OECD: Innovation Can Improve Learning, Equity, Efficiency and the Economy

“Innovation in the public sector in general, and in education in particular, could be a major driver for significant welfare gains,” says a new report from the OECD, Measuring Innovation in Education.
The OECD report suggests innovation can 1) improve learning outcomes and the quality of education provision, 2) to enhance equity, 3) to improve efficiency and 4) remain relevant to a changing economy.
Here’s the headline conclusion, “Countries with greater levels of innovation see increases in certain educational outcomes, including higher (and improving) 8th grade mathematics performance, more equitable learning outcomes across ability and more satisfied teachers.”
Now for the backstory. The report uses data from 2003-09 so it’s five year old and doesn’t consider the mobile inflection and app revolution we’re living through.
The report confuses improvement (i.e., doing things better) and innovation (i.e., doing things differently) as evidenced by the introduction, “The ability to measure innovation is essential to an improvement strategy in education.
By surveying the public and employees of learning institutions, the methodology attempts to measure viable innovation categories including 1) new products and services, 2) new delivery processes, 3) new ways to organizing activities, and 4) new marketing techniques. But the details don’t always add up.
And now for the punch line: the report scores the U.S. near the bottom of the pack. This strange and dated index puts Hungary, Indonesia, Slovenia, and Russia in the top 10.
Here’s an example of a response that just isn’t credible: 70% of graduates employed in the education sector consider their establishments as highly innovative, on par with the economy average (69%).
During the considered period of 2003-09, innovations in U.S. education included scaling great school networks with the backing of new talent development organizations. Thousands of new high schools targeting low income students were developed. Big city districts made big strides in aligned instructional systems and differentiated school support. Together, they formed the basis for portfolio strategies evident in most urban centers today. The other big innovation of the last decade not evident anywhere else on the planet but not fully considered by this survey was the quite growth in online learning in the U.S. During the considered period, students in most states gained access to full time online learning. Districts began expanding part time access to online classes. Dropout recovery models were developed. Given school improvement, new school development, and new online options grad rates climbed by more than 10 points (66% in 2001 to 81% in 2012).
The ironic thing about the index is that what the U.S. scores high on–what everybody loves to hate–the use of standardized testing. Some of the OSCD conclusions are interesting, some are just off base, they are all pre-revolution.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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