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JUNE 13, 2024

Report on Improving Student Learning Outcomes Weakened by Flawed Research

An NEPC Review funded by the Great Lakes Center

Key Takeaway: The report's usefulness is undermined by the lack of transparency and clarity in its methods and the limited robustness of its causal claims.

GRAND RAPIDS, MI (JUNE 13, 2024) - McKinsey & Company released a new global report on education that provides guidelines for policy reforms and governance strategies offered as promoting significant and sustained improvement in students' learning outcomes. A review of the report, however, identified weaknesses likely to compromise the robustness of its conclusions.

Clara Fontdevila of the University of Glasgow, Antoni Verger of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, and Adrián Zancajo of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona reviewed Spark & Sustain: How All the World's School Systems Can Improve Learning at Scale. Their review identifies the main flaws that undermine the usefulness of the report's conclusions and recommendations.

The report asserts a need to set certain conditions for advancing a reform agenda aimed at promoting gains in learning outcomes. However, the reviewers found significant analytic and methodological shortcomings that call into question the report's findings. For instance, the report doesn't consider counterfactual cases (e.g., countries that do not experience an improvement), which limits the report's capacity to establish causal links between the strategies identified and the improvement of learning outcomes.

The report's usefulness is further weakened by the lack of specificity and universal scope of its recommendations and the superficial analysis of factors shaping implementation processes. Moreover, the reviewers conclude, the narrow focus on learning outcomes does not account for the diverse priorities and complex challenges most education systems face.

Find the review, by Clara Fontdevila, Antoni Verger, and Adrián Zancajo, at:

Find Spark & Sustain: How All the World's School Systems Can Improve Learning at Scale, written by Jake Bryant, Felipe Child, Ezgi Demirdag, Emma Dorn, Stephen Hall, Kartik Jayaram, Charag Krishnan, Cheryl Lim, Emmy Liss, Kemi Onabanjo, Frédéric Panier, Juan Rebolledo, Jimmy Sarakatsannis, Doug Scott, Roman Tschupp, Seckin Ungur, and Pierre Vigin, and published by McKinsey & Company, at:

NEPC Reviews ( provide the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC Reviews are made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice:

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The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice is to support and disseminate high-quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

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Michelle Renee Valladares
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Antoni Verger:
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