Center on International Education Benchmarking

Governance and Accountability

The following policy briefs are based on NCEE’s research into the practices of the world’s top-performing education systems as articulated in NCEE’s The Design of High-Performing Education Systems.

Governance | Examples from Top Performers

Building Block 9: Institute a governance system that has the authority and legitimacy to develop coherent, powerful policies and is capable of implementing them at scale.

Governance is about who is in charge and how decisions get made. Education systems cannot function effectively without clear, coherent and aligned governance systems. Most high performing education systems with high and internationally competitive levels of student performance and high levels of equity at reasonable cost have an institution comparable to a Ministry of Education (either at the state or national level). The Ministry sets measurable goals and timelines, structures education policy initiatives to meet those goals, and allocates responsibility for meeting targets. The government is expected to report periodically on progress towards the goals.

The Ministry is understood to have authority, accountability and legitimacy for policymaking and management functions. There is clarity about the roles and responsibilities of the various actors and levels, with the system intentionally designed so that the various functions align and support one another. While one agency may not oversee all functions—such as curriculum and assessment; educator preparation, licensing, and professional development; financing; and more—the components are designed to work as a system, with different organizations having clearly defined roles, and coordinating agencies serving to facilitate collaboration between them.

Examples from Top-Performing Countries

Singapore has one of the most coherent systems of educational governance in the world. Because education is viewed as a key strategy for driving the country’s economy, the Ministry of Education takes great care to synchronize policies and practices so that they reinforce and support one another, creating a powerful and highly effective system of governance. The Ministry oversees education from kindergarten through higher education, allocating funding, setting course syllabi and examinations, overseeing teacher credentialing, and managing human resources in schools. Therefore, because the Ministry controls all aspects of policy within the system, it is very clear that it is then accountable for the outcomes of the system. Regular reviews and appraisals of the various levels of the system are conducted to identify any non-performing parts of the system.  The government also structures national conversations about major reforms to collect input and build public support and knowledge of education goals and initiatives.

Canada, by contrast, has a more decentralized system at the national level with no federal ministry for education. Instead, provinces are responsible for education, typically collaborating across agencies on policy development. Provincial ministries will partner with teachers and teacher organizations to implement plans for reforms.  In Ontario, for example, the Ministry of Education sets standards and administers provincial tests, develops curriculum, distributes funding, and determines major education policies and initiatives for kindergarten through secondary school.  The College of Ontario Teachers, governed by both teachers appointed by the Ministry and teachers elected by their peers, oversees teacher education and credentialing.  The Ministry of Advanced Education and Skill Development sets policy for higher education and post-secondary training.  Reforms are generally jointly developed by the three groups, in partnership with the major teachers’ unions.  The Council of Ministers of Education in Canada also sets broad national goals and brings the provinces together to exchange ideas and benchmark one another’s performance when formulating major policy decisions.