29 octubre 2007

How to be top

Oct 18th 2007
From The Economist print edition

THE British government, says Sir Michael Barber, once an adviser to the former prime minister, Tony Blair, has changed pretty much every aspect of education policy in England and Wales, often more than once. (....) The only thing that hasn't changed has been the outcome. According to the National Foundation for Education Research, there had been (until recently) no measurable improvement in the standards of literacy and numeracy in primary schools for 50 years.

England and Wales are not alone. Australia has almost tripled education spending per student since 1970. No improvement. American spending has almost doubled since 1980 and class sizes are the lowest ever. Again, nothing. No matter what you do, it seems, standards refuse to budge. To misquote Woody Allen, those who can't do, teach; those who can't teach, run the schools.

(..) the best performing countries do much better than the worst and, second, that the same countries head such league tables again and again: Canada, Finland, Japan, Singapore, South Korea.

Those findings raise what ought to be a fruitful question: what do the successful lot have in common? Yet the answer to that has proved surprisingly elusive. Not more money. Singapore spends less per student than most. Nor more study time. Finnish students begin school later, and study fewer hours, than in other rich countries.

(...) policy recommendations based on the PISA findings. Schools, it says, need to do three things:

  • get the best teachers;
  • get the best out of teachers;
  • and step in when pupils start to lag behind. (..)

Begin with hiring the best. There is no question that, as one South Korean official put it, “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.” Studies in Tennessee and Dallas have shown that, if you take pupils of average ability and give them to teachers deemed in the top fifth of the profession, they end up in the top 10% of student performers; if you give them to teachers from the bottom fifth, they end up at the bottom. The quality of teachers affects student performance more than anything else.


Asian values or good policy?

McKinsey argues that the best performing education systems nevertheless manage to attract the best. In Finland all new teachers must have a master's degree. South Korea recruits primary-school teachers from the top 5% of graduates, Singapore and Hong Kong from the top 30%.

They do this in a surprising way. You might think that schools should offer as much money as possible, seek to attract a large pool of applicants into teacher training and then pick the best. Not so, says McKinsey. If money were so important, then countries with the highest teacher salaries—Germany, Spain and Switzerland—would presumably be among the best. They aren't. In practice, the top performers pay no more than average salaries.


.Scratch a teacher or an administrator (or a parent), and you often hear that it is impossible to get the best teachers without paying big salaries; that teachers in, say, Singapore have high status because of Confucian values; or that Asian pupils are well behaved and attentive for cultural reasons. McKinsey's conclusions seem more optimistic: getting good teachers depends on how you select and train them; teaching can become a career choice for top graduates without paying a fortune; and that, with the right policies, schools and pupils are not doomed to lag behind.


Especialmente interesante eso de que los profesores españoles son de lo mejor pagados en el mundo... sobre todo para esos que dan clase de inglés y no saben como decir 1.700 -esto último literal- Así nos va.

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