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Why did the Bush Institute develop the Global Report Card? The main reason is to facilitate appropriate comparisons of student achievement. State test results provide a lot of information about schools, but they may also encourage misleading comparisons. Those results readily show the level of student achievement in schools within a state relative to other schools in that state. But whether schools have higher results than other schools in their state is of only limited usefulness. A wealthy, suburban school district might be performing at higher levels than the nearby large, urban district, but making that comparison doesn’t tell us very much. A more meaningful comparison is to see how districts are doing relative to students across the globe against whom students are likely to be competing for opportunities.
By placing student performance in all schools on the same scale, the Global Report Card allows parents, policymakers, and educators to make broader comparisons – seeing how students perform in each school system relative to any other school system in the United States, and even relative to students in other developed countries. We suspect that many people will be surprised to discover that some affluent school districts look much worse when compared to students across the country and across the globe than when they were just compared against less advantaged school systems within their state.
A secondary, but still very important, purpose of the Global Report Card is to develop a tool that researchers can use in analyses of student achievement. Some people thought we needed to wait until we had a common system of national assessments in all schools before researchers could conduct rigorous, national examinations of student achievement at the individual school or district level. The Global Report Card allows researchers to conduct those analyses now, which might reveal a host of insights that previously less fine-grained and less comprehensive analyses may have missed.
Last month a group of researchers, led by Harvard’s Raj Chetty, used the Global Report Card to examine why income mobility is much higher in some places within the United States than in others. The results, released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, show that higher quality school systems are associated with much higher levels of income mobility. That is, if we want to improve equality of opportunity in this country, we really need to work on improving the quality of education. Better schools are key to helping people rise out of difficult circumstances and earn higher incomes than their parents.
These results not only affirm the importance of education reform efforts, they also affirm the credibility of the Global Report Card. The fact that the Global Report Card’s results are associated with an important outcome like income mobility helps establish that our method is producing valid results. In addition, the fact that a highly successful researcher, like Raj Chetty, is using the Global Report Card for his analyses is another nice confirmation of our measure’s credibility. Chetty is one of the youngest economists ever granted tenure at Harvard and is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Award. Chetty also won the 2013 John Bates Clark Medal, which is given to the best young economist and often predicts who will later win a Nobel Prize in economics. If someone like Chetty finds the Global Report Card to be a useful tool for research, it probably is.
We are working on another update of the Global Report Card that will bring the results all the way down to the individual school level. Previous versions could not be more fine-grained than reporting results at the school district level. With this more detailed information, we hope parents, policymakers, educators, and researchers will find the Global Report Card to be even more useful.
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