Archives for category: International

Tom Loveless has been writing about international assessments for many years. He was quick to blow the whistle on China when the previous international test scores came out, noting that unlike the U.S. and most other nations, China was not testing a cross-section of its students.

In this article on Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet blog, Loveless calls out China again for rigging the outcomes to make its students #1.

China’s gains on the tests from 2015 to 2018 were so large as to be incredible, literally not credible.

So the typical change in a nation’s scores is about 10 points. The differences between the 2015 and 2018 Chinese participants are at least six times that amount. The differences are also at least seven times the standard deviation of all interval changes. Highly unusual…

The past PISA scores of Chinese provinces have been called into question (by me and others) because of the culling effect of hukou on the population of 15-year-olds — and for the OECD allowing China to approve which provinces can be tested. In 2009, PISA tests were administered in 12 Chinese provinces, including several rural areas, but only scores from Shanghai were released.

Three years later, the BBC reported, “The Chinese government has so far not allowed the OECD to publish the actual data.” To this day, the data have not been released.
The OECD responded to past criticism by attacking critics and conducting data reviews behind closed doors. A cloud hangs over PISA scores from Chinese provinces. I urge the OECD to release, as soon as possible, the results of any quality checks of 2018 data that have been conducted, along with scores, disaggregated by province, from both the 2015 and 2018 participants.

The OECD allows China to hide data and game the system. This lack of transparency should not stand.

Our blog poet reflects on the meaning of the latest international test scores (PISA).

That’s a Moron

When the test hits your eye
Like an old PISA pie
That’s a moron

When the scores make you drool just like a pasta fazool
You’re a moron
When you dance down the street with a test as your beat
You’re insane
When you walk in a dream but you know you’re not dreaming signore
Scuzza me, but you see, back in old Napoli
You’re a moron
A moron, that’s a moron

Peter Greene writes regularly for Forbes, where this article appeared.

He explains for the  umpteenth time (as I have done repeatedly) that the U.S. has never led the world on international tests, whether it was PISA, TIMSS, IEA, or any other.

He writes:

The top scores this year come from the usual batch of test takers,including the Chinese, who give the test to students from wealthy provinces.. PISA day is also the one day that some folks hear about Estonia, the tiny nation that somehow has not conquered the world even though their students do well on the PISA.

PISA coverage tends to overlook one major question—why should anyone care about these scores? Where is the research showing a connection between PISA scores and a nation’s economic, political, or global success? What is the conclusion to the statement, “Because they get high PISA scores, the citizens of [insert nation here] enjoy exceptionally good______” ?

Did US companies outsource work to India and China because of their citizens’ PISA scores, or because of low wages and loose regulation? Do we have the world’s most expensive health care system because of mediocre PISA scores? Which politicians have ridden to success on the PISA score platform pony? Are any geopolitical conflicts solved by whipping out the contending countries’ PISA scores for comparison? And is there a shred of evidence that raising PISA scores would improve life for US citizens (spoiler alert: no)?…

There will be discussions of what the PISA scores do or do not prove. Some of that is fair; Common Core and other ed reforms pushed by billionaires and thinky tanks and politicians and a variety of other non-educators were going to turn this all around. They haven’t. This comes as zero surprise to actual educators. It’s just one more data point showing that all the reform heaped on education since A Nation At Risk is not producing the promised results.

Remember when Arne Duncan promoted the “Race to the Top”? Remember when David Coleman and Bill Gates pledged that Common Core would close achievement gaps and raise the lowest-performing students closer to the top-performers? There comes a time when people must be held accountable for their promises.



Yong Zhao, the brilliant education analyst, writes here about the great PISA illusion. If you have not read any of Zhao’s books, do so now. If you have not heard him speak, google him or invite him to your next big conference. He is insightful, provocative, thoughtful, absolutely delightful! He is a master at making people think and debunking hoaxes.  Please read the entire post to learn how we and the rest of the world have been hoaxed by promoters of fake ideas.

He writes:

PISA is a masterful magician. It has successfully created an illusion of education quality and marketed it to the world. In 2018, 79 countries took part in this magic show out of the belief that this triennial test accurately measures the quality of their education systems, the effectiveness of their teachers, the ability of their students, and the future prosperity of their society.

PISA’s magical power in the education universe stems from its bold claims and successful marketing. It starts by tapping into the universal anxiety about the future. Humans are naturally concerned about the future and have a strong desire to know if tomorrow is better than, or at least as good as, today. Parents want to know if their children will have a good life; politicians want to know if their nations have the people to build a more prosperous economy; the public wants to know if the young will become successful and contributing members of the society.

PISA brilliantly exploits the anxiety and desire of parents, politicians, and the public with three questions (OECD, 1999, p. 7):

  • How well are young adults prepared to meet the challenges of the future?
  • Are they able to analyse, reason and communicate their ideas effectively?
  • Do they have the capacity to continue learning throughout life?

These words begin the document that introduced PISA to the world in 1999 and have been repeated in virtually all PISA reports ever since. The document then states the obvious: “Parents, students, the public and those who run education systems need to know” (OECD, 1999, p. 7). And as can be expected, PISA offers itself as the fortuneteller by claiming that:

PISA assesses the extent to which 15-year-old students, near the end of their compulsory education, have acquired key knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in modern societies. … The assessment does not just ascertain whether students can reproduce knowledge; it also examines how well students can extrapolate from what they have learned and can apply that knowledge in unfamiliar settings, both in and outside of school. This approach reflects the fact that modern economies reward individuals not for what they know, but for what they can do with what they know. (OECD, 2016, p. 25).

This claim not only offers PISA as a tool to sooth anxiety but also, and perhaps more importantly, makes it the tool for such purpose because it helps to knock out its competitors. As an international education assessment, PISA came late. Prior to PISA, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) had already been operating international assessments since the 1960s, offering influential programs such as TIMSS and PIRLS. For a start-up to beat the establishment, it must offer something different and better. That’s exactly what PISA promised: a different and better assessment…

However, the claim, the foundation upon which PISA has built its success, has been seriously challenged. First, there is no evidence to justify, let alone prove, the claim that PISA indeed measures skills that are essential for life in modern economies. Second, the claim is an imposition of a monolithic and West-centric view of societies on the rest of the world. Third, the claim distorts the purpose of education.

Made-up Claim

The claim that PISA measures knowledge and skills essential for the modern society or the future world is not based on any empirical evidence. Professor Stefan Hopmann of the University of Vienna writes:

There is no research available that proves this assertion beyond the point that knowing something is always good and knowing more is better. There is not even research showing that PISA covers enough to be representative of the school subjects involved or the general knowledge-base. PISA items are based on the practical reasoning of its researchers and on pre-tests of what works in most or all settings — and not on systematic research on current or future knowledge structures and needs. (Hopmann, 2008, p. 438).

In other words, the claim was just a fantasy, an illusion, entirely made up by the PISA team. But PISA keeps repeating its assertion that measures skills needed for the future. The strategy worked. PISA successfully convinced people through repetition…

Although PISA claims that it does not assess according to national curricula or school knowledge, its results have been interpreted as a valid measure of the quality of educational systems. But the view of education promoted by PISA is a distorted and extremely narrow one (Berliner, 2011; Sjøberg, 2015; Uljens, 2007). PISA treats economic growth and competitiveness as the sole purpose of education. Thus it only assesses subjects — reading, math, science, financial literacy, and problem solving — that are generally viewed as important for boosting competitiveness in the global economy driven by science and technology. PISA shows little interest in other subjects that have occupied the curricula of many countries such as the humanities, arts and music, physical education, social sciences, world languages, history, and geography (Sjøberg, 2015).

While preparing children for economic participation is certainly part of the responsibility of educational institutions, it cannot and should not be the only responsibility (Labaree, 1997; Sjøberg, 2015; Zhao, 2014, 2016). The purpose of education in many countries includes a lot more than preparing economic beings. Citizenship, solidarity, equity, curiosity and engagement, compassion, empathy, curiosity, cultural values, physical and mental health, and many others are some of the frequently mentioned purposes in national education goal states. But these aspects of purpose of education “are often forgotten or ignored when discussions about the quality of the school is based on PISA scores and rankings” (Sjøberg, 2015, p. 113).

Zhao presents a devastating critique of the validity of PISA. It is a must read.

Politico Morning Education reports:


U.S. SCORES IN READING, MATHEMATICS AND SCIENCE LITERACY REMAINED ESSENTIALLY FLAT FROM 2015 in the latest Program for International Student Assessment results, but U.S. rankings improved because other education systems worsened.

— The 2018 PISA results showed U.S. average scores in reading and science literacy were higher than the average of about three dozen mostly industrialized countries making up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which develops and coordinates the assessment. But U.S. average math scores were lower than the OECD average.

— PISA, an international assessment administered every three years, measures 15-year-old students’ literacy in the three disciplines and is designed to provide a global view of U.S. students’ performance compared to their peers in nearly 80 education systems.

— “If I communicated nothing, I hope I communicated that we are struggling in math in comparison to our competitors around the world,” Peggy G. Carr, the associate commissioner of assessments for the National Center for Education Statistics, told reporters in a call before the results were released. Nicole Gaudiano has more.


The PISA results were released, and they put the test-and-punish reforms of the past two decades in a harsh light. Billions have been spent on testing and spurious teacher evaluations.

Dana Goldstein writes in the New York Times:

The performance of American teenagers in reading and math has been stagnant since 2000, according to the latest results of a rigorous international exam, despite a decades-long effort to raise standards and help students compete with peers across the globe.

And the achievement gap in reading between high and low performers is widening. Although the top quarter of American students have improved their performance on the exam since 2012, the bottom 10th percentile lost ground, according to an analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics, a federal agency.

If you recall, the Disrupters claimed that their method would both “Race to the Top” and “close achievement gaps.”

Their strategies did neither. Time for a change.

In recent years, I have posted several times about the issues raised by the efforts of for-profit Bridge International Academies to supply low-cost schools in Africa. These schools are staffed by teachers equipped with iPads reading a script written in Boston or someplace similar. Most African families can’t afford the cost. BIA aims to disrupt and replace African nations’ underfunded, ill-equipped public schools. African nations should be building a universal, free public school system with qualified teachers. The entry of BIA, despite good intentions, disrupts thoughtful long-term planning. BIA is supported by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, the World Bank, and other wealthy donors.

The World Bank’s ombudsman recently expressed concern about BIA.

A major development in the World Bank Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) complaint against the International Finance Corporation’s investment in Bridge International Academies was just announced.
The East African Centre for Human Rights announced the World Bank’s accountability body report, which raised ‘substantial concerns’ regarding the investment in Bridge International Academies.
In a report published Friday, the CAO found ‘substantial concerns’ regarding the issues brought against the company. An investigation into the International Financial Corporation’s (IFC) investment in Bridge International Academies will now be launched.

The investigation will look at whether the IFC took reasonable steps to ensure Bridge complied with national law and standards, labour rights, and IFC policy requirements for transparency, community participation, and health and safety standards.

The East African Centre for Human Rights (EACHRights) on behalf of the complainants, welcomed the report on Friday, urging the World Bank and IFC to commit to the provision of free, quality public education for all.

In solidarity with EACHRights, and the learners, parents, teachers and community members affected, we support this significant development and call for the World Bank and other major investors to ensure the right to education is fulfilled in line with the Abidjan Principles.

The full press release is available below.

Kind regards,

Campaigner, Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
+1 613-203-8093 |

NAIROBI, 25TH OCTOBER 2019. The World Bank’s independent recourse and accountability mechanism, Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), published a report yesterday raising “substantial concerns” regarding Bridge International Academies (BIA) and announcing their intention to conduct a compliance investigation into the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) investment in the company.

This decision comes after a comprehensive appraisal of a complaint filed in April 2018 by ten Kenyan citizens, with support from The East African Centre for Human Rights (EACHRights,) which outlined alleged contravention of IFC performance standards and abuses of human rights law as committed by the IFC client, BIA. The complaint was filed following a long list of concerns raised by various independent sourcesacademics, rights holderscivil society organisations and journalists since 2016.

In order to decide whether a compliance investigation is required, the CAO first conducts a compliance appraisal. Through this appraisal, the CAO determined that BIA’s operations raise “substantial concerns” regarding: “(a) the specific allegations of adverse impacts to teachers, parents and students raised in the complaints; (b) the Environmental and Social risk profile of the schools in light of their number, locations and concerns regarding their construction methods; and (c) the registration status of the schools and adherence to relevant health and safety requirements.”

The CAO raised concerns regarding the adequacy of the IFCs supervision and due diligence regarding its investment in BIA. The investigation by the CAO will also look into the IFC’s supervision of BIA’s compliance with national laws, and its capacity and commitment to implement IFC performance standards including those relating to labour practices and the environment, health and safety aspects of its schools. In the course of the investigation, IFC may also consider whether IFC’s policy framework provides an appropriate level of protection for workers, the environment and affected communities in a context of providing low-cost services in informal settlements.

Dr Judith Oloo the Chief Executive Officer at the East African Centre for Human Rights commented: ‘It has been a long wait for the complainants involved in this case. In making this decision, the CAO has taken into account the scale of BIA’s operations in Kenya, the number of communities potentially impacted and also considered the vulnerable status of children and families that are the target market for Bridge schools. We look forward to a rigorous and thorough investigation, and call on all investors to start taking action to avoid further harm.’

Sylvain Aubry, from the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, stated: “The CAO report confirms the concerns and many issues that parents, teachers, and civil society organisations have been raising for years about the harmful practices of Bridge International Academies. It’s now time for the World Bank and other major investors such as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, the Omidyar Network, and the UK Government to take immediate action to remedy the situation and comply with the right to education.

Tony Baker from RESULTS Educational Fund added “This investigation comes at a critical time when donors like the Global Partnership for Education and others are exploring their own private sector engagement strategies. Such investment decisions must be evidence-based, and a thorough and honest look at the concerns around for-profit private schools like Bridge is needed to ensure that such approaches truly support national efforts to achieve free, quality education for all.”

It is anticipated that the compliance investigation will be completed by September 2020. More information on the investigation can be found here.

The complainants trust that the investigation will confirm what existing evidence already shows and that actions will be taken by the World Bank and IFC to ensure that the findings are adequately addressed in fairness to the thousands of children, parents and teachers who are daily affected by these violations.

Bridge International Academies is a for-profit, multinational commercial chain of low cost private schools running over 500 institutions in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Liberia and India. The company’s operations have raised concerns over the threat they pose to the right to education. The IFCs total equity investment in Bridge International Academies as of June 2019 is US $13.5 million.

The East African Centre for Human Rights (EACHRights): Linda Oduor-Noah,, +254 7 01 67 00 90



In case you didn’t open this link in the previous post, David Kristofferson recommends this article that explains why Dutch children are the “happiest in the world.”

Here are three of the six reasons:

1. Babies get more sleep.

2. Kids spend more time with both parents.

3. Kids feel less pressure to excel in school.

To read the author’s explanations and to learn about the other three reasons, open the link.

Here is a 2018 listing of the happiest children and countries in the world.

The Netherlands is still first.

According to the rankings, Dutch kids’ education, their material well-being and behaviors and risks were the best in the world. Their happiness is attributed to a non-competitive, low-stress school culture and a good work-life balance for parents, among other reasons.

Finland is number 4.

Finland was fourth overall but No. 2 in material well-being and No. 4 in education for children. Recently, it was named the happiest country on Earth. What gives? Among other things, their taxation system has narrowed, if not eliminated, a lot of disparity between the rich and poor. And children’s services, including education, child care and health, are well-funded. Men and women are, in general, equal. What’s not to be happy about?







Michael Moore visited Finland with a camera crew to learn about its education system.

How could a nation post high test scores on international tests when its schools emphasize creativity, play, physical activity, and the arts and ignores standardized testing?

Watch his video and see what you think.


Reader Jack Covey, a teacher in Los Angeles, sent the following comment to me:


First, watch this clip from Michael Moore about
schools in Finland:
Now, read Education Next on the same topic, in
the context of a book review by Cherker Finn.
Here’s the ending of Chester Finn’s “Stick with GERM” 
review of Past Sahsberg’s new book, and his
argument that “play” hurts poor kids, but it’s fine
for middle class kids (and presumably upper class
kids as well).  
He says we’re “bizarrely and cruelly” damaging 
those poor kids when U.S. schools “model themselves 
on a charming small country in northern Europe 
(it’s Finn vs. Finns, I guess)