PISA for Sale? Creating profitable policy opportunities through the OECD’s PISA for Schools digital platform

Year: 2021

Author: Lewis, Steven, Lingard, Bob

Type of paper: Symposium

The desire for ‘evidence-informed’ solutions (Lingard, 2021) in education has arguably produced a new market for policy populated by new providers of services. This has relocated much schooling evidence and expertisefrom more traditional sources (e.g., state agencies, academics in universities, school leaders and teachers) to the private sector, including providers outside of government or, as is now common, outside of education itself (e.g., statistical or technology companies) (Holloway, 2021; Lewis, 2020). Such opportunities for private policy networks to produce ‘universal’ forms of evidence and expertise, often with little regard for local contexts, make a compelling case to understand how more global attempts to reconstitute and govern professional knowledge, learning and practice are being realised locally.Given these recent developments, our paper focuses on the OECD’s PISA for Schools, an instrument that assesses individual school performance in reading, mathematics and science against the national (and subnational) schooling systems measured by main PISA. Scores on PISA for Schools are situated on/against the PISA main scale, meaning that comparisons of PISA performance are made possible between the school and the nation, as well as between the school and other nations internationally. Extending PISA to new national and local schooling spaces has required the close cooperation of the OECD with a broad array of for-profit and non-profit agencies. In this respect, we would see PISA for Schools to typify the increasing presence and complexity of the role now played by so-called ‘external’ actors in education policy and policymaking processes, especially as these diverse actors often seek to forge strategic alliances to further their own respective policy goals. Here, we provide a brief outline of the OECD’s education agenda, focusing on its testing regime with main PISA as the prototype for the development of a broader range of tests, including PISA for Schools. We then consider how power-topologies, as well as networked and heterarchical governance, provide a generative theoretical lens through which to better understand these emergent processes. This is followed by the empirical focus of the chapter, where we account for the changing management of PISA for Schools, the involvement of an Australian for profit edu-business in the management of the test, and the various ways this exemplifies third-party involvement in the work of the OECD. We conclude by suggesting PISA for Schools now works as an example of networked or heterarchical governance, but one that is stretched globally.