The (always interesting) Seattle Public Schools blog points to an Economist article from last year about a large McKinsey world-wide study, "How the world's best-performing schools come out on top". When you systematically compare successful versus unsuccessful school systems, which policies work and which don't?
Here's the executive summary:
The experiences of these top school systems suggests that three things matter most: 1) getting the right people to become teachers, 2) developing them into effective instructors and, 3) ensuring that the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction for every child.
Things that don't matter:
- School funding (best schools often have the lowest funding, most well-funded schools are often the worst)
- Class size (in fact, lower class sizes can hurt a school if it results in lower teacher quality)
- Testing (this is neutral -- sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn't)
Look at the (mostly anonymous) comments on the Seattle blog and get a sense for why I'm glad to be in the Mercer Island school district instead of Seattle. Many of those commenting seem more interested in ensuring employment for existing teachers than in looking their problems straight in the eye and fixing them. No wonder even die-hard supporters of Seattle-style politics have to flee when their kids leave elementary school.