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The Importance of School Systems: Evidence from International Differences in Student Achievement

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  • Ludger Woessmann

Abstract

Students in some countries do far better on international achievement tests than students in other countries. Is this all due to differences in what students bring with them to school--socioeconomic background, cultural factors, and the like? Or do school systems make a difference? This essay argues that differences in features of countries' school systems, and in particular their institutional structures, account for a substantial part of the cross-country variation in student achievement. It first documents the size and cross-test consistency of international differences in student achievement. Next, it uses the framework of an education production function to provide descriptive analysis of the extent to which different factors of the school system, as well as factors beyond the school system, account for cross-country achievement differences. Finally, it covers research that goes beyond descriptive associations by addressing leading concerns of bias in cross-country analysis. The available evidence suggests that differences in expenditures and class size play a limited role in explaining cross-country achievement differences, but that differences in teacher quality and instruction time do matter. This suggests that what matters is not so much the amount of inputs that school systems are endowed with, but rather how they use them. Correspondingly, international differences in institutional structures of school systems such as external exams, school autonomy, private competition, and tracking have been found to be important sources of international differences in student achievement.

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  • Ludger Woessmann, 2016. "The Importance of School Systems: Evidence from International Differences in Student Achievement," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 30(3), pages 3-32, Summer.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:30:y:2016:i:3:p:3-32
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.30.3.3
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    1. repec:iza:izawol:journl:y:2018:n:419 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Bastian Ravesteijn & Hans van Kippersluis & Mauricio Avendano & Pekka Martikainen & Hannu Vessari & Eddy van Doorslaer, 2017. "The Impact of Later Tracking on Mortality by Parental Income in Finland," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 17-030/V, Tinbergen Institute.
    3. Crafts, Nicholas, 2017. "The Postwar British Productivity Failure," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 1142, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    4. Uri Gneezy & John List & Jeffrey Livingston & Xiangdong Qin & Sally Sadoff & Yang Xu, 2017. "Measuring success in education: the role of effort on the test itself," Framed Field Experiments 00614, The Field Experiments Website.
    5. Cathles, Alison & Ritzen, Jo, 2017. "Money Counts, but So Does Timing: Public Investment and Adult Competencies," IZA Discussion Papers 10565, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

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    JEL classification:

    • H52 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Education
    • H75 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Government: Health, Education, and Welfare
    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • I28 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Government Policy
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration

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