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Are the children of country x better educated than those of country y?

Posted By: James Harvey on September 28, 2015
Thank you, David Berliner, for this excellent commentary on the many different issues involved in understanding PISA. I was fascinated by the common sense observation of Mr. Sadler more than a century ago to the effect that in examining schools in different societies, it was important to remember that what goes on outside the school is more important than what goes on inside it. It seems that educators 100 years ago understood something that people interested in quantitative assessment have trouble grasping.

Mr. Sadler was not the last one to make this observation. The people who created what ultimately turned into the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA—the agency that sponsors PIRLS and TIMSS) were tilling the same ground when they wrote in 1960:

“The question we wish to ask is not ‘Are the children of country X better educated that those of country Y?’ To us this seemed a false question begging all the important issues we need to study. Rather we wish . . . to gain as clear a specification as possible of exactly what each educational system has set itself to achieve.”
—International Project on the Evaluation of Educational Achievement. Bulletin No. 1. Report of the meeting at Hamburg, 17-22, 1960.

Unhappily, whether the children of country x are better educated than the children of country y seems to be the major issue of interest to the people who market PISA and the policymakers who work with the results. Your commentary is a very useful cautionary tale about the dangers of relying on these horse race tables.

James Harvey, National Superintendents Roundtable
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 Are the children of country x better educated than those of country y? by James Harvey on September 28, 2015
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