Presentazione del volume di educazione comparata sull’indagine PISA. Testo in inglese. il libro non sarà mai tradotto in italiano!

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PISA e il potere

Publishers’ presentation:

Over the past ten years the PISA assessment has risen to strategic prominence in the international education policy discourse. Sponsored, organized and administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), PISA seems well on its way to being institutionalized as the main engine in the global accountability regime. The goal of this book is to problematize this development and PISA as an institution-building force in global education. It scrutinizes the role of PISA in the emerging regime of global educational governance and questions the presumption that the quality of a nation’s school system can be evaluated through a standardized assessment that is insensitive to the world’s vast cultural and institutional diversity. The book raises the question of whether PISA’s dominance in the global educational discourse runs the risk of engendering an unprecedented process of worldwide educational standardization for the sake of hitching schools more tightly to the bandwagon of economic efficiency, while sacrificing their role to prepare students for independent thinking and civic participation.


PISA, Power, and Policy

the emergence of global educational governance



Symposium Books

2013 paperback 336 pages US$56.00
ISBN 978-1-873927-96-0


This is a book of comparative education, a typical product of the new trends in comparative education, which are empirical, non-narrative, and critical. It’ s time to read books like this one providing a critical approach to one of the main policy operation in the sector of education of the last ten years. The education scenario is new now, it’s different than 30 years ago, it’s changed indeed. One of the main factor changing the scenario is the PISA survey by OECD.

PISA survey is different from old IEAsurveys’ , it’ s attractive because it’ s like a serious game providing scores on some key issues in education and crossing test scores with school leaders’ opinions, students, families’ opinions, avoiding to consider teachers views and education curricula.

It’s really a well done triennial survey, very expensive, satisfying schools authorities and a lot of government are paying a lot for attending Pisa , for obtaining PISA scores, for knowing the strange comparative test league tables of educations systems provided by PISA/OECD.

But if someone needs to know differences between lets say Quebec and Ontario, or Maryland and Louisiana, he cannot use PISA data. PISA can provide a lot of information but PISA isn’t a unique large scale survey in the world.

The main policy problem is PISA expansion. PISA capacities to cover everything are astonishing. PISA leaders are able to include in PISA tools what governments want : equity results, equality trends, gender issues, migrants scores and so on. Moreover, PISA has a lot of resources and a terrific capacity to produce data, to explain scores, to compare results, to publish data, volumes, papers. Governments are excited. This is just what they need and what they would like to obtain : quick , robust , comparative data. It’s irrelevant if PISA analysis are correct or not. They are statically well done and therefore one can trust in them. Statistics are a serious matter even if it’s difficult to understand them. At the contrary. More they are difficulty to understand more decision makers can trust in them. Scores of 15 year-old students become therefore per se convincing.

Comparability between countriesseems correct. This is another factor of PISA attractiveness. There are only some exceptions providing comparison not between countries but between education systems even if PISA per se is not conceived for comparing education systems. This is the case of French speaking Belgium and Flaming speaking Belgium education systems. Switzerland with its 26 or 27 education systems in three different languages or USA with 50 education systems are treated as a unique country, a single education system. In these cases, the average is the key of the comparison. Of course the standard errors is provided but this is not enough. The data about between and within school variations inside the same countries don’t provide enough distinction for understanding how an education system is organised and is functioning but the average is enough for media and policy makers.

Nevertheless PISA survey is relevant  : A lot of countries without any tradition in the field of evaluation of education systems as Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, decided very quickly to support the development of a peculiar national model of evaluation of the their education system, of their schools, of teachers, of school leaders immediately after the publication of first PISA round in December 2001. Several countries learned a lot attending PISA survey. PISA has been a terrific training opportunity without cost, a global exercise worldwide. Several authors of the papers included in this volume consider these aspects and analyse them. This is very new. IEA organisation started under UNESCO protection in the 50ies and for 40 years was not able to reach a similar result. And now is it possible to talk about globalisation of education systems and governance, about the emergence of an audit culture, about consequences of international assessments in developing countries.


It is a pity that in this volume ismissing a chapter about Pisa organisation : it would be very useful for all education players to know who takes the decisions, how experts are selected, how they work, who are the key figures in PISA, which is their background. Information provided by government are very low. This is a typical power tool. The transparency is not the most relevant PISA characteristics. The system is a close society, grouping a community of experts knowing each other and taking key decisions about structure of the survey, about data diffusion. There are committee, which took formal democratic decisions about what to include in PISA tools, but decisions are only formal. Several countries don’t keep what is happening. Of course , it’s not at all easy to penetrate in this club whose members don’t talk. There is a risk to be excluded. A lot of money is involved in PISA, a lot of meetings because problems, issues are difficult. One can easily be excluded from the close circle of decision makers. 

By the way which arethe cost of the survey, what should pay the education systems for attending PISA, who is paying ? 


Another items which is unclear is the construction of sampling, checking the sampling validity,  the survey control of the test, which is a relevant component of a comparative study. For some education systems sampling are wrong. Everybody knows this but nobody is talking about this point. It would be nice to have a chapter about this points.

It would be nice finally to have another book of this type, completing the first information. It will not be easy to collect news, it will take time, but it’s seem necessary.

Just a last comment: the chapter on 
 by Janne Varjo, Hannu Simola & Risto Rinne:  Finland’s PISA Results : an analysis of dynamics in education politics is very interesting and deserves a reading.

PISA survey changed the world of education policies. In democratic societies as Dewey said participation is a key issue to develop an informed population.


Heinz-Dieter Meyer & Aaron BenavotIntroduction. PISA and the Globalization of Education Governance : some puzzles and problems

Taya L. Owens. Thinking beyond League Tables : a review of key PISA research questions

THE FINLAND PARADOXJanne Varjo, Hannu Simola & Risto Rinne. Finland’s PISA Results : an analysis of dynamics in education politics

Tiina Silander & Jouni Välijärvi. The Theory and Practice of Building Pedagogical Skill in Finnish Teacher Education

Paul Andrews. What Does PISA Performance Tell Us about Mathematics Teaching Quality ? Case Studies from Finland and Flanders

GLOBALIZATION OF EDUCATION GOVERNANCEDavid H. Kamens. Globalization and the Emergence of an Audit Culture : PISA and the search for ‘best practices’ and magic bullets

Daniel Tröhler. The OECD and Cold War Culture : thinking historically about PISA

Marlaine Lockheed. Causes and Consequences of International Assessments in Developing Countries

Sam Sellar & Bob Lingard. PISA and the Expanding Role of the OECD in Global Educational Governance

NON-EDUCATIONAL INFLUENCES ON PISA OUTCOMESHeinz-Dieter Meyer & Kathryn Schiller. Gauging the Role of Non-educational Effects in Large-scale Assessments : socio-economics, culture and PISA outcomes

Xin Ma, Cindy Jong & Jing Yuan. Exploring Reasons for the East Asian Success in PISA

Jaap Dronkers & Manon de Heus. Immigrant Children’s Academic Performance : the influence of origin, destination and community

Yong Zhao & Heinz-Dieter Meyer. High on PISA, Low on Entrepreneurship ? What PISA Does Not Measure

Stephen P. Heyneman. The International Efficiency of American Education : the bad and the not-so-bad news

POLICYAlexander W. Wiseman. Policy Responses to PISA in Comparative Perspective