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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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    Cited by:

    1. Rossi,Federico, 2018. "Human Capital and Macro-Economic Development : A Review of the Evidence," Policy Research Working Paper Series 8650, The World Bank.
    2. Ludger Woessmann, 2018. "Central exit exams improve student outcomes," IZA World of Labor, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA), pages 419-419, January.
    3. 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.
    4. Crafts, Nicholas, 2017. "The Postwar British Productivity Failure," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 1142, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    5. Uri Gneezy & John A. List & Jeffrey A. Livingston & Xiangdong Qin & Sally Sadoff & Yang Xu, 2019. "Measuring Success in Education: The Role of Effort on the Test Itself," American Economic Review: Insights, American Economic Association, vol. 1(3), pages 291-308, December.
    6. Motegi, Hiroyuki & Oikawa, Masato, 2019. "The effect of instructional quality on student achievement: Evidence from Japan," Japan and the World Economy, Elsevier, vol. 52(C).
    7. Aymo Brunetti & Konstantin Buechel & Martina Jakob & Ben Jann & Christoph Kuehnhanss & Daniel Steffen, 2020. "Teacher Content Knowledge in Developing Countries: Evidence from a Math Assessment in El Salvador," Diskussionsschriften dp2005, Universitaet Bern, Departement Volkswirtschaft.
    8. Cacault, Maria Paula & Hildebrand, Christian & Laurent-Lucchetti, Jérémy & Pellizzari, Michele, 2019. "Distance Learning in Higher Education: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment," CEPR Discussion Papers 13666, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    9. Muñoz, Juan Sebastián, 2018. "The economics behind the math gender gap: Colombian evidence on the role of sample selection," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 135(C), pages 368-391.
    10. Alison Cathles & Dongshu Ou & Simone Sasso & Mary Setrana & Tom van Veen, 2018. "Where Do You Come from, where Do You Go? Assessing Skills Gaps and Labour Market Outcomes of Young Adults with Different Immigration Backgrounds," CESifo Working Paper Series 7157, CESifo.
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    13. Maurício Benegas & Márcio Veras Corrêa, 2020. "Educational supply policies: distortions and labor market performance," Journal of Economics, Springer, vol. 129(3), pages 203-239, April.
    14. Корешникова Ю. Н. & Захаров А. Б. & Дудырев Ф. Ф., 2018. "Различия В Общем Образовании В Колледжах И Старших Классах Школ: Характеристики Педагогов И Практики Преподавания. На Примере Математики," Вопросы образования // Educational Studies, НИУ ВШЭ, issue 2, pages 228-253.
    15. Natalie Obergruber, 2018. "Mikroökonometrische Analyse der individuellen und institutionellen Determinanten von Bildung und Berufswahl," ifo Beiträge zur Wirtschaftsforschung, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, number 80, April.

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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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