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

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  • Woessmann, Ludger

    (University of Munich)

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Woessmann, Ludger, 2016. "The Importance of School Systems: Evidence from International Differences in Student Achievement," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 300, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
  • Handle: RePEc:cge:wacage:300
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    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.
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    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.
    7. Crafts, Nicholas, 2017. "The Postwar British Productivity Failure," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 350, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
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    10. 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.
    11. 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.
    12. Ludger Woessmann, 2018. "Central exit exams improve student outcomes," IZA World of Labor, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA), pages 419-419, January.
    13. Contini, Dalit & Cugnata, Federica, 2020. "Does Early Tracking Affect Learning Inequalities? Revisiting Difference-in-difference Modeling Strategies with International Assessments," Department of Economics and Statistics Cognetti de Martiis. Working Papers 202018, University of Turin.
    14. Cacault, M. Paula & Hildebrand, Christian & Laurent-Lucchetti, Jérémy & Pellizzari, Michele, 2019. "Distance Learning in Higher Education: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment," IZA Discussion Papers 12298, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    15. 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.
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    18. 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.
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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; H52; L38; J24; D02;

    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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