Educator Katie Zahedi and Professor Heinz Dieter Meyer wrote a letter critical of PISA’s emphasis on high-stakes testing and global competition. The letter has been translated into several languages and has gathered more than 1,000 signatures.

If you wish to dign the letter, it is here.

Andreas Schleicher, director of PISA, disagreed with their letter and denied their critique. Since it is impossible to draft a response by more than 1,000 people in a timely manner, signers of the letter were invited to respond to Dr. Schleicher on their own.

This is Katie Zahedi’s response.

She writes:

“Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain: PISA and the OECD Agenda”

Andreas Schleicher has responded to an open letter that critiques OECD’s PISA league tables: Defending the OECD’s grand role in education policy, his response denies the letter’s concern that PISA drives reform toward short term fixes by saying that performance has improved in Germany and Poland. Of course he equates progress with improvement on the PISA, which is precisely the short term fix we decry.

The Open Letter addresses widespread concerns with the PISA. Yong Zhao of the University of Oregon refers to the damaging effects of PISA as: “…an ironic tragedy of the 21st Century born out of ignorance.

While Dr. Schleicher hopefully takes a moment to do a closer read of the open letter, I would like to explain the intent of the critique and counter proposal signed by Heinz-Dieter Meyer and myself.

We were in the audience at Schleicher’s presentation at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in Philadelphia April, 2014. After Schleicher’s presentation of colorful graphics, tracking the purported educational status of nations (based on one test) fellow panel member Martin Carnoy of Stanford explained why the PISA scores may not matter! Heinz-Dieter Meyer drew attention to a profound shift from nation-state level leadership to a global educational governance structure. I lamented his cavalier construction of variables, i.e., in which he provided correlations to a tag he referred to as “similar social background” in discussing counties as different as Luxembourg, Ghana and the U.S. One can assume he was referring to a rudimentary conception of students’ local economic status by deciles.

The meeting ended with an incredulous group of scholars and professionals congregated at the back of the hall discussing the lack of substantive insight, while alone at the front of the room on his laptop, was a “Great and Powerful Oz” …the curtain parted, sitting in the gray hue of a conference screen gone blank of its colorful graphs and reductionist explanations. A scholar from Shanghai (whose question was brushed aside by Schleicher) restated his unresolved concern: “what if by focusing on what we can measure, we end up marginalizing things that cannot be measured?”

The motivation of the letter was that I felt sorry for a man, who unfortunate destiny had placed at the helm of an ill-informed, grand design. The open letter is an extended helping hand, reaching out to improve understanding of where we are headed with education policy. In inviting my colleagues to write, and/or attempt to meet with Schleicher, Meyer initially chuckled, but thankfully took it on. The letter was reviewed by peers Diane Ravitch (NYU) and Stephen Mucher (Bard College) and signed by over a thousand others whose educational homes have been spinning in PISA’s cyclone… and who are clicking their heels in hopes of leaving the strange land of testing Oz.

Katie Zahedi