Archives for category: International

A reader from the Netherlands noticed  the recent post by Mario Waissbluth in Chile. Waissbuth said that Chileans were looking to the Netherlands as a possible model as Chile tries to extricate itself from decades of privatization. The privatization was launched by the dictator Pinochet, whose advisors admired the libertarian ideas of Milton Friedman.


Our reader from the Netherlands commented:


In The Netherlands, the situation has changed in the past 15 years. It used to be the case that about 60% of all schools were privately owned. The umbrella term for these schools was, and is, ‘Bijzonder Onderwijs” and this includes all schools on a religious basis (either Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim or any other denomination) as well as schools with a special educational denomination (such as Montessori, Jenaplan, Dalton, Democratic etc.). The remaining 40% of schools used to be governmental, i.e. really ‘public’.

All of these schools were (and still are) paid for by public money. Parents are asked a small yearly fee (about 25 to 100 dollars) in order for a number of extracurricular activities.

Then came the neolib overhaul. All school boards were privatized, which is merely a legal construction by which private non-profit foundations took over the former public schools. Now all Dutch primary, secondary or tertiary schools are part of some private Foundation of Union. They are not marketed, and don’t have shareholders. They receive about 8000 dollar of public money for each subscribed student. School boards can do with that money what they like, within very, very wide limitations. The ‘freedom of education’ has turned into an increased freedom for school boards, and a decreased freedom for teachers (who have to obey the boards’ working orders) and limited freedom for parents (who can send their children to a limited number of schools).

The neolib privatization overhaul was sold to the Dutch public by the usual pretexts: ‘more quality for a lower price’. As the sceptics expected, the result turned out exactly the other way. The public expenses have more than doubled in 13 years time (the cumulative inflation being less than 30%), salaries for non-teaching staff have increased hugely, as have their number. Teaching staff, however, receive lower pay, and both teaching hours and class size have increased. PISA comparisons show that results have steadily decreased, compared to similar countries, as have the qualifications of newly arrived teachers.

I find it a bit ironic that Chile would consider The Netherlands an example in order to fight segregation. The neolib overhaul and the government-forced ‘concurrency’ between schools has resulted in dramatic segregation in urban areas. The percentage of either ‘black schools’ and ‘white schools’ has increased from 25% to 75% in only two decades, and is still growing.

I used to be proud of Dutch education. That was when I started my career as a teacher, and researcher. At present, I see very little in my country’s education system or policy that can make me proud. And I certainly would not recommend it as an example to other nations.

The following post was written by Mario Waissbluth, President of Educación 2020 Foundation, a Chilean citizen’s movement founded in 2008. Its latest reform proposals (in Spanish) are called “La Reforma Educativa que Chile Necesita”, and were published in April 2013. A book on this subject (in Spanish) is also available. These proposals were mostly adopted by and included in the educational program of the recently elected government of Michelle Bachelet, and are starting to be implemented now.

Valentina Quiroga (32) was one of the student founders of this organization and is now Undersecretary of Education.

Although Educación 2020 remains as a fully independent movement, the positions stated thereon are in many ways similar to those of the current government.

Chile: Dismantling the most pro-market education system in the world

Mario Waissbluth

In August 2013 I wrote in this blog a three piece series, called “Chile: The most pro-market system in the world.” The first described the origins and structure of the system. The second explained its educational and social results, good and bad. The third pointed the way Chile should choose to get out of this mess. If the reader wants to fully understand this situation (the most “Milton Friedmanish” in the world), incomparable with any other country, it is advisable to read those beforehand.
Although some might disagree, from both extremes of the political spectrum, we are happy to inform that the proposals we made are very similar to those being implemented now. However, the political, financial and cultural obstacles will be formidable.

Bachelet was elected by a large margin of voters and has a majority in both the House and the Senate. Nonetheless, positions within the government’s coalition are not fully homogeneous. In addition, there is an impending tax reform that is vital for funding these reforms, costing no less than 2% of gross national product in gradual increments.

Of course, many powerful companies, with strong lobbying capability, are not happy about that. The educational reforms will include dozens of new laws and budgets, covering from preschool to tertiary education.

A warning for American readers. I am fully aware that many of you are criticizing charter schools, profit, teaching to the test, skimming, and the destruction of the teaching profession. I myself have cited Diane Ravitch’s books many times. But you have to be aware that, after 30 years of neoliberal schemes in Chile, charter schools subsidized by government are a majority (55%). One third of them are religious. Two thirds of them are for-profit, and one half of them charge anywhere from US$ 10 to US$ 180 a month on top of the subsidy, therefore skimming quite efficiently.

Teaching to the test, with consequences, has been taken to the greatest extreme imaginable. Policies to destruct public education are too numerous to mention here, and the result is that this system is in acute crisis financially, managerially and emotionally. The teaching profession is in far worse condition than in the US, by any statistical criteria.

In this situation, it is simply not possible to pretend now that charter schools could vanish. Less so if millions of parents have chosen to send their children to highly segregated charters, in a country whose social inequalities are far worse than those in the US, which I know are ugly by themselves.

In short, if the US is navigating towards hell, we are already there and are trying to get out without sinking the ship. It is a very different situation.

The most difficult hurdle in front of us is not legal, political or financial, but cultural. Parents have been led to believe, for decades, that the “best” school is that which is segregated, both academically and socioeconomically. We have a true cultural and educational apartheid. Therefore, the changes will have to be gradual and careful. At the same time, the government is sending strong signals: this is not going to be a minor adjustment but a major change in the overall orientation of the school system; not to make it fully state owned, but simply to resemble the vast majority of OECD countries, probably in a way similar to that of Belgium or The Netherlands. The whole strategy is described in more detail in the above mentioned entries of this blog,

Recently, the Education Minister, Mr. Nicolás Eyzaguirre (with a powerful political and financial experience and profile) has announced the first wave of legislation, to be sent to Congress in May, whose details are now being drafted. They include, amongst other things, the radical ending of academic selection and skimming, the gradual elimination of cost-sharing (to reduce social skimming), the phasing out of 3,500 for-profit schools (to be converted into non-profits), the radical pruning of the standardized testing system, the strengthening and expansion of the public network of schools (so that they can compete in a better way with the charters) and a major reform to the teaching profession, from its training (completely unregulated so far), to improving salaries and working conditions.

This is an evolving situation. I will be most happy (if I can) to answer questions through this blog, and also to inform you about new developments in the future.

Scholars such as Henry Levin have earlier warned that the Swedish experiment in privatization is promoting greater social segregation and not improving education.


Reader Chiara Duggan adds this recent Reuters article, with her comment on the failure of market-based reform. Will anyone tell Arne Duncan or will he continue to follow the guidance of (Sir) Michael Barber of Pearson?


Duggan writes:


“Good piece on Sweden’s experiment with privatizing education:


“In a country with the fastest growing economic inequality of any OECD nation, basic aspects of the deregulated school market are now being re-considered, raising questions over private sector involvement in other areas like health.


Two-decades into its free-market experiment, about a quarter of once staunchly Socialist Sweden’s secondary school students now attend publically-funded but privately run schools, almost twice the global average.


Nearly half of those study at schools fully or partly owned by private equity firms.


Ahead of elections next year, politicians of all stripes are questioning the role of such firms, accused of putting profits first with practices like letting students decide when they have learned enough and keeping no record of their grades.


The opposition Green Party – like the Moderates long-time supporters of privately run schools but now backing the clamp-down – issued a public apology in a Swedish daily last month headlined “Forgive us, our policy led our schools astray”.


“I give the Greens huge credit for that.


“Can you IMAGINE a US political party writing “forgive us, our policy led our schools astray”? :)


“Never, ever happen.


“In 20 years when there are no public schools left we’ll get “mistakes were made”- by some unidentified person or group of people. :)”

I wrote to Professor Mario Waissbluth, who has previously written for the blog, about the new turn of events in Chile.

In his previous posts on the blog, Professor Waissbluth explained that Chile’s free-market system had been an educational disaster.

In his last post, before the recent elections, he wrote:


I wrote in this blog a 3-part sequence describing the Chilean
educational system, its consequences, proposing some ways to run
away from this malignant design. Recently, Universidad de Chile
published the results of a survey on adult literacy and numeracy
skills, following the exact methodology of SIALS, the Second
International Adult Literacy Survey published in
1998. Within
the survey data, it is shown that 15 years ago, 45% of young people
in the segment between 15 and 24 years, i.e., the generation that
was graduating or recently graduated from high school, had no
comprehension of language and arithmetic… whatsoever, not even
the ability to read and understand a very simple text or balance a
checkbook. Today, this same age segment shows, tragically and
exactly, the same results. With one of the highest high school
attendances in the world, we now find that these young people spent
12 years sitting passively at a desk, not achieving improvement
even in their most basic skills.
Even worse, in the segment of higher
education graduates, only 10% show adequate or complete
understanding of prose and numeracy, similar to what happened 15
years ago. This is the result of market system debauchery and
completely unregulated exploitation of students who pay and/or get
indebted to obtain these spurious titles. So far, only 20% of
higher education programs, most of them for-profit, have some sort
of voluntary accreditation.
This does not happen by chance, it
is the result of a market-based educational model, with extreme
segregation based on academic and socioeconomic skimming,
curricular overload, with students spending most of their time
training as parrots to answer standardized tests, with public
education and the teaching career virtually demolished.The basic
organizational and financial rules of our model do not exist
anywhere in the world and are full of perverse incentives.


Happily, the anti-privatization reformers won the election, and changes are in store.


Professor Waissbluth has promised to write a longer description of what is happening in Chile.


The leadership of the new government, he says, comes from the student protest movement.


The rollback of privatization is beginning, but there will not be a sharp break. The privatized charters continue to receive government subsidies, but other forms of privatization will be ended.


All of this is very good news indeed.


Chile’s love affair with privatization has ended, and the reform movement to restore a healthy and equitable education system in Chile has begun.


Professor Waissbluth sent this response in the middle of last night:


Hi Diane:
We are happy that the educational reform program is, almost to the letter, the one we, Educacion 2020, proposed a year ago :-)
The new Undersecretary, 32 years old, is one of the student founders of our movement, she is the lady that drafted the program, and the Minister’s staff includes several former presidents of student federations… plus some key members of our own organization, and I run some risk of it being somewhat dismembered :-(
The program does not end government subsidies to private schools (charter, which constitute almost 55% of the system) but it does end (gradually) the fact that a) most schools charge a copayment to parents, of differing amounts, thus effectively segregating and skimming socioeconomically b) that some of them are for profit c) that they do all types of academic skimming, this last practice including many public high schools. There are yet no specific details,( and they will be complex pieces of legislation) and we shall know them in a month, and these are only a few samples of future reforms. The fights in Congress wil be awesome, but the gov has a slight majority in both House and Senate. I can write a column for you, probably linking it with my three former columns to make it more understandable, or as you wish. Or maybe it should be again a series, since the reforms will be coming gradually, from preschool to tertiary level, and they will be most complex. It is not easy to “change course” radically in the most market oriented system in the world without sinking the ship.
I am happy to say that my 2013 book “Cambio de Rumbo” (Change of Course) is now on its 2nd edition, and the previous one, from 2010 “Se acabo el recreo” (School Break is Over) just entered its 5th edition :-)


Mario Waissbluth


And he added this comment this morning on the blog, in response to a reader:


We are fully aware that non-profit charters have many spurious practices as well. But you have to be aware that a) 55% of students are enrolled in for profit and non profit charters (far far more than in the US), b) after 30 years of systematic demolition policies, our public education system has virtually gone down the drain, seriously mismanaged (far far worse than in the US). A whole program for the rebirth of public schooling is being designed, it will take a few years to materialize, and for the time being this is the only practical solution. You do not revert 30 years of the most commercialized school system in the world by the stroke of one law, without breaking havoc on the system (beggining with the 55% of parents which have their kids in charters). Today, our key policy is to combat skimming, teaching to the test, and segregation, which are the worst in the world. If you wish, we are trying to go “the dutch way” and we honestly do not see any other solution. If you have a better one, we will be happy to hear about it.


As you read his comments, you can see the goal of the privatizers here: to create a critical mass of privately managed charters that will destroy public education, turning our public schools into dumping grounds, and making it difficult if not impossible to reverse the damage.

Under the dictator Pinochet, Chile became devoted to the free-market theories of libertarian economist Milton Friedman. It adopted a voucher system and embrace choice.

Over the years, the schools experienced growing social segregation and little or no improvement.

A vigorous and outraged student movement in Chile demanded changes.

Just today, a news story appeared saying that Chile intends to end public subsidies for private schools. (Oddly enough, the story is from Shanghai!)

We will keep watch on this breaking story.

The story says:

Chilean Education Minister Nicolas Eyzaguirre Thursday reaffirmed the government’s commitment to ending private education.”The pursuit of profit is not a good objective for educational institutions. It is not a good ally of a good education,” Eyzaguirre told a press conference.

The administration of President Michelle Bachelet, who took office in March, has proposed an ambitious overhaul of the education system to provide affordable, quality education, as demanded by a national student movement launched in 2011.

The government’s proposed reforms basically call for greater public spending on education, free primary education, and an end to state-subsidies of private schools and to profit-oriented universities.

“The state needs to withdraw from many productive activities, but not those that are considered a social right,” said Eyzaguirre.

The current educational system, which was increasingly privatized by the previous pro-business administration, creates more tension between the nation’s privileged and working classes, the minister said.

State support for universities will have to be phased in slowly, the minister indicated, as many of the centers of higher education have not been certified.

“We can’t be throwing around public money without ensuring quality,” he said.

To finance the education reform, Bachelet has proposed increasing the corporate tax rate from 20 percent to 25 percent, an initiative opposed by the business and conservative political sector, but expected to be adopted by the country’s legislature.



The Los Angeles Times tells us what we should already know: The higher the stakes on exams, the more bad consequences will follow.

In India, there are crucial exams, and cheating is a persistent problem. Ingenious students us their ingenuity not to answer the questions, but to find ways to get the right answer, either electronically by remote device or by sneaking in old-fashioned crib sheets.

In the United States, we have seen numerous examples of cheating by administrators and teachers, as in El Paso, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. We have also seen narrowing of the curriculum to make time for more test preparation and loss of the arts, libraries, physical education, and even recess. We have seen teaching to the test, a practice once considered unprofessional. We have seen states game the system, dropping the pass score to artificially boost the passing rate.

The story in the L.A. Times describes a business that sells electronic devices to text exam questions to someone outside who responds with the correct answer. Officials are aware of the problem:

“At a test center in northern India’s Bareilly district, state-appointed inspectors making a surprise visit last month found school staff members writing answers to a Hindi exam on the blackboard. When the inspectors arrived, the staff members tried to throw the evidence out the window.

“Sometimes the stories are horrifying. A 10th-grader in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, accused his principal last month of allowing students to cheat if they each paid about $100. The student’s impoverished family could barely manage half the bribe. Distraught, he doused himself with kerosene and set himself on fire in the family kitchen. He died the next day.

“At the well-regarded Balmohan Vidyamandir school in central Mumbai, 10th-grade teacher Shubhada Nigudkar didn’t notice the math formulas written on the wall in the back of the classroom in a neat, tiny script until days after the exams concluded.
“There is nothing we can do at that point,” the matronly, bespectacled English teacher said. “I can’t prove anything. So we move on.”

“The problems have prompted education officials to take preventive measures that at first blush might seem worthy of a minimum-security prison. Some schools installed closed-circuit cameras to monitor testing rooms. Others posted armed police officers at entrances or employed jamming devices to block the use of cellphones to trade answers.”

The problem is high-stakes testing. Our own officials in the United States can’t get enough.

The best antidote would be to require them to take the exams they mandate. If they can’t pass them, they should resign.

Someday, in the not distant future, when the history of this era is recorded, No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top will be recalled among the biggest policy failures of our times. They will be remembered as policies that undermined the quality of education, demoralized educators, promoted the privatization of schools, and destroyed children’s love of learning.,0,165573.htmlstory#ixzz2z3whGNKt

Since there is always a lot of chatter about what international tests scores mean, I invited David Berliner to share his views. Berliner is one of our nation’s pre-eminent scholars of education.



Dear Diane,


A few weeks ago you asked me a question about recent PISA test results and the role that is played by poverty in the scores of the USA and other countries. As I understand it PISA doesn’t compute the poverty-test score relationships in quite the same way we might in the USA, but the results they get are similar to what we get.


Investigations of the poverty-test score relationships in PISA 2012 (OECD, 2013) relied on two variables, each of which was a composite. First, they used a family social class measure that was supposed to capture the income and cultural resources of a family. They combined three factors to get one composite index of family social standing: the highest occupational level of either parent; the highest educational level of the parents; and home possessions (particularly, books in the home). This family index of social class standing is not income, and it is also not always a good measure of social class standing (for example, think of highly educated immigrants who hold low wage jobs). Nevertheless, it is this composite indicator of social standing that was used to examine the scores each nation attained in tests of mathematics, science, or reading. The relationships between social standing and achievement were quite similar on all three tests of subject matter.


When we ask what percent of the variance in US students’ PISA scores was accounted for by this composite of family social class variables, the answer is around 20% (OECD, 2013, Fig ll.2.3). Twenty percent explained variation in PISA scores that arise from differences in socioeconomic factors related to families is low enough to suggest that “poverty is no excuse,” or that, “demography is not destiny.” Such maximssound reasonable because it appears at first that about 80% of the variation in student test scores is still to be accounted for. Thus, if we just had great teachers and great school leaders every child would be successful. But this interpretation is completely misleading.


For example, PISA also informs us that the test score difference attributable to moving up or down one place on the social class measure is 39 points. That works out to nearly one year of schooling on the PISA scale. So, if in the recent great recession your family was hurt and you move down the social class scale one unit, the prediction from PISA data is that children of such families are likely, eventually, to be scoring one full year lower than they might have had their family just stayed at their more advantaged social level. So the “20% variance accounted for” estimate is not a trivial figure when we look at the score points that are involved in having only slightly different social class standing. The data convincingly suggests that social status variables are quite powerful and not quite as easily overcome as the maxims we hear that suggest otherwise.


This becomes even more apparent with some additional information collected by the PISA designers. The 2012 study used information obtained from school principals about the school attended by each child in the sample. Thus, schools were categorized on the basis of the wealth and the poverty of the student body, along with the housing patterns and values in the school catchment areas, the qualities of the teachers assigned to the schools the children attend, the funding of the schools, and a number of other school level variables that are correlated strongly with the incomes of students’ families. This is the second large composite variable used in understanding the relationship of poverty to PISA test scores.


The relevant data is given as the percent of the test score variance that is attributable to differences between schools because of the population they draw. Together the family and the school level variables related to social class account for 58% of the variance we see between schools. This is quite close to the data we usually cite in the USA, namely, that about 60% of the variance we see among schools is the result of outside-of-school factors, not inside-of-school factors. (It is generally agreed that in the USA we often have 20% of the variance in test scores accounted for by school variables, maybe half of which is a teacher effect. So, in the USA, the outside-of-school variables count for about 3 times the effect of the inside-of-school variables, and they count for about 6 times the effect of teachers on the aggregate scores of classes and schools.)


Thus the international data support the estimate of poverty’s effects on test scores that we have obtained from studying internal US test data. In fact, the 2012 PISA data provides a similar estimate to what was found in the Coleman report of the 1960s. The historical record, therefore, tells us that if we want to fix schools that are not now performing well on achievement tests, we might do well to work on the out-of-school factors that influence educational achievement, and not put all our efforts into trying to improve inside-of-the school factors, as the President and Secretary of Education continue to do. Our elected officials and numerous misguided individuals and corporations keep failing to interpret the extant data in a credible way.


To those who say “poverty is no excuse,” I would then ask how they account for poverty’s potency in explaining so much of the variance in achievement test scores in the USA and elsewhere? Indeed, poverty may not be an excuse for poor performance, but it sure is a quite reasonable hypothesis about the origins of student, school, and school district differences in achievement test scores. And, of course, it may not be poverty per se that is the causal factor in the low achievement seen on so many different tests. Rather, it may be poverty’s sequelae that is the culprit. That is, the wealth of families determines such things as housing, and it is housing that determines the types of neighbors one has, the mental health and crime rates in your neighborhood, the availability of role models for children, the number of moves a family makes while children are young, the stability of family relationships, low birth weight, teen pregnancy rates, Otitus Media rates in childhood, and so forth. Discussing “poverty” and “achievement” is a simple way of expressing the relationships we find between dozens of the sequelae associated with poverty and the many forms of achievement valued by our society.


PISA provides still more evidence that poverty is a strong factor in shaping students’ lives, supporting the contention that it is really quite common for demography to determine destiny. PISA looked at “resilient students,” those who are in the bottom quartile of the social class distribution, but in the top quartile in the achievement test distribution. These are 15-year-olds who seem to beak the shackles imposed by family and neighborhood poverty. In the USA, about 6% of the children do that. So 94% of youth born into or raised in that lower quartile of family culture and resources do not make it into the top quartile of school achievers. Admittedly, poverty is hard to overcome in most countries. But why is it that Belgium, Canada, Finland, Turkey, and Portugal, among many others, produce at least 40% more “resilient kids” than do we? Could it be because the class lines are more hardened here in the USA? Whatever the cause, given these data, the mantra that “Poverty is no Excuse” seems weak, and easily countered by the more rational statement that comes directly from the PISA data, namely, that family poverty and its sequelae severely limit the life chances of most children in the lower quartiles, quintiles, and deciles on measures of social class standing.


More evidence of this is also found in the PISA data. Housing patterns seemed to matter a lot in determining scores on the PISA 2012 assessments. There were striking performance differences observed between students in schools with socially advantaged students and those in schools with socially disadvantaged schools. Students attending socioeconomically advantaged schools in OECD countries outscore those in disadvantaged schools, on average, by more than 104 points in mathematics! This is of course quite a common finding in the USA where Jonathan Kozol once described our housing patterns as “Apartheid-Lite.” We should note, too, that a reanalysis of the Coleman report by Borman and Dowling (2010) broke out the variance in test scores attributable to individual background (like variable 1 in PISA) and the social composition of the schools (like variable 2 in PISA). Borman and Dowling say their reanalysis provides “very clear and compelling evidence that going to a high-poverty school or a highly segregated African American school has a profound effect on a student’s achievement outcomes, above and beyond the effect of his or her individual poverty or minority status. Specifically, both the racial/ethnic and social class composition of a student’s school are more than 1 3/4 times more important than a student’s individual race/ethnicity or social class for understanding educational outcomes. In dramatic contrast to previous analyses of the Coleman data, these findings reveal that school context effects dwarf the effects of family background.”


Many other nations have the same pattern of housing and schooling that we do: wages determine housing, and housing determines the characteristics of the student body and the quality of the school attended by children. This all suggests that there is a lot of support for the statement that demography, in too many instances, really does determine destiny.


The clearest case of this comes from analyses of other, earlier PISA data, by Doug Willms (2006). His analysis suggests that if children of average SES attended one of their own nations high performing schools, or instead attended one of their own nations’ low performing schools, the difference at age 15, the age of PISA testing, would be equivalent to about 4 grade levels. Thus a 10th grader of average SES who can attend a high performing school is likely to score at about the 12th grade level (a grade level approximation from PISA data). And if that same child were to attend a low performing school, he or she would score at about the 8th grade level. It’s the same hypothetical child we are talking about, but with two very different lives to be lead as a function of the makeup of the schools attended. It is not the quality of the teachers, the curriculum, the computers available, or any number of other variables that are often discussed when issues of school quality come up. Instead, the composition of the school seems to be the most powerful factor in changing the life course for this hypothetical, average child. PISA data from an earlier assessment in Australia documents the same phenomena (Perry and McConney, 2010). In science, the score of a low income student in a low income school averages 455. But the score of similar low income students at schools that serve upper income children is over half a standard deviation higher—512. And a high income student in a school serving low income students scores 555, but high income students enrolled in schools with high income peers score half a standard deviation higher—607. Note what is most impressive here: the low income student in a school with low income families scores 455, while a high income student in a school with high income families scores 607. That is about a standard deviation and a half apart! These are 15 year olds that are worlds apart in both housing patterns, school quality, and in measures of cognitive ability. In short, PISA data overwhelmingly supports the belief that demography and destiny are closely related, a terrible embarrassment for democratic countries that pay so much lip service to the principal of equality of opportunity. Apparently, the chant that “poverty is no excuse” can easily become a reason for doing nothing about poverty’s effects on many social variables that consistently, and cross nationally, affect both school outcomes and life chances. Horatio Alger may have never been fully believable, but a few decades ago it looks like Horatio simply died, mostly unnoticed.




Borman, G. D. & Dowling, M. (2010). Schools and Inequality: A Multilevel Analysis of Coleman’s Equality of Educational Opportunity Data. Teachers College Record, 112 (5), 1201–1246.


OECD (2013), PISA 2012 Results: Excellence Through Equity: Giving Every Student the Chance to Succeed (Volume II), PISA, OECD Publishing.


Perry, L. B. & McConney, A. (2010). Does the SES of the school matter? An

examination of socioeconomic status and student achievement using PISA

2003. Teachers College Record 112 (4), 1137–1162.


Willms, J. D. (2006). Learning divides: Ten policy questions about the performance and equity of schools and schooling systems. Montreal, Canada: UNESCO Institute for Statistics.





In this fourth installment in his series of posts criticizing PISA, Yong Zhao examines the claim that low-income children in China outperformed the children of professional in the rest of the developed world.

He begins with the shock value of the headlines, which are guaranteed to stir nationalistic fervor:

“China’s poorest beat our best pupils”—The Telegraph (UK), 2-17-2014
“Children of Shanghai cleaners better at math than kids of Israeli lawyers”—Haaretz (Israel), 2-19-2014
“Cleaners’ children in China beat kids of US, UK professionals at maths: study”—NDTV (India), 2-18-2014
“Children of Chinese janitors outscore wealthy Canadians in global exams”—The Globe and Mail (Canada), 2-19- 2014

He writes:

“These are some of the most recent sensational headlines generated by PISA with a 4-page report entitled Do parents’ occupations have an impact on student performance released in February 2014. These headlines exemplify the secret of PISA’s great success as a masterful illusionist: effective misdirection of attention by exploiting human instinct for competition.

“From the start, the entire PISA enterprise has been designed to capitalize on the intense nationalistic concern for global competitiveness by inducing strong emotional responses from the unsuspecting public, gullible politicians, and sensation-seeking media. Virtually all PISA products, particularly its signature product—the league tables, are intended to show winners and losers, in not only educational policies and practices of the past, but more important, in capacity for global competition in the future. While this approach has made PISA an extremely successful global enterprise, it has misled the world down a path of self-destruction, resulting in irrational policies and practices that are more likely to squander precious resources and opportunities than enhancing capacity for future prosperity.”

I won’t summarize his arguments but I will share his conclusion:

“The bottom line: Until OECD-PISA became the only employer in the world with PISA scores as the only qualification, I would not suggest lawyers and doctors in the U.S., U.K., or any nation to replace your children’s activities in music, arts, sports, dancing, debates, and field trips with math tutoring. For the same reason, it is not time yet for schools in developed countries to close your swimming pools, burn your musical instruments, end museums visits, or fire your art teachers.”

Yong Zhao, who was born and educated in China, is a sharp critic of standardized testing. This article is the third in a series in which he criticizes PISA for misleading the world and promoting standardization and uniformity.

In this article, he reviews the many critiques of PISA by testing expert in other actions.

He writes:

“From the start, the entire PISA enterprise has been designed to capitalize on the intense nationalistic concern for global competitiveness by inducing strong emotional responses from the unsuspecting public, gullible politicians, and sensation-seeking media. Virtually all PISA products, particularly its signature product—the league tables, are intended to show winners and losers, in not only educational policies and practices of the past, but more important, in capacity for global competition in the future. While this approach has made PISA an extremely successful global enterprise, it has misled the world down a path of self-destruction, resulting in irrational policies and practices that are more likely to squander precious resources and opportunities than enhancing capacity for future prosperity.”

He reviews the OECD’s claim that the children of factory workers in Shanghai had higher scores than the children of professionals in the U.S. and finds it misleading.

Then he adds the “so what” factor:

“Even if PISA had done everything properly and indeed children of factory workers in Shanghai scored better than children of lawyers in the U.K. and the U.S., it does not necessarily mean they are better educated or prepared for the modern society, considering the limitation of PISA test scores as I discussed in Part 3 of this series. It could mean something entirely different: while PISA scores can be achieved with little resources and intense repetition of narrowly defined, uniformly prescribed content and skills, what truly matters—talent diversity, creativity, and entrepreneurialism—cannot. The multiplication table can be learned with a piece of paper, but it would be difficult to force anyone to play the piano without a piano. Everyone can be forced to memorize Hamlet, but it is unlikely to force anyone to invent the iPhone.”

In this post, Yong Zhao chastises Marc Tucker for admiring Chinese authoritarian education methods. Tucker, he says, praises China for its high standards and excellent exams, but he is wrong. This is part 2 of Yong Zhao’s critique of PISA. He calls this one “Gloryifying Educational Authoritarianism.”. His first was called “How Does PISA Put the Word At Risk? Romanticizing Misery.”

The secret of China’s high scores, Zhao says, is constant test prep and cheating.

Zhao writes:

“Tucker is wrong on all counts, at least in the case of China. Students may work hard, but they do not necessarily take tough courses. They take courses that prepare them for the exams or courses that only matter for the exams. Students do not move on to meet a high standard, but to prepare for the exams. The exams can be gamed, and have often been. Teachers guess possible items, companies sell answers and wireless cheating devices to students[1], and students engage in all sorts of elaborate cheating. In 2013, a riot broke because a group of students in the Hubei Province were stopped from executing the cheating scheme their parents purchased to ease their college entrance exam[2]. “An angry mob of more than 2,000 people had gathered to vent its rage, smashing cars and chanting: ‘We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat,’” read the story in the U.K.-based newspaper The Telegraph.

“Tucker’s assertion, that “because the exams are of very high quality, they cannot be ‘test prepped,’” is completely untrue. Chinese schools exist to test prep. Every class, every teacher, every school is about preparing for the exams. In most schools, the last year of high school is reserved exclusively for test preparation. No new content is taught. All students do, the entire year, is take practice tests and learn test-taking skills. Good schools often help the students exhaust all possible ways specific content might show up in an exam. Schools that have earned a reputation for preparing students for college exams have published their practice test papers and made a fortune. A large proportion of publications for children in China are practice test papers.”

Worse, Zhao asserts, the standardization crushes imagination and ingenuity. Everyone is taught to think alike, squelching creativity.

This is definitely worth reading in full, especially if you happen to work in Congress or the U.S. Department of Education.


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