Part 1—From Friedman over to Ravitch: In this post-journalistic nation, the PISA is now a cult.
The PISA’s official status became clear just last week. In part, this occurred with the adoption of “PISA Day,” a national day of mourning and false remembrance which was widely observed across the land.
“In the U.S., the lackluster [PISA] results will be marked by great fanfare,” the Huffington Post reported. “On Tuesday, Andreas Schleicher, the OECD researcher who created the exam, will hand the results to Duncan, the education secretary, in a long, glitzy Newseum ceremony known as PISA Day.”
(In its report, the Huffington Post made a series of overstatements and misstatements drawn from the PISA’s official poop sheets. So it goes as the somewhat shaky PISA comes to rule the land.)
Needless to say, PISA Day had to be ratified at the Newseum! That said, the Huffington Post was hardly alone in its adoption of PISA perspectives. Across the press corps, pundit elites recited the scripts which emerged from this Paris-based cult.
Consider the way Thomas L. Friedman began his column in yesterday’s New York Times. We include the column’s title, which can almost be read as a bit of an irony:
FRIEDMAN (12/8/13): Can’t We Do Better?Three years ago, our Dearest Leader “came here with a special report!”
The latest results in the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which compare how well 15-year-olds in 65 cities and countries can apply math, science and reading skills to solve real-world problems were released last week, and it wasn’t pretty for the home team. Andreas Schleicher, who manages PISA, told the Department of Education: “Three years ago, I came here with a special report benchmarking the U.S. against some of the best performing and rapidly improving education systems. Most of them have pulled further ahead, whether it is Brazil that advanced from the bottom, Germany and Poland that moved from adequate to good, or Shanghai and Singapore that moved from good to great. The math results of top-performer Shanghai are now two-and-a-half school years ahead even of those in Massachusetts—itself a leader within the U.S.”
Friedman’s opening paragraph ran 137 words. Eighty-two of those words were a long quotation from the rather self-confident Chairman Andreas, widely loved leader of this newest cult.
We have never seen any sign that Friedman knows much about public schools. (There’s no particular reason why he should.) He does know who he’s expected to quote, and revere, in his high-profile columns.
In yesterday’s column, Friedman quoted Andreas the Giant at remarkable length. In the following passage, he was even willing to quote Dear Leader as he made one of his more obscure pronouncements—and as he served some genuine marshmallow fluff:
FRIEDMAN: So now let’s look at the latest PISA. It found that the most successful students are those who feel real “ownership” of their education. In all the best performing school systems, said Schleicher, “students feel they personally can make a difference in their own outcomes and that education will make a difference for their future.” The PISA research, said Schleicher, also shows that “students whose parents have high expectations for them tend to have more perseverance, greater intrinsic motivation to learn.” The highest performing PISA schools, he added, all have “ownership” cultures—a high degree of professional autonomy for teachers in the classrooms, where teachers get to participate in shaping standards and curriculum and have ample time for continuous professional development. So teaching is not treated as an industry where teachers just spew out and implement the ideas of others, but rather is “a profession where teachers have ownership of their practice and standards, and hold each other accountable,” said Schleicher.Let’s see if we were able to follow those varied pronouncements:
If we’re reading that passage correctly, Dear Leader tells us that parents who have high expectations tend to get better results from their kids! Also, students who feel they can make a difference will end up making a difference!
Or something like that. After making these pronouncements, Schleicher swam the Rhine.
As for Friedman, he also quoted Schleicher decreeing that teachers should “have ownership of their practice and standards.” Do you know what that pronouncement meant? Neither does anyone else who read Friedman’s column!
Whatever! All through the column, Friedman keeps quoting Dear Leader as he makes fuzzy or pointless pronouncements. In a column of 885 words, we count at least 268 words which come directly from the mouth of Chairman Andreas.
We’re not sure if we’ve ever seen a column so devoted to quoting the words of one person. That said, Friedman adopts some of the basic approaches of the new cult all by himself.
Most notably—and it ought to be very notable—most notably, Friedman cites the results from the 2012 PISA. But he never so much as mentions the results from the 2011 TIMSS or the 2013 NAEP.
That decision should be very notable.
Has Friedman ever heard of the TIMSS or the NAEP? We wouldn’t place money on that. But what happens when unschooled pundits disappear the TIMSS and the NAEP? A one-sided portrait appears!
In many ways, the NAEP may be our most reliable national testing program—more reliable than the PISA or the TIMSS. And uh-oh! Especially after disaggregation, NAEP scores seem to show substantial academic progress over the course of the past several decades.
TIMSS scores seem to suggest the same general pattern. But so what? As people like Friedman restrict themselves to pronouncements from the new cult, two-thirds of our data get thrown down the well! In the process, we are left in the hands of our newest Dear Leader.
All week long, we’ll examine the ways the cult of the PISA ruled the press corps last week. Here’s the most intriguing point:
We liberals now have our own standard reactions to the scripts which drive the mainstream press concerning international tests. But even in our own standard scripting, we tend to bow low to the PISA!
As a general matter, Diane Ravitch stands in opposition to the cult of the PISA. If we liberals have our own leader in this area, it is clearly Ravitch.
Ravitch made some perfectly decent points in her responses to PISA Day. She also adopted some perspectives which strike us as extremely unhelpful, even borderline uncaring and cruel.
Beyond that, she continued to encourage some claims which are flatly bogus.
Tomorrow, we’ll consider the way Ravitch adopted one standard PISA framework in response to the new scores. Some of her reactions were right on target.
Other reactions were not.
Tomorrow: Can anyone here play this game?
Advanced students may want to read ahead: For Ravitch’s basic reactions, see this blog post, My View of the PISA Scores.
For advanced writing students, undertake this assignment. Rewrite Visions of Johanna using this revised first line:
"Ain’t it just like the PISA to play tricks when we’re trying to be so quiet?"