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Article

Intranational Comparative Education: What State Differences in Student Achievement Can Teach Us about Improving Education—the Case of Brazil

Comparative Education Review. 2017. Vol. 61. No. 4. P. 726-759.
Carnoy M., Marotta L., Louzano P., Khavenson T., Recch F., Carnauba F.

Implicit in much of comparative and international education research is that education
is a creature of the nation state, shaped largely by economic, political, and social
forces defined by national boundaries. However, in federal nation-states, primary and
secondary schooling is mainly the juridical responsibility of the constituent states, not
the national government. We make the case in this paper that in terms of comparative
education analysis, there is persuasive support in political theory to consider subnational
state comparisons in federalist nations and that such comparisons can yield
valuable insights for improving education in the federal nation-state as a whole. We
focus on one such federal country, Brazil, and on the possible differences in the
"effectiveness" of state education administrations in delivering education. Our measure
of state educational "effectiveness" is the achievement gains that Brazilian students
made in 1999-2013 in the state and municipal systems in each state on a national test
of mathematics skills—the National Evaluation System of Basic Education (SAEB). We
also examine the possible reasons why gains differ so greatly in states even when
gains are adjusted for students' and schools' demographic characteristics. Our task is
made more complicated because each state has both state and municipal education
systems, administered separately. We show that successive cohorts of 9th grade
students in some Brazilian states in both state and municipal systems have greatly
increased their mathematics scores on the SAEB test adjusted for individual and
school socio-economic differences in 2001-2013 and 2003-2013. At the same time,
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successive cohorts of students in other states have seen their adjusted scores stay
level or decline. Further investigation suggests that a key factor that could explain
these differences is the systematic implementation of reforms through strong
collaboration between state and municipal education administrations.