How does a school system with poor performance become good? And how does one with good performance become excellent?
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School systems do three types of things to achieve this goal—they change their structure by establishing new institutions or school types, altering school years and levels, or decentralizing system responsibilities; they change their resources by adding more education staff to schools or by increasing system funding; and, they change their processes by modifying curriculum and improving the way that teachers instruct and principals lead. All three of these intervention types—structure, resources, and process—are important along the improvement journey. The public debate, however, often centers on structure and resource due to their stakeholder implications. However, we find that the vast majority of interventions made by the improving systems in our sample are “process” in nature; and, within this area, improving systems generally spend more of their activity on improving how instruction is delivered than on changing the content of what is delivered.
Six interventions occur equally at every performance stage for all systems. Our research suggests that six interventions are common to all performance stages across the entire improvement journey: building the instructional skills of teachers and management skills of principals, assessing students, improving data systems, facilitating improvement through the introduction of policy documents and education laws, revising standards and curriculum, and ensuring an appropriate reward and remuneration structure for teachers and principals. Though these interventions occur at all performance stages, they manifest differently at each stage. Taking the example of teacher training, for instance: while Armenia (on the journey from fair to good) relied on centrally-driven, cascaded teacher training programs, Singapore (on the journey from good to great) allowed teachers flexibility in selecting the topics that were most relevant to their development needs.
"Systems with similar education spending have widely varying levels of performance.... A few rays of hope penetrate this bleak landscape."
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