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Why We Benchmark Internationally

For more than 30 years, NCEE has been researching how high-performing education systems around the world were designed. CIEB organizes that research. We select a set of high-performing systems based on a range of metrics. We compare them to the U.S. and to one another to better understand how they function as systems, the similarities and differences between them, and the tradeoffs they have made. And we explore how they are changing to anticipate the future.

Why look abroad for solutions? Can’t the answers to a high-performing system be found in U.S. states and districts?

The United States is well known for its “peaks of excellence” in its schools: people with great ideas can be found here, as can many practices well worth taking home. But the innovative ideas and the highly effective programs they create rarely affect more than a handful of students. This is because the U.S. has not built an effective system of education.

Systems, Not Interventions

For the past 50 years, American education has desperately tried to solve the problem of declining performance by finding the right set of specific policies, interventions, or programs. But research shows that the deep and persistent inequities in our schools will not be solved by any “silver bullet.”

The most important feature of a high-performing education system is not that it contains any specific silver bullet. It is that the components are aligned and designed to work together as a system. Education systems are not simply collections of independently effective parts and pieces. Effective systems, by definition, are parts and pieces that work in harmony with one another, each one reinforcing and supporting the functioning of the other parts and pieces, and all of them together contributing to the system’s high performance.

An increasing number of jurisdictions around the world have created such systems. They are steadily outperforming the U.S. on a range of measures of excellence, and doing so more equitably than we are and at a more efficient cost. While their student populations do not look exactly the same as the United States’, they enjoy rich diversity and face many of the same socioeconomic disparities that we do. And the evidence suggests that they serve all students more equitably than we do.

CIEB collects those systemic examples and distills them for policymakers and practitioners.

How We Select High-Performing Education Systems to Study

We define high-performing education systems as those that achieve excellence, equity, and efficiency: world-class levels of performance, for every student, at a sustainable cost. These three goals reinforce one another. In order to achieve excellent performance, it is necessary for all students to achieve equitably and for money to be spent well. It is not enough to pursue excellence in isolation from equity or efficiency. Policymakers and practitioners must prioritize all three.

To learn how we select systems to study, visit our Blueprint.

Our International Network

CIEB offers unparalleled research insights into the design of high-performing education systems because we have broad and deep connections with policymakers and practitioners across the globe. Our international advisory board consists of both policymakers who have overseen the design of high-performing systems, as well as the world’s leading thinkers on the future of education and work. We also meet regularly with the Directors-General of some of the world’s best education systems, enjoy a long-standing partnership with leading global institutions like the Organisation for Economic Co-operations and Development, and regularly participate in global forums like the International Summit on the Teaching Profession and the Global Education Leaders Partnership.

Our Expertise

Our staff of researchers, current and former educators, leaders, policy analysts, coaches, consultants, and economists boasts decades of experience in studying, designing, and leading high-performing education systems. We have deep relationships with educators, researchers, policymakers, and leaders globally and have led and supported some of the world’s foremost studies on the policies and practices of high-performing systems. We travel to high-performing systems to study their history; visit their schools; and interview teachers, principals, students, parents, policymakers, and people outside the system to understand their unique context. And we regularly write articles, speak at conferences, and consult with education leaders to share our experience and insights.