Counts and comparisons: An analysis of media reportage of PISA in Australia, 2000-2014

Year: 2016

Author: Baroutsis, Aspa, Lingard, Bob

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper empirically documents media portrayals of Australia’s performance on the Program for the International Student Assessment (PISA) 2000-2014. This analysis demonstrates increased media coverage of PISA over the period in question. This increased emphasis and media attention thrusts educational issues into public awareness. The enhanced media coverage also highlights the OECD’s media strategy for the dissemination of PISA results and has policy effects with the emphasis being on quality of performance (mean national score) rather than on equity. We analyse newspaper articles from two national and eight metropolitan newspapers over a 14 year period, drawing on 173 articles; and 16 interviews at the OECD, in particular, with the OECD’s Media Relations Officer (PISA). The newspaper and interview data were analysed using a thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006), while the newspaper data was also analysed using framing theory (Entman, 1993) and a content analysis (Krippendorff, 2013). The newspaper media reports about Australia’s performance in PISA uses three frames: counts and comparisons; criticisms; and contexts. Our paper will focus on the first frame as most of the reportage across all newspapers (41%) was concerned with counts and comparisons. These frames highlighted PISA data to provide ‘evidence’ that was then used to comparatively position Australia against other countries that do better, with particular emphasis on Finland and also Shanghai after the 2009 PISA. We also show how the OECD attempts to manage the ways in which PISA performance is represented in the media. Drawing on the data, we identify trends in the media reportage of Australia’s PISA performance; underpinning our analysis using theoretical understandings of reference societies (Sellar & Lingard, 2013) and externalisation (Schriewer, 1990). We conclude that first, the OECD works assiduously to manage media representations of PISA and in so doing, seeks to mediate the mediatization of schooling policy, but also contributes to it. Second, media coverage of Australia’s PISA performance has increased over time which parallels the enhanced role of the OECD’s education work in both the global and national governance of schooling. Third, these increases in coverage were also evident at times when Australia’s results were seen to decline, causing ‘PISA shock’. Finally, the constitutive role played by the media in respect of Australia’s changing PISA performance over time has policy effects.