Headlines and hashtags herald new ‘damaging effects’ in education: Media commentary on Australia’s declining PISA performance

Year: 2018

Author: Baroutsis, Aspa, Lingard, Bob

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper provides a comparative analysis of print and social media representations of Australia’s changing performance on the triennial Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). The purpose of our analysis is to offer an empirical base for considerations of how policy might be developed in more democratic and inclusive ways. We comparatively analyse the different ways print and social media discussed and represented Australia’s 2015 PISA performance in December 2016, when the results of the 2015 test were reported. First, we identify the different media logics of practice in the United Kingdom (UK), the United States of America (USA), and Australia, which enabled us to grasp the idiosyncratic specificities of the Australian media context when considering reporting on PISA. Next, we draw on concepts of mediatisation to analyse print and digital newspaper and Twitter coverage of Australia’s PISA performance over a 26-day period in December 2016. We also consider the methodological issues we faced when dealing with our social media data and in relation to defensible comparisons between social and legacy media data. The print media analysis focuses on the major Australian dailies in each of the capital cities and two national newspapers. While the newspaper data were collected by the authors, the Twitter data were provided by a commissioned third-party.  Our time focus yielded 35 newspaper articles and 29,585 tweets. Using content analysis, we outline the similarities and differences between these modes of coverage. Finally, we conclude with a summative comparative account of our findings. We found social media putatively more democratic and inclusive of many actors, focusing to a greater extent on issues of equity. In contrast, high quality investigative print and digital newspapers used a narrower set of actors in their coverage and focused on limited aspects of PISA such as rankings and declines; nonetheless, they putatively provided some critical and evidence-informed accounts. Both modes of media potentially heralded new damaging effects of Australia’s declining PISA performance as they lobbied to influence policy makers and politicians, within a complex interplay between print and digital newspapers and social media.