The OECD is so pleased with the “success” of international testing for K-12 that it wants to bring the same testing to higher education. Then, presumably, it would be possible to compare higher education across nations and see who is best, who ranks lowest, and get everyone to compete on the terms that OECD chooses.
This is nothing less than a bold power grab by OECD, which arrogates to itself the authority to determine the rules of the game, the shape of the playing field, and the definition of winners and losers. If nothing else, it reminds us how nonsensical it is to compare institutions that differ in many ways within the same city, the same state, and of course, the nation.
What happens if OECD determines that higher education is better in nation A than nations B, C, D, etc.? Should everyone move to nation A?
If this idea proceeds, we can be sure that universities will start teaching to the OECD tests. OECD will become the arbiter of the question, “what knowledge is of most worth?”
We can safely predict, as I did in a speech to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities last year that the NCLB framework will ensnare higher education and restrict imagination and creativity. Who will measure the value of courses in art history, Ancient Greek, anthropology, diplomatic history or other studies that have enormous cultural rewards, but limited economic promise? How do we measure the economic value of independent, well-informed thought?
For a good critique of the testing obsession, read Pasi Sahlberg’s “Finnish Lessons” and Yong Zhao’s “World Class Learners.”
OECD’s ambition to measure the world exemplifies what Sahlberg calls the Global Educational Reform Movement, or GERM.
Many years ago, I interviewed an MIT professor who was widely renowned as a physicist but also for his interest in K-12 issues. He said to me, “Let me write a nation’s tests and I care not who writes its songs or poetry.” Think about it. The power to judge a nation by whether it passes tests of your design is the power to control.