At the most general level, education is a key element of any society and its prosperity and quality of civic life. But improving something, including education, requires a metric. As we know from improvement methodologies such as DMAIC, we must first establish a measure before we can analyze and improve.
One of more interesting sources of research and metrics about education and its outcomes is the Programme for International Student Assessment of PISA, a unit of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. If one were asked to do a Lean Six Sigma project on improving education, I would certainly look into the PISA metric as a possible process Y measurement.
One of the aspects of PISA’s approach is they take care to not infer whether or not the approach and policies of a particular government causes the resulting reading, math, or science student scores. This is quite wise since making this kind of inference risks bringing in all kinds of biases and real or perceived agendas.
That said PISA does conduct an analysis of the characteristics of the countries with the highest student results to try to find similarities and patterns. I have not had a chance to see the whole test, but the sample question shown on a YouTube video was quite illuminating because it shows that the evaluation goes beyond mechanical memorization, but appears to encompass a number of skills simultaneously such as problem solving, reading and reasoning. I’ve included a couple of slides that show one of the reading questions, and one of the math questions. Candidly, I think quite a few adults would struggle with these questions!
A couple of observations from the PISA analysis: in every OECD country (34 nations) girls do much better at reading than boys; their superior performance on this dimension is equivalent to an extra year of schooling; boys do generally better than girls in mathematics; there is little difference between genders in science.
Some of the observations from the PISA research are interesting and perhaps might spark more than a few coffee-room debates. For example, they found that children who came from households where there are no books at home or where the parents are not seen reading are less inclined to read themselves. Another observation is perhaps more obvious to performance improvement professionals such as Black Belts, but it is not the number of teachers that is correlated with results, but the quality of the teachers.
If you’re interested in competency building, training, education I would recommend watching the PISA video.