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Education under the Regime of PISA & Co.: Global Standards and Local Traditions in Conflict—The Case of Germany


by Richard Münch - 2014

Background:The PISA study (assessing the competences of 15-year-old students in their mother tongue, in mathematics and in natural sciences) deals with the benchmarking of the OECD member states when it comes to meeting globally defined educational standards. Transnational educational experts now form the most powerful group within the "education" discourse and have made the concept of human capital the dominant paradigm.

Focus of the Study: The article is focused on the conflicting ideas of education behind the PISA study and the German school system. It addresses the changes taking place in the German school system enforced by compliance with the educational standards set by the PISA context.

Research Design: The concept of literacy applied by the PISA test is confronted with the curriculum and typical lessons in German secondary schools to find out how far they converge or diverge.

Findings: Evaluating the PISA test 2000, German researchers explicitly point out that the tasks set in reading, mathematics and sciences comply with the Anglo-American model of generally usable basic competences, which differs substantially from the German model of a varied and differentiated education. Typically, German students did exceptionally well in solving exactly that math problem, which was related to a specific field of mathematics, namely Euclidean geometry. In contrast, they were less successful in handling inner-mathematical basic problems. The concept of the reading tests, too, is far from the syllabus of German language lessons. While, in Germany, a wide scope of literary texts is being covered, the PISA test is dominated by discontinuous non-fictional texts such as instructions for use, technical descriptions and tables. Also, the 2000 PISA test in natural sciences deviated substantially from the syllabus of German schools. The test focused on basic competences of understanding scientific concepts, processes and exemplary fields of application across the subjects. In contrast, classes in Germany are subdivided into physics, chemistry and biology, while basic competences across the subjects can be acquired implicitly only, but are not taught explicitly.

Conclusions: Whoever wants to defend German school lessons against PISA might doubt the assessment's validity basically (Jahnke and Meyerhöfer 2006; Rindermann 2006, 2007). In any case, it does not measure what German schools want to teach their students in the context of their educational idea and tradition. Nevertheless, the PISA process is part and driving force of a major transformation. At the end of this transformation, the ideal of education as internalization of a cultural tradition embodied in accumulated knowledge will be replaced completely by the guiding principle of education as formation of competence and human capital. Basically, institutions may remain in a state of uncertainty for several decades, but nevertheless they have been deconstructed and robbed of their consecration so that the ground has been prepared for a profound change in the sense of conformity with the PISA structures.



PISA AS A DRIVING FORCE OF EDUCATIONAL CHANGE


The PISA study (assessing the competences of 15-year-old students in their mother tongue, in mathematics, and in natural sciences) deals with the benchmarking of the OECD member states when it comes to meeting globally defined educational standards (Baumert, Artelt, & Klieme, 2002; Baumert et al., 2001; Terhart, 2002). This project is, on the one hand, a result of the dissemination of world–cultural models, which is advanced by transnationally networked experts and institutions. On the other hand, it has itself become a carrier of this expansion and its impact on national societies. In this way, it marks the formation of a monopoly of the legitimate definition of education by a global elite of researchers. The OECD is the institutional basis of this development (Martens, Balzer, Sackmann, & Weymann, 2004; Martens, Rusconi, & Leuze, 2007; Martens & Weymann, 2007). Although attempts at coordinating education on an international level date back to the 1970s, a breakthrough did not come about before the end of the 90s, resulting in the establishment of PISA.


In this paper I will discuss how OECD’s global standards are crowding out local traditions by considering shifting beliefs and practices at three levels: the shift to the adoption of a “human capital” frame of reference; the shift from deep specialization to general literacy and competence; and the power change from old local authorities to a new global elite.


EDUCATION AS HUMAN CAPITAL FORMATION


In the framework of the OECD, originally loose and fragile contacts among educational experts have become durable and tight networks with high impact and endurance in developing, disseminating, and implementing guiding principles. The OECD is the hub of these activities. Transnational educational experts now form the most powerful group within the “education” discourse and have made the concept of human capital the dominant paradigm. They have successfully promoted the model of the widest possible inclusion of the population in all levels of education, right through to the tertiary level of universities, as a globally binding standard. There is no proof whatsoever of the fact that it will bring about more economic growth, more comprehensive social inclusion, or a stronger participation of citizens in democratic decision-making processes when compared to Germany’s traditional occupationally based model of education. The desired model has become an end in itself, and critics recalling past successes of the German educational system are fighting a losing battle.


The new model of education as human capital is embedded in a world view that sees society as a “knowledge society,” which has to adjust to a “knowledge based” economy in ever fiercer international competition. This discourse group is assisted by a coalition with other transnational elites (managers, consultants, auditors, and analysts) that have pushed competition for national comparative advantage (“Standort Wettbewerb”) to the fore within the discourse on economic competitiveness and growth. This discourse, too, has stabilized on a transnational level during the 90s. It has become globally visible at the World Economic Forum in Davos, which attracts increasingly more attention (Lohmann, 2001). While the Standort Wettbewerb group forced the trade unions’ request of “affluence for everybody” into a defensive position in the 1990s, the advocates of “human capital” marginalized those who see education an internalization of a cultural tradition embodied in accumulated knowledge. This latter position was supported in Germany in particular by the teachers’ associations (e.g., Gauger, 2006; Kraus, 2005).


The newly hegemonic paradigms owe their success to transnational networking and their attachment to certain international organizations whose influence has grown strongly over the past decades. For the transnational elite of educational experts, this organization is the OECD; for the transnational economy, it is the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organization (WTO) alongside the OECD. In contrast, it is only natural that educators concerned with a nation’s cultural heritage, like philologists, are organized primarily on a national level, as they are concerned with the trusteeship of national cultural goods. Likewise, the trade unions represent an essential pillar of Germany’s corporatist organization. Their international participation in the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the European Trade Union Association (EGB) is unable by far to keep abreast with the transnational knowledge elite of the globally visible leading economists headed by praised Nobel Prize winners (Dezalay & Garth, 1998, 2002; Fourcade, 2006).


BASIC COMPETENCES VERSUS SPECIALIST KNOWLEDGE: THE GERMAN CURRICULUM TRADITION VERSUS PISA


Regarding the PISA test, German researchers have pointed out that the tasks set in reading, mathematics, and sciences comply with the Anglo-American model of generally usable basic competences, which differs substantially from the traditional German model of a varied and differentiated education. Typically, German students excelled in solving math problems like Euclidean geometry while they were less successful handling basic math problems suggesting that they are better trained in differentiated specific areas than in mathematical basics. In deference to the “basic competency” model, the PISA test focuses on basic competences, thus forcing the participating countries to adjust their lessons accordingly. In general, German students obtained the best results when solving technical problems that enabled them to employ their knowledge acquired in the calculus-oriented German school system. By contrast, American students, who rank near their German peers, are better in solving problems that are meant to test generalized cognitive competences. These problems form the focus of the PISA concept, which is oriented to the “Realistic Mathematics Education” that serves as a guiding principle in the UK and the United States (Baumert et al., 2001, pp. 178–179). Thanks to PISA, it is also becoming more influential in the German math curriculum.


PISA-style reading tests, too, are rather foreign to German language instruction. In German language instruction a wide range of literary texts is covered, while PISA reading tests are dominated by discontinuous nonfictional texts such as how-to instructions, technical manuals, and tables. In 2000, such texts amounted to around 38% of all tasks given to students. However, they are not included in German curricula nor in the standards formulated by the Conference of German Ministers of Culture (KMK). Researchers claim, however, that the interpretation of PISA-style reading is a basic competence that is indispensable for other subjects as well as for occupational life later on (Baumert et al., 2001, p. 98f). If we look at indicators such as the employment quota of young adults, the industry’s innovation rate, or the scientific productivity of the participating countries, they do not prove this far-reaching claim. Nevertheless, they serve as the legitimating foundation for restructuring German language lessons away from acquiring literary knowledge to understanding nonfictional texts. The benchmarking process triggered in this way ensures that the literary-minded German language lessons lose their legitimacy in the transnational field of education. Hence, a centuries-old tradition has to give way to the transnationally dictated instrumentalization of school lessons for economic purposes without there being any conclusive evidence of the usefulness of this transformation.


It is not functional superiority that explains this structural change but rather the normative pressure exerted by powerful, transnationally networked experts without any democratic legitimacy. In this way, change becomes an end in itself and serves the self-affirmation of new elites. Since there is no striking evidence of the economic utility of instrumental lessons, German education ministers could, of course, insist on fostering a tradition for its own sake by pursuing the more literary-minded German-language lessons. Due to the changed power relationships in the educational field, however, this will be hard to achieve. That this form of teaching also provides the foundations for a unique literary book market is unlikely to be persuasive, even if the disappearance of great literature from school curricula would shrink this market drastically.


Finally, the 2000 PISA test in natural sciences deviated substantially from the syllabus of German schools. The test focused on basic competences of understanding scientific concepts, processes, and exemplary fields of application across the subjects. In contrast, classes in Germany are subdivided into physics, chemistry, and biology, while basic competences across the subjects can be acquired implicitly but are not taught explicitly. In the wake of the American movement of “Scientific Literacy” or “Science for All,” cross-subject methodical approaches have inched to the fore for the wide mass of students, while the acquisition of subject-specific knowledge has been left to university studies (Baumert et al., 2001, pp. 193–201). This model has established itself on an international level and has, therefore, become the guiding principle for the PISA test. In Germany, in contrast, the associations of specialist subject teachers have always defended the differentiated structure, not least in order to secure their highly paid jobs and to have their specialist knowledge anchored in school lessons in its entirety. The greater influence of science subject matter specialists is corroborated by the fact that German students had to attend 144 lessons in natural sciences (biology, physics, and chemistry), 16 more than their average peers in other countries, while attending fewer than average lessons in reading and math (Baumert et al., 2001, 418).


The mismatch between what PISA tests and what German schools taught naturally raises questions as to the validity of the test results. PISA researchers point out that “at least half of the international test problems are related directly with the curricula” (Baumert et al., 2001, pp. 216). Nevertheless, they object strongly to the claim that the test in general might be worthless since it is obviously far from reality at schools. However, when the science portion of the test was differentiated more strongly in the 2006 study, when it included, for instance, environment-related problems, German students achieved above average results. Obviously, the test was better matched with the curricula here. Hence, the test appears to measure less the students’ actual competences and more the proximity of its own questions to national curricula and teaching concepts (OECD, 2007).


SCIENTIFIC “LITERACY” VERSUS SCIENTIFIC SPECIALIZATION


The assessment’s scientific part is also Janus-faced. Here, too, a transnational concept (that of “scientific literacy”) challenges the German model, although the universally binding character of the Anglo-American paradigm might be doubted in general. Nevertheless, the assessment reveals a wide gap between ambition and reality in the German educational system in the natural sciences, too. The technical differentiation fails when it comes to teaching basic competences to the wide mass of students without generating outstanding results at the top instead. The guardians of tradition may claim in defense that PISA has assessed something that German schools forego deliberately and that, in contrast, an assessment living up to the technical differentiation into biology, chemistry, and physics would see German students at the top of the ranking. This would be the case even more pronouncedly if the assessment was carried out among high school graduates (and this is what is shown by the German students’ above average performance in the more comprehensive scientific PISA assessments carried out in 2006 and 2009) (OECD, 2007, 2010). We might also argue that university courses in physics would not get sufficiently skilled students if lessons at secondary school were restricted to teaching cross-subject basic competences only. This claim is certainly true if we take the previously common diploma course in physics as a yardstick. Defenders of scientific literacy might object, however, that pure physics studies following immediately on the A-levels graduation would be premature anyway. They might say that this untimely start into the study course is one of the reasons why there is such a low number of suitable students for physics and other scientific subjects. In the United States, the actual physics study course only starts after the comprehensive bachelor of science when entering the master’s and PhD studies. Hence, the German model fails because of its premature subject-related specialization at schools and universities and the accompanying exaggerated claims, which are obviously not met at school. As a result, too few students enroll in scientific subjects at university. In turn, advocates of the German model might point out that the lower number of natural scientists and engineers at universities is more than compensated for by the higher number of well-trained skilled workers, technicians, and engineers from technical colleges that do not exist in other participating countries in this form. Once again, however, we should bear in mind that this argument (whether true or not) has no chance of being heard in the transnational debate on education.


There is no proof whatsoever showing that OECD’s competency model will ultimately generate better results. The transformation of national educational cultures can be explained exclusively by a power change in educational policy, which has been made possible by transnationalization.


Whoever wants to defend German school lessons against PISA might register principled doubt regarding the assessment’s validity (Jahnke & Meyerhöfer, 2006; Rindermann, 2006, 2007). In any case, it does not measure what German schools want to teach their students in the context of their educational idea and tradition. We might also challenge such an assessment of 15-year-old students who are usually still years away from career and employment. Why, for instance, does the assessment not test high school graduates in at least two foreign languages, history, literature, mathematics, and sciences instead of looking into basic competences of 15 year olds who are going through puberty and are interested in far different things than acquiring human capital that can be employed reasonably on the job market? It may be sensible indeed to give preference to other goals in that part of a youth’s life such as, for example, literary texts, which nobody would access at all otherwise. Do we have to sacrifice Rilke to technical manuals just to ensure better results for German students in the next PISA assessment? Could they not, possibly, possess a wider and deeper knowledge when doing their A-levels (despite the bad results in the PISA assessment) and be better prepared for university studies than their peers in most competing countries? PISA does not say anything about this aspect at all. Seeing that German university students generally achieve top results when spending a term abroad—usually even better results than they obtained at home—is a serious indicator of the fact that PISA might assess aspects that are irrelevant for success in university studies and in occupational life.


CHANGING OF THE GUARD: OLD LOCAL AUTHORITIES VERSUS NEW GLOBAL ELITE


An effective tool for the comprehensive implementation of the new educational model, which supports the formation of competences and human capital is turning the administration of schools to New Public Management (NPM) (Lane, 2000; Naschold & Bogumil, 2000; Sahlin-Andersson, 2001). NPM is the focal tool of neoliberal governance, which fuels behavioral control by markets, quasimarkets, competition, and stimuli. This control model reduces complex tasks to a number of parameters which serve as a means of orientation for control bodies (principals), controlled parties (agents), accreditation agencies, and clients. The new model abandons old bureaucratic decision making that makes officials at an authority derive their decisions from gathering facts and consulting the law in question. In this case, the decision will apply in case (under the condition that) the fact is correctly identified and the correct law has been applied. Control body (government) and citizen trust in the officials’ lawful decision. Moreover, the new control model also replaces the expert’s professional decision-making practice, who does his job to the best of his knowledge and on the basis of his occupational ethics and his specialist knowledge.


Compared to the new regime of evaluators, the control of teachers by school authorities and ministries appears like a paradise of free teaching. In the bureaucratic system there was a free space for pedagogy, which was in the hands of the individual teacher and the teachers’ body. According to the stimulus-driven NPM model, the significance of occupational ethics as an implicit body of control of pedagogic free space is decreasing. It is replaced with a machinery of evaluators, which imposes comprehensive “scientifically tested” behavioral models on the teachers. The German ministers of education have meanwhile become enthusiastic about the idea of uniform educational standards across Germany. Ministers from the Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU) and Christliche Soziale Union (CSU) conservative parties even demand a central national A-levels exam (Abitur). They hope to generate more competition between the German states with this measure alongside more equal opportunities for the students and more mobility of parents and students across state borders (Burtscheid 2007; Burtscheid & Taffertshofer 2007). The other side of this program is the training of teachers to doing nothing but teach their students to the test. At the same time, students will become conditioned learning machines. In this process, education as a creative part of personality development is in danger of disappearing.


The turn away from the bureaucratic and professional control of pedagogic work and its replacement with total control comprising both form and contents by scientific experts—possibly in the peer review process—generates that kind of reality as a self-fulfilling prophecy which it requires as a basis of legitimation in the long run. It replaces intrinsic motivation with an extrinsic one. Hence, it makes teachers those rational egoists that are needed to apply the principal–agent model successfully in the framework of NPM and to withdraw the motivational foundations from the bureaucratic–professional model of school governance. The long running profanation of the teachers’ occupation into an ordinary job has tended to make the teacher’s sacred authority vanish anyway.


THE MCDONALDIZATION OF THE GLOBAL CURRICULUM


The conversion to the new educational model is secured and entrenched by new models of socialization of the actors involved. Prospective teachers learn the standardized models they are going to use in everyday practice through Verwissenschaftlichung (“scientization”) of didactic training. The fact that class lessons proceed according to the same principles globally has an additional self-affirming effect. OECD’s plethora of analyses and reports guarantee that so-called “best practices” gain the upper hand in the benchmarking process. As delegations of educational experts travel around the world to examine “successful” school systems, the pressure to implement the same curricula in all member nations grows. Hence, legitimacy is ultimately fed by achievements in globally organized tests (e.g., in PISA tests) and no longer through local institutional learning.


The supply of basic competences and small parcels of knowledge is geared toward short-term success at exams rather than at long-term educational achievement. To this end, the teaching of knowledge is broken into small units, i.e., modularized, standardized, and organized in didactic terms. By combining the learning process and exams in small course units, a tremendous increase in efficiency is being achieved as regards the short-term provision of knowledge. As the global educational market is increasingly dominated by a few global suppliers that sell their services to the OECD and interested countries (Lohmann & Rilling, 2001), identical course units will be carried out around the world, just like the hamburgers from McDonald’s (Ritzer, 1993). One feature of this McDonaldization of education is the supply of standardized products to the wide masses. Under such conditions, only private elite schools, distinguished by the opulent exclusiveness of their assets and extremely low teacher/student ratio, can afford to treat education as a cultural good.


Due to the cumulative effects of status reproduction across generations, the new education may actually lead to lower rather than higher levels of social mobility. Elite institutions will recruit their pupils from elite families. The standardized institutions in the middle will attract their clientele from families who do not expect anything else but acquiring competence through the standardized provision of knowledge. The bottom end will be formed by those institutions that are geared to compensatory education of students with learning problems.


NEW EDUCATION IN OLD STRUCTURES: TOWARDS DYSFUNCTIONAL HYBRIDS?


So far, we have tried to show how norms and expectation structures are transformed by PISA so that the transnational paradigm of education as formation of basic competences and human capital becomes the yardstick of national educational systems. The new guiding concept has better chances now of shaping the formal structure of educational institutions. This does not mean, however, that the institutional structure of everyday practice will change immediately (Meyer & Rowan, 1977). The old methods of school education continue to exist, even with the much heralded focus on “core competences” and “key qualifications” (Mugabushaka, 2005). Elements of the new paradigm are included without removing the traces of the old one. For this reason, hybrids with nonintended effects come into being.


The introduction of the 8-year high school (Gymnasium) G8 in the province of Bavaria (replacing the 9-year form of high school), for instance, represents an adjustment to international standards. With that the Gymnasium loses its prominent status and its claim to education is reduced to teaching of economically relevant competences. As a result, the classic high school’s ambitious curriculum is dealt with in a shorter time span. Class lessons are completely drowned in information so that, for instance, in the linguistic branch of a school none of the three obligatory languages can be learned properly. A lot of material is covered in the subjects of German language and literature, mathematics, and natural sciences, but only little will be remembered (Schultz, 2008a, 2008b). The overburdened students, teachers, and parents are the victims of this development. Hence, storms of protest were triggered especially among parents (Taffertshofer, 2007).


Nevertheless, it is not only the top of the three-tier system that is affected by this transformation. Instead, the growing concentration of a new underclass of “underachievers” on the Hauptschule (lower secondary school) is making below-average PISA results systemic (Baumert et al., 2001, 2002). The German school system was bound to fail in the PISA assessments, since it stuck far too long to the three-tier model. As a result, the transformation from the ideal of classical education to the mass acquisition of competences and human capital in the framework of the hybrid model did not proceed consistently.


The old system eroded in the wake of the educational expansion of the 1970s and its effectiveness was undermined. The model no longer matches reality and has developed functional deficits. Nevertheless, such problems have existed for at least 30 years. Obviously, the deficits are not enough to trigger institutional change that is conducive to achievements. Once again, we have to refer to the afore-described models (power shifts in the transnational field and isomorphic adjustment). On the first level, we observe the institutional build-up of new elements (Thelen, 2002), above all as regards the formal structure of the educational system’s public self-presentation and that of its organizations. Nevertheless, only little improvement of performance has been accomplished so far. Instead, a hybrid has been created that generated a deficit with regard to the classic educational ideal without being able to meet the requirements of the new guiding principle. Hence, this first step of transformation cannot be explained with a factual functional increase of effectiveness but rather with a shift of symbolic power. It was not sufficient, however, to introduce an encompassing institutional change that abandons the classic educational ideal completely and shifts curricula entirely to the acquisition of competences and the formation of human capital. This 30-year state of uncertainty can be explained by the fact that the forces of tradition have succeeded in maintaining the essential structures of the old system (especially the three-tier character). In contrast, two subsequent groups of modernizers (first of all the advocates of the paradigm of “education for everybody” in the social democratic party and the trade unions, and then the transnational coalition of educational researchers and economic elites with their human capital model) could not implement their goals but on the more rhetorical level of formal structures (Lenhardt, 2002a).


In Germany, estate-based roots have survived even in the democratic age, while almost all other OECD countries have, meanwhile, introduced the comprehensive school. This step can be ascribed to ideological and cultural differences. The American human capital theory starts from the assumption that all citizens are entitled to unfold their intellectual competences as much as possible to assert their position on the market, articulate their political interests, and participate in the public formation of opinions. In Germany, in contrast, the estate-based doctrine, which is supported above all by the teachers’ associations, still rules. Basically, it implies that people are born with different skills and, therefore, should be allocated to different kinds of schools in widely homogeneous groups so as to enable them to exploit their potential as effectively as possible (Lenhardt, 2002b). Along with the claim for wide and comprehensive education, which can no longer be denied in the democratic age, and which was based on the demand for education as a citizens’ right launched by Ralf Dahrendorf (1965) and others in the 1960s, adherence to the estate-based model of skills has ensured that the democratically inspired run to institutions of higher education was met by particularly fierce selection measures. For German students, tests, reports, and teachers have become a sort of threat, while American students consider tests a motivating form of benchmarking. Even in the case of failure they do not respond with long-term demoralization (Czerwenka et al., 1990; Little, Baltes, Oettingen, & Stetsenko, 1995). In Germany, the school has turned into a kind of punishing tool where no learning community can form between students and teachers.


It is not surprising that children from nonacademic homes and migrant families suffer particularly hard from the outlined selection mechanism. Migrants, in particular, achieved worse results in the PISA assessments in Germany than in all other countries (Baumert et al., 2001, p. 397). Hence, the old system has turned into a true “horror vision” for students, parents, and teachers alike. The Hauptschule has become a “residual school” for a new underclass. The Gymnasium, which strives at making 50% of an age group an elite, has become a subtle torture for many students. Therefore, a great number of teachers retire early with a burn-out syndrome (the highest early retirement rate of all occupational groups). Many students are sent onto a track of failure by having to repeat classes or only just scrape through with the help of loads of extra tuition and even drugs such as Ritalin. The related stress often destroys family life, and only affluent parents can afford to pay tuition fees of up to €600 per month (Taffertshofer, 2007). School psychologists clearly confirm that students, teachers, and parents suffer from a stress level that can hardly be coped with. Teachers instructing a first-year grammar school class frankly tell parents that it is their task to ensure regular practice with their children to help them achieve in class. Of course, this is difficult to do at a time when usually both parents go to work (Reheis, 2007; Süddeutsche Zeitung, 2008).


It is a well-known fact that the three-tier school system, which is geared exclusively to selection and instruction, systematically excludes children from migrant families and from socially disadvantaged backgrounds as well as handicapped children. These will concentrate in a Hauptschule or be stigmatized right from the start by having to join a Sonderschule (school for special educational needs). In the wake of this development, the Hauptschule has become a center of violence and deprivation.


CONCLUSION


We can draw the following conclusions from this analysis of PISA & Co.: The PISA process is a driving force of a major transformation in which local educational traditions—whether viable or not—are homogenized through processes of isomorphic adaptation (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983) and shifts in symbolic power (Bourdieu, 1998; Krais, 1989). By making scientific truth the only basis to legitimize educational practice they can claim a degree of authority for themselves, which is increasingly denied to the existing national educational traditions. Criticism of the new educational world (Duncker, 2004; Gauger, 2006; Hentig, 2003; Kraus, 2005) that defends virtues of the old traditions seems futile in light of the “scientific evidence” held up as “gold standard” by the transnational knowledge elite. Competences can be measured, while the appreciation of an educational canon requires a more complex and subtle discourse. As soon as we begin to measure “educational achievement,” we will necessarily trigger a shift of goals.


At the end of this transformation, the ideal of education as internalization of a cultural tradition embodied in accumulated knowledge is likely to be replaced by the guiding principle of education as formation of competence and human capital. A shift of symbolic power away from the national educational elite towards a new knowledge elite, which is trained according to scientific methods and is organized transnationally, has been identified as the deeper cause of this transformation. The new knowledge elite has entered a coalition with the transnational economic elite. This shift of symbolic power has been fueled by the development, closer entanglement, and stabilization of transnational actors’ networks (educational researchers), institutions (OECD, EU), and paradigms. In this way, a self-reinforcing process is set in motion, which changes the norms and expectations in favor of the new paradigm, while New Public Management ensures that the new guiding principles are implemented in the practice of national educational systems.


One essential feature of this transformation is the generation of hybrids, which no longer meet the old requirements and do not yet live up to the new ones. In the context of OECD-propelled world culture, national developmental paths lose their original legitimacy and effectiveness. Local institutions may remain in a state of uncertainty for decades, while being deconstructed and robbed of their legitimacy. Thus the ground has been prepared for a profound change in the sense of conformity with the PISA structures.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 9, 2014, p. 1-16
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17532, Date Accessed: 12/3/2021 11:17:14 PM

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About the Author
  • Richard Münch
    Otto-Friedrich University of Bamberg, Germany
    E-mail Author
    RICHARD MÜNCH is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Otto-Friedrich University of Bamberg, Germany. His research interests are in social theory and comparative macrosociology. Most recently, he has focused on the impact of international competition and international organizations on the changing fields of higher and secondary education. His most recent publications include: European Governmentality. The Liberal Drift of Multilevel Governance (Routledge, 2010); Inclusion and Exclusion in the Liberal Competition State: The Cult of the Individual (Routledge, 2012); Academic Capitalism. Universities in the Global Struggle for Excellence (Routledge, 2014).
 
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