Archives for category: GERM

In the past few days, the media has barraged us with stories about how American students rank on PISA’s “problem-solving” test. We were told that they scored better than average yet still behind other nations.


But what is the test and what does it mean?


Andy Hargreaves of Boston College, co-author with Michael Fullan of Professional Capital, tweeted to me an article in the British press that contains examples taken from the test.


As I read the questions, I am reminded of standardized test questions I have seen that pop up on tests of reason and logic or on IQ tests.


Why don’t we administer the PISA problem-solving test to our state legislators and publish their scores? Or to the top officials at the U.S. Department of Education?


Now that would be interesting, wouldn’t it?



Andy Hargreaves, Pasi Sahlberg, and Dennis Shirley are noted for their scholarly, articulate, and outspoken opposition to the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM), which is spreading like a virus.

Now, one of the chief exponents of GERM–(Sir) Michael Barber–has delivered a report to Boston informing the business community that the schools are mediocre and need a strong infusion of privatization and (of course) more testing. (Sir) Michael Barber previously worked for McKinsey, and he is now the thought leader of that esteemed pusher of testing, Pearson.

Hargreaves, Sahlberg, and Shirley write here about why (Sir) Michael Barber is wrong. (Sir) Michael Barber made his reputation as a creator of the UK’s system of standards and assessments; because of his love of “targets,” he is known as Mr. Deliverology when he is not known as (Sir) Michael Barber. However, the authors point out that there has been no educational renaissance in England and that Massachusetts scores higher on the targets than the nation that last took (Sir) Michael Barber’s advice.


They write:


What’s wrong with the report? First, its grudging acknowledgement of positive educational outcomes in Massachusetts and grim portrait of the state’s shortfalls have little to do with the facts. Massachusetts is the leading state in the United States on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. It is the only state in the United States with an “A” grade in the highly regarded Quality Counts 2014 State Report Card. It is also one of the world’s top-performing systems on a number of international assessments. Its rate of recent progress may be slower than some countries, but they’ve started from farther behind — Massachusetts literally has less room for improvement. To view the state’s school system as suffering from “complacency,” as the report claims, confounds all the findings of United States and international research on school achievement.
Moreover, the report draws many of its recommendation from the United Kingdom, where its lead author, Michael Barber, once worked as an advisor on education to former Prime Minister Tony Blair. England has made massive investments in “academies,” similar to government-supported charter schools here. It has explored various ways to prepare new teachers outside of a university setting. There have been targets and tests galore. Yet, results from the 2012 Program of International Assessment put England merely at the international average, 499, compared to Massachusetts students’ score of 524. For Bay State policymakers to follow England’s lead in education would be like the Red Sox taking coaching tips from the lowly Kansas City Royals.


Professor David Hursh of the University of Rochester visited New Zealand, where he explained so-called “education reform” in the United States. He very bluntly describes the bipartisan agenda that is proving to be harmful to students, teachers, and public education.

Hursh met with educators in Australia and New Zealand over a five-week period, encouraging them to resist the high-stakes testing movement.

A teacher in the UK describes what happens when superiors demand that he or should hit their predicted targets, without respect to reality.

It begins:

“The Secret Teacher

“Some years ago I was called by my head of department to discuss the grades I’d predicted for a year 11 class. They were aspirational and realistic. I was told to change them. My forecast was not in line with school targets for A*-C so if I didn’t change them I would be “targeting failure”. I changed them.

“I’ve got young kids, a mortgage and could do without the stress of a capability procedure. Morals don’t pay the bills. The class achieved close to my original prediction. I was admonished over my underperformance and the inaccuracy of my predictions – the predictions which weren’t actually mine at all.

“Following so far? Good. Because that’s target-driven education; a farce.
This September, Birendra Singh, who spent five years observing science teaching in three unnamed London schools, told BBC News that “the rate of cheating suggested in [my] small study may be indicative of a bigger picture”. He was right. It’s epidemic.

“We’ll go to epic lengths to fiddle controlled assessment. We’ll enter whatever number we need to make the spreadsheet turn green regardless of whether a kid has done the work. Until recently, we’d lie about pupils’ speaking and listening scores (easy pickings – nobody ever checked) to boost them to a C. In short, we remove every last scrap of accountability from the pupil and pull every trick in the book to make sure “they achieve their potential”.

“The result? There’s a demographic of our children with little cognitive link between hard work and achievement – that hard work leads to achievement. It doesn’t matter if you work hard or not, you’ll get the grade anyway and we’ll parade you under the banner of “improving standards”.

A reader describes the impact of GERM in Spain, where she teaches. The Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg coined the term GERM in his book “Finnish Lessons.” It refers to the Global Education Reform Movement. GERM refers to interlocking strategies of testing, choice, competition. PISA spreads GERM. GERM turns education into a competition for test scores, instead of a process of human development.

“Thanks for your blog I have just discovered two months ago.

“Here in Spain we are having lot of troubles in schools and as teachers, due to the policy of our new goverments whose only aim is to reach higher figures in school results without paying any attention to the needs of our students or the increasing difficulties of budgets. During the last year, they have been cutting our budgets and criminalised teachers, they have only paid attention to PISA results, but not in order to solve real problems. So reading your posts makes me see we are not mistaken, and our fight for a public and democratic school is legitimate.”

Professor Svend Kreiner, a prominent statistician and psychometrician at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and Dr. Hugh Morrison of Queens University in Belfast have published studies blasting the reliability and validity of the PISA league tables. They describe PISA’s rankings as “useless,” “utterly wrong,” and “meaningless.”

According to TES (London),

“Professor Svend Kreiner, a statistician from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, said that an inappropriate model is used to calculate the Pisa rankings every three years. In a paper published this summer, he challenges their reliability and shows how they fluctuate significantly according to which test questions are used. He reveals how, in the 2006 reading rankings, Canada could have been positioned anywhere between second and 25th, Japan between eighth and 40th and the UK between 14th and 30th.

“Dr Hugh Morrison, from Queens University Belfast in Northern Ireland, goes further, saying that the model Pisa uses to calculate the rankings is, on its own terms, “utterly wrong” because it contains a “profound” conceptual error. For this reason, the mathematician claims, “Pisa will never work”.

“The academics’ papers have serious implications for politicians, including England’s education secretary Michael Gove, who justified his sweeping reforms by stating that England “plummeted” down the Pisa rankings between 2000 and 2009.

“The questions used for Pisa vary between countries and between students participating in the same assessment. In Pisa 2006, for example, half the students were not asked any reading questions but were allocated “plausible” reading scores to help calculate their countries’ rankings.

“To work out these “plausible” values, Pisa uses the Rasch model, a statistical way of “scaling” up the results it does have. But Professor Kreiner says this model can only work if the questions that Pisa uses are of the same level of difficulty for each of the participating countries. He believes his research proves that this is not the case, and therefore the comparisons that Pisa makes between countries are “useless”.

“When the academic first raised the issue in 2011, the OECD countered by suggesting that he had been able to find such wild fluctuations in rankings only by deliberately selecting particular small groupings of questions to prove his point. But Professor Kreiner’s new paper uses the same groups of questions as Pisa and comes up with very similar results to his initial analysis.

“He is sceptical about the whole concept of Pisa. “It is meaningless to try to compare reading in Chinese with reading in Danish,” he said.

“Dr Morrison said that the Rasch model made the “impossible” claim of being able to measure ability independently of the questions that students answer. “I am certain this (problem) cannot be answered,” he told TES.”

To read Dr. Kreiner’s studies, google his name.

The great Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg will speak at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston on Tuesday evening. He is a delightful, charismatic speaker who has a deep understanding of education around the world.

Don’t miss it!

Yong Zhao is a brilliant, articulate scholar who was educated in China but is now a professor at the University of Oregon. He has written two books that I highly recommend: “Catching Up or Leading the Way” and “World-Class Learners.”

In this post, he reveals some inside information about PISA: Finland has slipped out of the top tier. He says this is not because the quality of education declined in Finland, but because so many test-centric Asian nations (and cities) participated.

He writes:

“While the Finns are right to be concerned about their education, it would be a huge mistake to believe that their education has gotten worse. Finland’s slip in the PISA ranking has little to do with what Finland has or has not done. It has been pushed down by others. In other words, Finland’s education quality as measured by the PISA may have not changed at all and remains strong, but the introduction of other education systems that are even better at taking tests has made Finland appear worse than it really is.”

And he adds:

“While the East Asian systems may enjoy being at the top of international tests, they are not happy at all with the outcomes of their education. They have recognized the damages of their education for a long time and have taken actions to reform their systems. Recently, the Chinese government again issued orders to lesson student academic burden by reducing standardized tests and written homework in primary schools. The Singaporeans have been working reforming its curriculum and examination systems. The Koreans are working on implementing a “free semester” for the secondary students. Eastern Asian parents are willing and working hard to spend their life’s savings finding spots outside these “best” education systems. Thus international schools, schools that follow the less successful Western education model, have been in high demand and continue to grow in East Asia. Tens of thousands of Chinese and Korean parents send their children to study in Australia, the U.K., Canada, and the U.S. It is no exaggeration to say that that the majority of the parents in China would send their children to an American school instead of keeping them in the “best performing” Chinese system, if they had the choice.”

Please read Jersey Jazzman’s hilarious spoof on “The Night Before Christmas.”

He anticipates not the joy of Christmas and Santa, but the much-anticipated release of PISA scores, when Arne Duncan gets to tell the nation once again how terrible American education is and how we are losing the global competition and why we are still a nation at risk.

He will conveniently overlook the fact that he is Secretary of Education and has now been in charge for nearly five years. No accountability for him!

He will surround himself with Beltway insiders who agree that our schools are dreadful despite 11 years of No Child Left Behind and nearly five years of Race to the Top.

How many more years must we wait until we declare these programs failures?

This is how JJ’s poem begins:

“‘Twas the night before PISA Day, when all through the foundations
The wonks were all dreaming about Bill Gates’s donations;

The rankings were crafted for each nation with care,
In hopes that more grants would come from billionaires;

The children were tested and stressed at their desks;
While visions of bubble sheets made them feel quite grotesque;

Suburban moms in their ‘kerchiefs, and dads in their caps,
Hoped on test day their children’s brains wouldn’t collapse,

When out at the DOE there arose such a clatter,
I looked up from Klein’s tablet to see what was the matter.”

When I visited Finland, which is widely recognized as one of the top performing nations in the world, every educator spoke of their goals. They want their students to be happy, healthy, and enthusiastic learners. They did not care about test scores. The years from the beginning of school (at age 7) to high school graduation are considered a “standardized-testing-free zone,” as Pasi Sahlberg put it in his book “Finnish Lessons.”

In the U.S., our leaders want to turn schools into pressure cookers. They want to keep the students and teachers in a constant state of stress. Students worry if they will pass or fail. They worry if their performance on the test might cause their teacher to lose his or her job. Teachers worry that their students’ scores might ruin their chance of staying employed. They worry about keeping their job. They worry that their test-based evaluation might put them out of work, and they won’t be able to pay their mortgage or feed their family.

Corporate reformers think that stress is good. They think that teachers have a cushy job, and students are slackers. They want to see more stress.

But stress is not good for children or adults. Wendy Lecker wrote this article, summarizing the warnings of professional associations. She says that the current obsession with high-stakes testing has created an unhealthy climate in the schools. She calls it “state-sanctioned child abuse.” Fear breaks children. It does not make them joyful learners.

The current so-called reforms, she writes, “has created a school environment that is devastating to our children’s development and mental health.

“Our most vulnerable children often suffer “toxic stress:” prolonged activation of the body’s stress response system brought on by chronic traumatic experiences. Toxic stress disrupts the development of the areas of the brain associated with learning and can have lifelong consequences.”

How much longer must we endure the consequences of truly disastrous policies shaped by people who have no understanding of children, learning, or the conditions necessary for education to flourish?

I think the end is in sight. This house of cards will fall because it hurts children. And we are not a mean nation. Kindness and generosity will eventually prevail over harmful policies. The parents of this nation will demand an end to policies that not only hurt their children but ruin education.


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