The Economist explains,

For starters, McKinsey [& Company] says, throwing money at education does not seem to do much good, at least in those countries that already send all their young people to school (see chart). America, for example, increased its spending on schools by 21% between 2000 and 2007, while Britain pumped in 37% more funds. Yet in this period, according to PISA, standards in both countries slipped.

Many school systems that were not showered with extra funds did much better. Schools in the state of Saxony, in Germany, in Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Poland have all raised their games. Even poor countries such as Chile and Ghana have made progress.

What separates the big spenders from the improvers, McKinsey found, is the awareness that different types of school system respond to radically different types of reform. In countries where schools mainly seek to teach pupils to read, write and grasp some basic maths, centralisation seems to work. All teachers should be directed to teach the same lessons from the same textbooks.

Once the school system can teach to basic standards, it should pay more attention to collecting detailed data on examination results. This serves not just to make schools accountable, but helps to identify the best teaching methods.

Countries where schools have already attained a higher standard should become pickier in choosing teachers. Another study by McKinsey in 2007 concluded that making teaching a high-status profession was what boosted standards. For instance, schools could recruit teachers from among the best university graduates, an idea that was part of a series of measures published in England on November 24th.

At the very top of the global educational league table?where only a handful of countries or systems within them manage to attain really high standards?decentralisation is the name of the game. The authorities hand control over to teachers, most of whom are highly educated and motivated, so they can learn from each other and follow the best practices. When it comes to getting the very best grades, it seems that teacher still knows best.

Let’s review: 1) teach basic skills well; 2) learn from test results; 3) maintain high standards; 4) raise teacher quality; and 5) decentralize the system.