Original Paper

Empirical Economics

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 433-464

First online:

What accounts for international differences in student performance? A re-examination using PISA data

  • Thomas FuchsAffiliated withIfo Institute for Economic Research Email author 
  • , Ludger WößmannAffiliated withIfo Institute for Economic Research, University of Munich and CESifo

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We use the PISA student-level achievement database to estimate international education production functions. Student characteristics, family backgrounds, home inputs, resources, teachers and institutions are all significantly associated with math, science and reading achievement. Our models account for more than 85% of the between-country performance variation, with roughly 25% accruing to institutional variation. Student performance is higher with external exams and budget formulation, but also with school autonomy in textbook choice, hiring teachers and within-school budget allocations. Autonomy is more positively associated with performance in systems that have external exit exams. Students perform better in privately operated schools, but private funding is not decisive.


Education production function PISA International variation in student performance Institutional effects in schooling

JEL classification

I28 J24 H52 L33