A small review of the new book by Andreas Schleicher: World Class

Andreas Schleicher has published a new book called World Class, with as subtitle “How to build a 21st-century school system” and you can download the book for free here.

I’ve been able to read most of the book already and for people who haven’t been following PISA and Schleicher there is a lot of information in the book. For people like me who have been following intensively the international survey and it’s boss, there is not much new stuff to discover.

I could repeat some of the elements from my open letter to Schleicher, although he does try to defend his answer to questions about the importance of memorization since the discussion he had at the Wise conference last year. Again, I’ve seen the charts he uses at page 233 and 234 before, but they don’t explain the chart from PISA 2015 I shared before.

But I want to focus on 2 details that worried me a bit:

  • There is this paragraph on the Flemish Educational system, one that I know very well because I’m living and working here. I do think a lot of Flemish politicians, teachers and researchers would look a bit puzzled when they read this:

The Flemish Community of Belgium benefits from many of the advantages of school choice, such as a wide variety of pedagogies, which offers real choice for parents, and a strong drive towards quality, through competition between schools. It also suffers from some of the disadvantages of school choice, such as a relatively high level of socio-economic segregation among schools and a strong relationship between family background and learning outcomes. But overall, the education system largely succeeds in limiting inequity and social segregation by implementing some steering and accountability mechanisms that apply to all schools.

Well, the first part in which Schleicher mentions the segregation, that has been at the center of our discussions for quite a while now, but the second part? Well, that will be news for a lot of people (and I don’t think they will agree).

  • Secondly there are a lot of sources missing in the book on what we do know about education. A key element of PISA is that we get at best a view of correlations between policy decisions and possible effects, although we do know that we need other kinds of research to establish causal relations. Schleicher sums up again his list of educational myths dispelled by PISA, forgetting that other studies often showed a more nuanced image to say the least (e.g. when discussing class size). Again Schleicher does mention that maybe other people have said something about it, but he forgets to mention who and what they said.

The book has a feeling of an end of era to me. I don’t know of Andreas Schleicher will be retiring soon, but as the book seems to have some elements of a professional memoir, it sure looks that way. I wished that in that case Schleicher would also have responded to some of the fierce criticisms PISA has received the past few years. Now some parts seem to be more of a self-written liber amicorum as someone mentioned earlier to me.

So, do you need to read this book? The advance praise does say so, and I do think it’s a good starting point to read, but while reading you should bear in mind that PISA can be used as a great source, but never should be the only or prime source.

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