Survey and Research
Mathematics Scores for 15-Year-Old Students Worldwide
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) focuses on the ability of young people to use their knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges. This reflects a change in the goals and objectives of curricula, which are increas- ingly concerned with what students can do with what they learn at school – and not merely with whether they have mastered specific curricular content. Every three years since 2000, fifteen-year-old students from randomly selected schools around the world take tests in the key subjects—reading, mathematics and science—with a focus on one subject in each year of assessment. The latest set of results from the 2012 data collection focuses on mathematics (see Figure 6 below) and compares the competencies of students in 65 countries and economies. Around 510,000 students between the ages of 15 years 3 months and 16 years 2 months participated in PISA 2012, representing some 28 million 15 year-olds worldwide. .
Formal Education Improves Life Chances
Given the close relationship between education, employment and earnings, young people tend to develop strategies to improve their life chances by investing in education. This is particularly true in times of economic downturn, when young people tend to postpone entry into insecure labour markets and opt to equip themselves with more competitive skills. In 2011, the OECD average for 15-19 year olds enrolled in education was 85 per cent; the proportion of 20-29 year-olds in education climbed from 22 per cent in 2000 to 29 per cent in 2011. The proportion of adults with tertiary-level qualifications rose by more than 10 percentage points between 2000 and 2011, while the share of adults without a secondary education qualification dropped by the same rate. Across OECD countries, 39 per cent of 25-34 year-olds had a tertiary qualification in 2011. 
Figures 7 and 8, below, outline recent OECD findings concerning the provision of tertiary education and the costs associated with this in various countries.
Teacher Rewards Boost Student Performance
In the United States, professors from the Universities of Chicago, Harvard and California authored a study that demonstrated teacher merit pay could have a significant effect on student performance. Chicago Heights had nine schools, ranging from kindergartens to eighth-grade, and a total enrolment of some 3,200 students. One hundred and fifty teachers took part in the scheme, which was supported by the local teachers union. The teachers were randomly assigned to a control group; a group given a bonus at the begin- ning of the year; a group receiving a bonus at the end of the year; and, a group made up of teachers who worked in teams. One group of teachers was given a $4,000 bonus at the beginning of the year, and told it would be reduced by an amount dependent on their students’ performances: the more the students’ standardised scores increased, the more of the bonus their teacher could keep. Another group of teachers was told they would receive a $4,000 bonus if their students improved during the year. The incentives were based on rewarding teachers with $80 for each percentile of increase in their students’ mathematics performance over the district average. They could -with exceptional student performance- receive up to $8,000 under the plan, the equivalent of 16 per cent of the average teacher salary in the district. With the teachers receiving a bonus at the beginning of the year, with conditions attached, the students gained as much as a 10 percentile increase in their scores over students with similar backgrounds. Significantly, there was no such gain for students whose teachers were offered the bonus at the end of the school year. 
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