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Educational Effectiveness: Basis of the USA System


How can one measure if an education being served is effective or not? The answer is very simple. Having students who have and are still learning successfully is one of the great measures of the effectiveness of an educational system, however students’ successful learning, of whatever age and on wherever the place, is highly dependent on the educators and the learning styles and approaches being used on them as part of the educational system. There are many various aspects of the educational system – the teachers, the educational environment such as the society, the tools and or equipment used for educating, and of course the students or the learners themselves. All these aspects should go hand in hand in establishing an effective educational system.

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But there is also one new yet already proven method of assessing the effectiveness of the educational system, and this is through international comparison. Comparisons of various schools’ students’ learning across countries are already being done 50 years ago. And recently, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) realized that this will be a good method of analyzing the level of efficacy of the educational system of the major schools around the world (DESTYA 2005).

Initially, IEA thought of comparing the educational system of the schools so as have clear and unbiased comparative data about the schools’ educational performances. Thus, all levels in an educational system, the teachers, the school administrators, the policymakers and even the educational facilities are being assessed and compared. As time goes by, IEA realized that comparing the educations’ effectiveness of schools around the world can also give tremendous benefits to schools being compared and even to students and teachers themselves (DESTYA 2005).

Objectives of the Study

This paper is aimed at analyzing and understanding the method and purpose of internationally comparing the effectiveness of various educational institutions. Specifically, this paper is aimed at (1) identifying the various means and ways of international comparisons of educational effectiveness; (2) evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of such comparison to the students, teachers and school administrators; (3) assessing the impact of doing the international comparison to the society and the country itself; (4) categorizing the strengths and weaknesses of cross-cultural comparisons in mediating educational theory and practice; and lastly (5) identifying all the possible issues related to cross0country comparison of educational effectiveness.

Significance of the Study

The series of tests or exams for the students, the demo and several teacher valuations are known to be the proven ways of knowing if the students are learning or not or if the teachers are capable of teaching or not. But, the efficacy and efficiency of education per country as a whole cannot be assessed by those two methods. Thus, understanding and analyzing all the concepts and issues behind cross-country comparison of educational effectiveness is a good approach to appreciating education.

The results of this paper can provide unlimited benefits to the students, teachers and the schools. They will be provided with ample information regarding the cross-country comparison and make them decide whether they should be allowed to be internationally compared.

At the same time, this paper offers opportunities to other and/or future researchers of this topic. This can be a good starting point for them on which to focus and where to gather the information.

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Teachers are an important factor in students’ learning. Because of this, it is indeed a very important attribute for every teacher to know, not only the basics of teaching, not only the knowledge or information they are to provide with their students but also the very process of effective teaching so as to maintain effective and efficient learning endeavor for the students. It is also greatly recommended for the educators to maintain not only adequate knowledge towards the subject matter but also adept teaching skills which would help his/her students motivate for a good learning experience. The approach of teachers in dealing with the learners should address four major aspects which include: (1) Predisposition towards learning; (2) the ways in which a body of knowledge can be structured so that it can be most readily grasped by the learner; (3) the most effective sequences in which to present material, and lastly (4) the nature and pacing of rewards and punishments. Good methods for structuring knowledge should result in simplifying, generating new propositions, and increasing the manipulation of information (Bruner, 1966, p35).

To be an effective educator, it is not enough that a teacher knows how to teach the subject, but also a teacher must learn to keep and maintain the power of enhancing the students’ ability and skills through motivation. And as a teacher, he must know how to deal with all kinds of students. He must be well aware of how to be objective in his/her treatment keeping up with his ultimate goal, which is to teach and help develop the students in any way possible.

Another factor that will add up to a successful establishment of effective education is the use of good and effective instructional designs. Berger and Kam gave a very clear and concise definition of instructional design plus the three concepts attached to it. According to the Instructional Design is the systematic development of instructional specifications using learning and instructional theory to ensure the quality of instruction. It is the entire process of analysis of learning needs and goals and the development of a delivery system to meet those needs. It includes the development of instructional materials and activities and tryout and evaluation of all instruction and learner activities (Berger and Kam, 1996).

As stated above, instructional design is attached to three different concepts: instructional design as a Discipline, as a Science and as a System.

Instructional Design as a Discipline – Because instructional design is that branch of knowledge concerned with research and theory about instructional strategies and the process for developing and implementing those strategies (Berger and Kam, 1996).

Instructional Design as a Science – Because it is considered a science of creating detailed specifications for the development, implementation, evaluation, and maintenance of situations that facilitate the learning of both large and small units of the subject matter at all levels of complexity (Berger and Kam, 1996).

Instructional Design System – An instructional design system is the arrangement of resources and procedures to promote learning. Instructional design is the systematic process of developing instructional systems and instructional development is the process of implementing the system or plan (Berger and Kam, 1996).

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One learner is totally different from the other learner – that is what the educators should always put in mind. Hence, she/he must always take into consideration the various personalities, upbringing and most especially cultural background of each and every learner.

There are different barriers to a successful instructional design, especially pertaining to the students/learners. Some of these include cultural and cross-cultural diversity (students coming from different continents and/or countries, and even societies), language barrier (student to student and teacher to student), availability of resources (such as financial) and level of interest towards the subject matter

These are just some of the major reasons why instructional designs turned to be a failure because the specific educator also fails to consider the above-stated factors. Cultural and cross-cultural consideration is probably the most important concern, and should not be taken for granted. Also, the level of interest could be another factor that is attached to cultural and cross-cultural consideration. It is because if the topic or the instructional design set by the educator is unknown or not related to the country where the student came from, he may find it totally less interesting, hence a failure of the instructional design.

Yes, a lot of technologically advanced means of teaching may always be developed and introduced to every learning institution. But this does not mean that educators need not work on their instructional designs anymore. It is a primary concern of every educator to maintain an effective instructional design, and that is what should always be.

Moreover, the cultural and cross-cultural issues attached to the instructional design can always be prevented if the educator knows how to maintain a highly effective and interesting instructional design process. Hence, it is strongly recommended that with whatever medium of instruction – may it be online or electronic education or classroom-based instruction – the traditional instructional design process is maintained. It is only through this design where the educator can evaluate if he/she was able to teach successfully his/her students and was able to address various concerns, especially on cross-cultural differences.

Lastly, the use of different visual aids, and/or instructional materials greatly affects the learners’ interests to learn. A good educational system should provide appropriate teaching materials and equipment, and a place conducive to learning so as to augment the students’ concentration to enjoy and continue learning. The visual aids and other teaching equipment vary, of course, to the age of the learners.

Indeed, an educational institution can always ensure that the school offers all the above-stated factors to the students. But there is one thing being missed out here: how can one educational institution ensure that the school – the teachers, the educational materials or aids – are up to date and at par with the other schools around the world?

Review of Related Literature

The International Perspective

Policymakers and educators see the need for international comparisons of the education system to evaluate if the national system of education is performing very well. This, they thought, is a way of education to answer the call of the emerging global economy (“International Education Indicators”, 2006).

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International comparisons focus on the educators’ policy issues, people’s access to education and availability and equality of resources parallel to the quality of school outputs. Policymakers are given benchmarks or sets of an objective basis for the proper evaluation of the systems’ performances, and also for the specific identification of potential strategies that will help augment students’ achievements and system outputs (“International Education Indicators”, 2006).

The indicators of education are the compilation of data sources that offers a wide array of information on the current state of education internationally. These are intended to give a better glimpse of the U.S. education system as compared to systems in countries around the world (“International Education Indicators”, 2006).

Some of the most common indicators are the comparison between the United States and other industrialized nations with large economies – especially those countries who serve as a major competitor of the US in terms of economic growth such as the Group of Eight (G8) countries namely Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States (“International Education Indicators”, 2006).

US’s educational system has been used as the basis of comparison all through the years because it is common knowledge that the US is one of the most powerful and highly industrialized countries around the world. The country’s economy is very stable thereby producing high caliber systems, education included.

Methods of Comparison

Nowadays, more and more countries have been participating in this international comparison of educational effectiveness. The three most important school subjects being assessed are Mathematics, Science and English. This does not mean that all other subjects are not equally important as these three, but this is done just to have commonality between nations. There are schools that use a different approach to teaching other subjects, but these three major subjects always have standards and each school from a different country is always aligned with the other schools, internationally.

From 1995 to 2003, the list of participating countries includes (Gonzales, et. al., 2003 p 11):

International comparison from 1995 to 2003.
Figure 1. International comparison from 1995 to 2003.

Results of the recent study revealed that there are three Asian countries that have outperformed the US fourth-graders in Science and Mathematics subjects, namely Taipei, Japan and Singapore. While all other countries performed lower than the US students (including those English-speaking countries such as (Australia, New Zealand, and Scotland) (Gonzales,, 2003, p 11).

The same survey disclosed that the standing of six countries in the Science and Mathematics subjects greatly improved. These countries are Cyprus, England, Hong Kong SAR, Latvia-Lss, New Zealand and Slovenia. While some students in Norway showed a significant decline in performance (Gonzales,, 2003, p 13).

For the year 2003, US students showed improvements in their performance in Mathematics and science subjects. But the US is not alone in this aspect. Other neighboring countries such as Hong Kong SAR, Israel, Korea, Latvia-LSS, Lithuania and the Philippines also showed great signs of improvements. While students in other nine countries declined in their mathematics and science performance in 2003 compared to either 1999 or 1995 (Gonzales,, 2003, p 12).

US students from the public school (where the poverty level is at the maximum) had lower average scores performance in Mathematics and Science as compared to their counterparts in public schools with lower poverty levels (Gonzales,, 2003, p 12).

The result of this study is not meant to create competition among schools nor to show which country’s educational system is better and which is not. International comparison of educational effectiveness is a good way of assessing the country’s educational system per se. Thus, if a certain country is found to be performing very low in some subjects, then it will have the opportunity to improve its own system. Educators and policymakers of such countries will then try to review what their current system is and what should be done to augment the system. In the same manner, those countries which will prove to be performing very well on their educational system, then the policymakers and educators of such countries will realize that they just need to continue what they have been doing or find more updated ways related to their current system so as to further improve their education.

Some Issues on Cross-Country Comparison

Cross-country comparison of educational effectiveness is being done for several decades now. But there is one minor issue that other countries and citizens are so concerned about. This pertains to the availability of large and small scale experimental studies resulting in a ‘pre-arranged experimental design and having controlled or randomized variables’. Because of this, policymakers and educators, policymakers just rely on the difference existing between the education systems of the various countries. Simply put, the differences between the education systems and the structure of the governance of education of each and every country make international educational comparisons very difficult (Schleicher, 1994.) Hence, how can the schools and students be assured that the results of the comparison study are credible and unbiased?

Moreover, even if the data gathered will be proven to be accurate and adequate they may still be not comparable to the extent of international level because of some great differences in the system of education such as the variation in national definitions and classifications (Schleicher, 1994).

Another point of concern is the fact that each country’s educational system cannot be held to a fixed position. This then will result in difficulty in ensuring the strength of comparisons with which the framework of the education systems and policy priorities change over time (Schleicher, 1994).

However, international researchers are doing their best effort to address the issue. They have come up with the decision that the best possible approach to solve this problem is by having and sticking to the common international denominator as objects of comparison (Schleicher, 1994).

Another approach is by establishing easily quantifiable criteria for the comparison. Like for example, in evaluating the education accomplishments, which can be done by assessing only students that share common characteristics, such as a particular age bracket (Schleicher, 1994).

Addressing this issue all boils down to taking into account the different trade-offs between comparability, coverage, uniformity, complexity, and other attributes of educational comparisons (Schleicher, 1994).

Critical Analysis

International comparison of educational effectiveness is a means of checking or assessing how well the education system of participating countries is performing. The said education system includes the teachers, the students, and the school/ education environment as a whole.

The results of such cross-country comparison is hoped to be of big help to all the participating countries. One of the highlighted advantages of such international comparison is the provision of further improvements in the educational system. Any country that would be found out to have declining performance in the education system will know which and where their system is doing wrong thus, giving a chance to be improved.

An issue on the credibility of data gathered has been raised but this was gradually solved by having specific standards for comparison and using objects of comparison which are common to all schools internationally. This then means that the recent comparative studies conducted are objective, credible and unbiased.


International comparison on educational effectiveness is a very helpful tool for the educational system across all nations. This comparative study has been initiated a long time ago and is proven to be very effective in augmenting the educational system of all participating countries until now.

With this, it is strongly recommended that all schools participate in such cross-country comparisons. Moreover, a further study regarding the participating and non-participating countries is also recommended. It may be good to know what prompted those participating countries to join this comparative study and identify what have been the impacts of the results to the school, the teachers and the students. In the same manner, it may also be good to know why those non-participating countries opted not to join the cross-country comparison.

Works Cited

Barro, S. 1994, ‘Expenditure Comparability: The Problem of Measuring Retirement Expenditures for Education Personnel’. Technical note presented at the meeting of the OECD/INES Technical Group. Paris.

Berger, Carl & Kam, Rosalind. 1996,. ‘Definitions of Instructional Design.’

Bruner, J. (1996). The Culture of Education, Harvard University Press Cambridge, MA.

DEST 2005, “Schooling Issues Digest 2004/2 – International comparisons of school science learning”. Department of Education, Science and Training. Commonwealth of Australia.

Glaser, Robert, 2004, ‘Robert Glaser: Contribution to Instructional Design’.

Gonzales, Patrick (2003). “Highlights From the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2003”. Education Statistics Quarterly. Vol 6, Issue 4,

Schleicher, Andreas. 1994, “Comparability Issues in International Educational Comparisons”.

Sundgren, B. 1994, ‘Statistical Meta-Data and Metainformation Systems’, Working paper No. 15 on the Conference of European Statisticians, Statistical Commission and Economic Commission for Europe, Geneva 22-25.

UNESCO, 1976, ‘International Standard Classification of Education’, Paris: UNESCO.

n.a. 2006, “International Education Indicators”.

n.a. 2006, “School Effectiveness”.

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