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

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  • Ludger Woessmann

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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 – socio-economic 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," CESifo Working Paper Series 5951, CESifo.
  • Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_5951
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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. Aymo Brunetti & Konstantin Büchel & Martina Jakob & Ben Jann & Christoph Kühnhanss & Daniel Steffen, 2020. "Teacher Content Knowledge in Developing Countries: Evidence from a Math Assessment in El Salvador," University of Bern Social Sciences Working Papers 34, University of Bern, Department of Social Sciences.
    3. Adriana Lleras-Muney & Matthew Miller & Shuyang Sheng & Veronica T. Sovero, 2020. "Party On: The Labor Market Returns to Social Networks and Socializing," NBER Working Papers 27337, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Elert, Niklas & Henrekson, Magnus, 2020. "Innovative Entrepreneurship as a Collaborative Effort: An Institutional Framework," Working Paper Series 1345, Research Institute of Industrial Economics.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
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    Keywords

    student achievement; international comparison; education production function; schools; education; institutions; external exams; autonomy; competition; private schools; tracking; educational expenditure; teachers; instruction time; TIMSS; PISA;

    JEL classification:

    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • H52 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Education
    • L38 - Industrial Organization - - Nonprofit Organizations and Public Enterprise - - - Public Policy
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • D02 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Institutions: Design, Formation, Operations, and Impact

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