Why I won’t sign the open letter on PISA

Don’t get me wrong many of the complaints the authors and subscribers of the open letter to Andreas Schleicher on the too big influence PISA has on education policy worldwide I do subscribe.

These are some of the complaints I agree with:

  •  In education policy, Pisa, with its three-year assessment cycle, has caused a shift of attention to short-term fixes designed to help a country quickly climb the rankings, despite research showing that enduring changes in education practice take decades, not a few years, to come to fruition.
  • By emphasising a narrow range of measurable aspects of education, Pisa takes attention away from the less measurable or immeasurable educational objectives like physical, moral, civic and artistic development, thereby dangerously narrowing our collective imagination regarding what education is and ought to be about.

  • As an organisation of economic development, OECD is naturally biased in favour of the economic role of public [state] schools. But preparing young men and women for gainful employment is not the only, and not even the main goal of public education, which has to prepare students for participation in democratic self-government, moral action and a life of personal development, growth and wellbeing.

And maybe more important:

  • Unlike United Nations (UN) organisations such as UNESCO or UNICEF that have clear and legitimate mandates to improve education and the lives of children around the world, OECD has no such mandate. Nor are there, at present, mechanisms of effective democratic participation in its education decision-making process.

That a non-elected organisation is getting so much influence on what we do in schools and what our kids have to learn is a big issue. Also the plans of introducing PISA-like test in US-schools, comparing teacher education and primary education has big warning signs written all over.

But… the solution of scrapping the next round of PISA is as bad a solution as the problem. Comparative educational research such as PISA, but also lesser known research such as TIMMS and PIRLS deliver very important scientific to inspire policy, not dictate it. It’s like throwing away the thermometer instead of fixing the fever.

The fever not being PISA itself, but the big influence it has become, playing way above it’s real merit. Policy makers should look at PISA, but also on all other resources, such as the ones I collected here.

So despite the fact that I admire many of the teachers, academics and other experts who signed the list, and despite the fact that I agree with a lot, I won’t be signing.


13 thoughts on “Why I won’t sign the open letter on PISA

  1. PISA was designed and communicated in ways carefully chosen to maximize media furor and political impact. The PISA fever is not an unwanted side effect but OECD’s chosen method of influencing national debates. PISA is all designed to generate one-dimensional league tables that are great for getting into the news, but scientifically worthless.

    1. But as a person who read the whole reports (the sixth chapter excluded as it isn’t published yet) I can’t agree that it’s all about one-dimensional league tables. Also the open data makes it possible for other scientists to use the data for further analyses.
      The league tables are indeed a bad thing, e.g. the new Pearson table is an example of being way to one-dimensional in their communication.
      Still, the research itself has merits, within the limitations that have to be taken into account. Any research knows limitations.

  2. I completely agree, J.Wuttke ! Just have a look at the self-revealing OECD Skills Strategy Brochure. I, too, Pedro, just like many others, think that the main fault in this whole dilemma is with all the policy makers that seem to be seeing the OECD and its philosophy of and approach to life as the compelling measure of all things. And there should surely be an Open Letter addressed to them, as well. But that does not keep me from signing the letter addressed to Andreas Schleicher who belongs to the group of influential people that in fact strive to direct policies their way.

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