NCSL Forms International Study Group Aimed at Improving Education


NCSL NewsLegislator and Staff Group Studying Top-Performing Countries

Denver—State legislators play an integral role in improving education and they consistently strive to learn more about how to advance high student achievement in the United States.

But state legislators are also very aware that despite decades of reform, the United States does poorly on education achievement when compared to other countries. The National Conference of State Legislatures has undertaken an in-depth look at the education reform agendas and strategies of other countries to explore potential systematic ways education can be improved in the United States.

NCSL appointed a bipartisan study group of 28 legislators and six legislative staff members who have expertise, experience and interest in this topic. The study group held its first meeting in early September 2014 and a second meeting in December. The group has been studying with some of the top national and international experts, conducting research to better understand strategies and circumstances of the top performing countries, and discussing general themes emerging that can be important for states. The study group is working closely with Marc Tucker and staff at the National Center on Education and the Economy in this effort.

During this study, state legislators and legislative staff will identify strategies that have worked in other countries and that have the potential to also work in the states. Study group members recently returned from a two-week trip to China. During visits to Beijing and Shanghai, the group toured schools and met with scholars and Chinese officials to learn about education policy and initiatives in China. 

“Many high-performing countries, especially Asian countries, have a long history of values and traditions rooted in education,” said Senator Luther Olsen (R-Wis.), Wisconsin Senate Education Committee chair.  “Although the United States has a different history and culture, there are common fundamental principles that top-performing countries have employed in their reform strategies, which may be relevant across our country and within individual states.” 

The study group plans to explore several questions, including:

  • What is working in other countries and why?
  • What can states learn from these experiences?
  • What is unique to these countries?
  • What fundamental principles support reform in successful countries and are relevant for states?
  • What are opportunities and roadblocks for states in pursuing education reform?

“In the high performing countries, the balance in the respective authorities of the central government and the local governments is an extremely important piece of the puzzle,” said Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos (D-Wash.), the Washington State House Education chair.  “As Congress resumes consideration of the ESEA reauthorization, the study group hopes to share what we have learned about how our federal-state relationships can better support improved education outcomes for all students.”

The NCSL Study Group is in the process of planning other educational trips and opportunities to meet with reformers and implementers of reform in countries such as Singapore, Finland, Canada and Poland.

For more information about the NCSL Study Group on International Education, please contact: Julie Davis Bell, NCSL’s Education group director at

NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.