23 SES 03 A, Effects of Education
This study explores PISA for Schools, an instrument developed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and a diverse array of partner organisations, including philanthropic foundations, not-for-profit agencies and commercial edu-businesses. As a local variant of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), PISA for Schools assesses school performance in reading, mathematics and science against that of international schooling systems, while also promoting the policy expertise proffered by ‘high performing’ schooling systems and the OECD itself. This arguably reflects the expanding scope, scale and explanatory power of the OECD’s education policy work (Lewis, Sellar, & Lingard, 2016; Sellar & Lingard, 2014), helping to extend the relevance of PISA and the OECD beyond national policymakers and political leaders to now encompass school-level educators and spaces. Such PISA-centric developments have also emerged with the increasing use of numbers and data to determine status and value in education globally, for students, teachers, schools and schooling systems alike (see, for instance, Bradbury, 2018; Bradbury & Roberts-Holmes, 2017).
In particular, this paper focuses on how PISA for Schools is shaping schooling policy and practices within the European Schools System (ESS), a network of schools that is funded by the European Union and which are intended to provide a ‘European education’ to students whose parents are employed by EU institutions (Schola Europaea, 2018). Significantly, a key rationale underpinning the ESS is the creation of ‘Europeans’, a concept that is itself being contested and challenged more than ever in light of an increasingly unstable and fluid definition of Europe. One need only consider the recent occurrences of Brexit, the rise of nationalism and populism in the mainstream polity and increasing fractures within previously collective institutions and approaches (e.g., climate change, refugee policy) for such tensions to be evident, especially around determining what and who Europe is, and the means by which such distinctions may and need be drawn (see, for instance, Yemini, Goren, & Maxwell, 2018). While these developments may not appear to be directly implicated in the context of education and the sustaining (or undermining) of a shared European education policy space (see Carlos, 2012; Grek et al., 2009, 2013; Lawn, 2006), we can nevertheless see significant challenges being posed to otherwise long-held political, social and geographic certainties.
Theoretically, this paper draws upon recent theorising around topological spatialities related to globalisation (Allen, 2016; Amin, 2002; Lury, Parisi, & Terranova, 2012)to show how relational understandings of power forge new proximities between global discourses/actors/policies and more local schooling actors. Informed by thinking around topological rationalities and data-based modes of governance, as well as interviews with key school- and system-level stakeholders within the ESS, I show how the uptake and use of PISA for Schools to inform ESS schooling policy reflects contradictory data-driven logics. Even while the stated goal of the ESS is to enable students and their societies to ‘become European’, the attainment of this rather parochial goal is contradicted by relying on the international data and examples of ‘what works’ that underscore the PISA for Schools assessment. Moreover, the specific case of PISA for Schools within the ESS can be seen to animate broader processes of social spaces – in this instance, that of the European Union and OECD – and the actors therein being thoroughly constituted through, by and as data (see also Lewis & Holloway, 2018), and the ensuing consolidation of the European education policy space. I conclude by exploring how the perceived need for such data, associated with the global authority of the OECD, can produce a problematic focus on numbers and the reshaping of European spaces and relations.
My analyses here are part of a larger study into the development, administration and effects of the OECD’s PISA for Schools, with this broader work empirically informed by semi-structured interviews conducted with 33 key policy actors from the organisations that helped develop, fund and administer PISA for Schools in the USA, UK and Spain. These include: the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills; national representatives to the OECD’s PISA Governing Board; the Office of the Secretary-General of the European Schools in Brussels; U.S. philanthropic foundations that funded the development and ongoing maintenance of the programme; U.S. not-for-profits that assisted to pilot the programme and recruit school; the edu-business CTB-McGraw/Hill, the accredited provider of PISA for Schools in the USA (2013–2015); and four U.S. and UK schools that voluntarily participated in the programme. Specifically, this paper draws upon two extended interviews, each being three hours in duration, with senior staff at the Office of the Secretary-General of the European Schools and the school leadership of an ESS school that voluntarily participated in PISA for Schools testing during 2012. Complementing these interview data was the analysis of relevant print documents, audio-visual media and websites produced by the organisations associated with PISA for Schools, as well as the ESS and the ESS school that participated in the research interviews. Collectively, these data help reveal the diverse, and often conflicting, perspectives of the organisations and individuals associated with PISA for Schools, while also highlighting the frequent disparities between official institutional reports and the potentially more candid talk of policymakers themselves. After compiling these interview data and documents, I conducted multiple read-throughs of the transcripts to collect analytic memos (Saldaña, 2013) regarding instances where PISA for Schools and the associated policy work of the OECD were used to (1) construct knowledge about the ESS, and (2) enable new possibilities for how schooling could be imagined and practised. These segments were then extracted and subjected to subsequent rounds of analysis, using my theoretical framework to analytically track the ways that PISA for Schools contributed to respatialising the ESS, both within Europe and internationally.
My research has shown that PISA for Schools data have the potential to significantly reshape how schooling is understood and valued within the ESS. A logic of validation through the external, and thus ‘objective’, comparative benchmarking of PISA for Schools was constantly present, and this further resonated with the notion of the ESS ‘opening up’ its system – both to expand the network of ESS-accredited schools and to recruit additional students to existing schools. This led to tension between the stated Euro-centric mission of the ESS and the desire to globalise the ESS through participation in PISA for Schools; namely, to minimise cultural points of view, including by the use of supposedly universal ‘best practices’. I see this as the central paradox within the use of PISA for Schools, in which cultural specificity and acknowledgement is foregrounded while, at the same time, we can see a logic of minimising culture in education by adopting decontextualised examples of ‘what works’ (Lewis, 2017). Here, we can see how the topological relations made possible between actors and organisations in the PISA for Schools epistemic network create new policy spaces that bring otherwise distant agents, discourses and practices into close proximity, helping to shape the conditions of possibility for how schooling might be locally practiced. Perhaps more than anything else, my analyses demonstrate the ongoing (re)negotiation and challenging of the European education policy space and what it means to be ‘European’, and especially the constitutive role of data and indicators to help forge new relations of identity and governance. Although the stated purpose of the ESS is to ‘create Europeans’ and foster a shared cultural identity through schooling, we can nonetheless observe how this goal is fraught with inherent contradiction in contemporary moments of data-driven comparison and policy borrowing.
*Allen, J. (2016). Topologies of power: Beyond territories and networks. Oxon: Routledge. *Amin, A. (2002). Spatialities of globalisation. Environment and Planning A, 34(3), 385-399. *Bradbury, A. (2018). Datafied at four: The role of data in the ‘schoolification’ of early childhood education in England. Learning, Media and Technology, 1-15. *Bradbury, A., & Roberts-Holmes, G. (2017). The datafication of primary and early-years education: Playing with numbers. Oxon: Routledge. *Carlos, S. (2012). Governing education in Europe: A 'new' policy space of European schooling. European Educational Research Journal, 11(4), 487-503. *Grek, S., Lawn, M., Lingard, B., Ozga, J., Rinne, R., Segerholm, C., & Simola, H. (2009). National policy brokering and the construction of the European Education Space in England, Sweden, Finland and Scotland. Comparative Education, 45(1), 5-21. *Lawn, M. (2006). Soft governance and the learning spaces of Europe. Comparative European Politics, 4(2/3), 272-288. *Lewis, S. (2017). Governing schooling through ‘what works’: The OECD’s PISA for Schools. Journal of Education Policy, 32(3), 281-302. *Lewis, S., & Holloway, J. (2018). Datafying the teaching ‘profession’: Remaking the professional teacher in the image of data. Cambridge Journal of Education, 1-17. *Lewis, S., Sellar, S., & Lingard, B. (2016). 'PISA for Schools': Topological rationality and new spaces of the OECD's global educational governance. Comparative Education Review, 60(1), 27-57. *Lury, C., Parisi, L., & Terranova, T. (2012). Introduction: The becoming topological of culture. Theory, Culture & Society, 29(4-5), 3-35. *Saldaña, J. (2013). The coding manual for qualitative researchers. London: Sage. *Schola Europaea. (2018). Office of the Secretary-General of the European Schools: Background. Retrieved from https://www.eursc.eu/en/European-Schools/background *Sellar, S., & Lingard, B. (2014). The OECD and the expansion of PISA: New global modes of governance in education. British Educational Research Journal, 40(6), 917-936. *Yemini, M., Goren, H., & Maxwell, C. (2018). Global citizenship education in the era of mobility, conflict and globalisation. British Journal of Educational Studies, 66(4), 423-432.
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