Doing Comparative Education: Three Decades of Collaboration
International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement Study
The IAE project was the first attempt to methodically compare school achievement levels internationally. The idea was launched in the late 1950's, a pilot study was conducted in 1962, and the results from the first study in 12 countries were published in 1967 (mathematics). The project went on to survey six additional school subjects: science, literature, reading comprehension, English and French as foreign languages, and civic education. In total, the surveys involved 21 nations, and gathered information about students' home and school backgrounds through questionnaires.
Why do we do comparative studies? To learn from foreign examples, and to provide yardsticks to measure ourselves with.
"The variety of educational practices and their outcomes in the many nations of the world may be regarded as a series of natural experiments created by different political, social, and economic circumstances. Comparative study investigates their meanings and seeks to relate them to persistent problems in understanding education.”
In this case, the overarching question was: "What factors best explain differences in student achievement?"
Three units of analysis: individual students, schools and countries. Later, they also added the National Case Studies, which were intended to look more qualitatively at national school systems.
Theoretical and practical relevance:
Findings: Confirmed much of what was known or suspected, factors such as home background (most influential), school characteristics, features of national educational system - but relative significance of individual factors and groups of variables was found to vary considerably among different countries, age levels, and subjects of study. Opportunity to learn - time devoted to teaching and studying a specific subject made a big difference. Within broad limits, the developed nations do mostly the same, and get mostly the same results.
Difficulties: Achievement is very hard to measure, especially across nations - problems of equivalence and comparability, different national objectives and practices, verbal and conceptual ambiguities. With linear multiple regression and cross-sectional approach it is hard to prove causality.
Many possible reasons for disappointing result. For example, that we didn't include enough factors. That factors interact in complex fashions, not simply additive.