Monday, 4 July 2011

How the world's most improved school systems keep getting better

 By Mona Mourshed, Chinezi Chijioke, and Michael Barber

Mona Mourshed
Mona Mourshed

How does a school system with poor performance become good? And how does one with good performance become excellent? 
 Click this link to read the full Report

The fundamental challenge school system leaders face is how to shepherd their system through a journey to higher student outcomes. This journey is all the more complex because system starting points are different, contextual realities vary, and system leaders face multiple choices and combinations of what to do along the way—a single misplaced step can result in system leaders inadvertently taking a path that cannot get them to their desired destination. While there is no single path to improving school system performance, the experiences of all the 20 improving school systems we studied show that strong commonalities exist in the nature of their journeys. This report outlines the aspects of these journeys that are universal, those that are context-specific, and how the two interact. We hope these experiences benefit school systems around the world in navigating their own path to improvement.

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.
Executive Summary
Country Summary

If you liked this report then you might like reading more from McKinsey Social Sector on issues including education and employment.

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