schools. Starting in the fall of 2013, any high school in America will be able to assess itself against the world’s best schools, measuring how well their students can apply reading, math and science mastery to real world problems: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/03/opinion/friedman-my-little-global-school.html?_r=0
PISA findings are reported in great detail, with excellent executive summaries, as well as breakdowns, analyses, and syntheses. Researchers around the world contribute to the discussion about the findings, using the results to address important questions, such as how to overcome inequities in social background: http://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisaproducts/pisa2009/pisa2009resultsovercomingsocialbackgroundequityinlearningopportunitiesandoutcomesvolumeii.htm