Professor Pasi Sahlberg
Global educational reform movement: Supranational policies and local practices
The popularity of international student assessments has enabled comparisons of national education systems in ways that were not possible before. League tables of education systems allow policy-makers to benchmark their school systems not only across countries but also within them. As the stakes – both political and economic – are getting higher with student assessments, the risk of creating policies and employing practices that help to boost the test scores is growing.
Teachers teach to tests and schools turn away children who are not effective learners to guarantee better success in forthcoming student assessments. What has received less attention is the comparative analysis of education policies and practices in participating countries. For example, one may ask whether the evidence from PISA supports the assumption that educational reforms that rely on competition and parental choice have improved student learning in education systems that adopted these policies in the 1990s. This is an empirical question, which if answered negatively, should lead us to question the validity of these principles as an ensemble of reform strategies.
Attributes related to education for a knowledge society, sustainable development, or 21st century skills are easily found in current global educational policies and local educational reforms. One of the most visible pretexts for global educational reform thinking is international student assessments that measure students’ academic performances at different points of their schooling. As a consequence of these and other change forces a educational reform orthodoxy has emerged that draws from a set of basic assumptions to improve the quality of education. This presentation describes the birth of present global educational reform movement, discusses some of its key characteristics and suggests alternatives for the interplay between policy-makers and practitioners for more sustainable solutions. This presentation concludes that unless we rethink the fundamentals of the dominant supranational education policy discourse, local solution for school effectiveness and school improvement will most likely end up to disappointments.
Professor Sahlberg is active at CIMO (Ministry of Education), University of Helsinki