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.”