“Learning is not a place, it’s an activity.” This is my favorite quote from a TEDTalk by Andreas Schleicher titled “Use data to build better schools.” Schleicher is the Deputy Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

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This talk was about PISA, the OECD’s program for international assessment of 15-year-old students around the world. PISA studies education investments and outcomes and conducts international comparisons. The latest PISA assessment (2009) measured 74 school systems that covered 87% of the economy. The study measures skills directly, not whether students can reproduce what they learned in school. It “measures whether students are prepared for change,” Schleicher said.

This is a video worth watching for several reasons:

  • Great data storytelling. Schleicher used data to tell the story of how countries compare on education metrics and what the trends look like over time. He shared findings on spending per student, how countries spend their money (e.g., hours of schooling and teacher compensation), and value for the money. He augmented the data charts with specific examples that brought the story to life. For example, 9 out of 10 students in Japan believe that excellence in math is a result of their own investment and effort. In contrast, students in North America believe that to be good at math you have to be born a genius.
  • The transformational power of data. To be clear, it’s not the data alone that’s valuable; it’s the sum of the collection, analysis, and communication of the data. Schleicher gave an example of this power in Germany. In 2000, Germany’s scores on the PISA were low compared to other countries. This was a shock to many. For months the public debate centered on education. Policy makers got involved, the federal government increased its investment in education, and the beliefs people held about education began to change. Nine years later, Germany’s scores improved significantly.
  • It’s about one of the most important issues facing humanity. In case you don’t get a chance to watch the video, I’ll share with you some of the characteristics that high-performing school systems share, according to PISA. They place a high value on education. They believe all children are capable of success. (As examples, today every young Korean finishes high school. And in Finland there is only a 5% performance variation across education systems in that country; there, success is systemic.) And they invest in educators. They are careful how they select, recruit, and train teachers, and how they structure teacher pay. They provide an environment for teachers to collaborate, focus on growth pathways for teachers, and provide room for teachers and principals to be inventive.

Find this article and TEDTalk interesting? Check out the related blog post, “QlikView Is Playing a Part in Education Reform,” about how FirstLine Schools is using analytics to measure student and school performance and success and lighten the burden on administrators.