Anti ed reformers make the case for PISA

In this article from the tireless Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post, Pasi Sahlberg and Andy Hargreaves respond to the open letter signed by dozens of researchers and academics from around the world to Andreas Schleicher, director of the Program of International Student Assessment, urging him to suspend administration of PISA until a new exam can be created.

The Sahlberg and Hargreaves arguments rests on the following:

1. Ignorance is not great and could have given corporate ed reformers an even easier ride

Just think for a moment what would global education look like if PISA had never been launched? There would be, as there was in the 1990s, a number of countries that mistakenly believed their education systems are the best in the world and should set the direction for other nations. Were it not for the fact that these weaker performing countries that include the United States and England have not been successful in PISA, the worldwide pressures for more market competition between schools, less university-based training for teachers, and more standardization of the curriculum, would have had a far easier ride.

The poor performance of Sweden after the implementation of their radical market choice program of for profit free schools would never have been outed.  Likewise the high performance of public education focussed Finland and to a lesser extent Canada would not have provided a very strong counter narrative.

2. PISA has enabled the OECD to shine a bright light on equity and to argue that equity and quality are not at odds:

It has put equity high up on the reform agenda. Without the data that PISA has generated over the years, calls for enhanced equity would not be part of the education policy conversation in the countries that have suffered from inequitable education systems, including the U.S. [and Australia].

However the authors do not let PISA off the hook on the many other issues raised by the group of academics and researchers.  In particular they raise serious concerns about the recent steps to put the tests into the hands of global corporate ed reformers, Pearson.

The conclude that the a) evidence provided by PISA is overwhelming and clear on the negatives of neoliberal education policies and b) that the negatives of PISA can be addressed by dealing with its problems not “knocking the PISA tower over”:

What PISA shows to the United States is that its current course of education policies that rely on competition, standardization, testing and privatization of public education is a wrong way. Our goal should not be to take PISA down, but to get it or something like it upright again, so that by using a range of criteria, and by using them in a fair and transparent way, we can identify and learn from the true high performers who are strong on equity as well as excellence, and on human development as well as tested achievement.

What do readers think?