23 SES 09 B, The Impact of PISA on National Education Policies
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international instrument, a comparative evaluation, which takes place every three years under the auspices of The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in collaboration with a growing number of associated countries, considering the performance of more than one million students (Turner, 2006: 46; OECD 2007a; 6). Aiming to provide indicators on the effectiveness of education systems, PISA measures the knowledge and competencies of 15 years old students in mathematics, science and reading literacy. Launched in 1997, the first cycle occurred in 2000, and continued in 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2012. Future surveys beyond 2015 are expected, as attested in the PISA Governing Body of (PGB) held in Seoul in October 2013 (OECD / EDU, 2013), where new proposals for specific areas to be evaluated were discussed (OECD/EDU, 2013b).
This study derives from a broader European research of PISA reception (Afonso & Costa, 2009; Bajomi et al, 2009; Cattonar et al, 2009; Grek, Lawn, & Ozga, 2009; Mons & Pons, 2009; Rostás et al, 2009). Herein considered a regulatory knowledge instrument (see Carvalho, 2009, 2012), PISA is seen as a point of reference for international monitoring of education systems (OECD, 2007b, p.1 and 17; cf. Carvalho & Costa, 2011), being characterized by its policy direction, and enabling governments to extract political lessons from its reports (Carvalho, Afonso & Costa, 2009).
Portugal has not escaped from PISA’s authority. PISA data, made available across the world, reinforces the argumentative capacity of actors in the public debate and of governments’ decision-making processes: between 2001 and 2007, there were 11 policies that Portuguese governments justify with the PISA reports (Afonso & Costa, 2011). Therefore, the presentation is focused on PISA as a regulatory instrument that seeks to influence policy makers through the dissemination of best practices. We analyse the debate held by politicians and other actors involved in the Portuguese public action, during the first three PISA cycles (2000-2006), and we make an incursion at the way the debate has evolved in recent surveys (PISA 2009, 2012). To achieve this, we studied the set of voices attracted by PISA. Thus, we’ve been focused on the actors’ speeches that seek to influence decision-making processes, by means of influence and pressure, by putting on the political agenda, specific themes, and requesting several solutions to the problems identified: MPs, journalists, teachers, trade unionists, researchers, and bloggers.
Therefore, PISA is here examined as a public action instrument, "which aims to support and participate in the coordination work of public action in education" (Carvalho, 2009: 1010), being supported by a soft regulation conception (Carvalho, 2012; Costa, 2011).
Conceptually, we rely on the Sociology of Public Action, in which public policies are understood as a collective action (Lascoumes & Le Galès, 2012), a "continuous flow of decisions" (Muller, 2004), resulting from a process involving multiple actors, collective and individual, and not only the State and formal authorities. It is this idea that there are other actors with relevant participation in the policy-making process that matters here and that justifies the relevance of observing the public debate around PISA, and the arguments used to justify its use in the decision making processes. The approach allows us to analyse the new modes of regulation, by capturing the multiplicity of regulatory processes, which are increasingly complex and multidimensional processes (Barroso, 2006).
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