PISA: A success story?

Global Educational Governance by standardization, rankings, comparisons and “successful” examples
  • Svein SjøbergEmail author
Part of the Educational Governance book series (EDUGOV, volume 43)


Schooling and education are becoming increasingly globalized, and the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) has become the prime driver for global educational governance. PISA and its focus on league tables, country rankings and its celebration of “winners”; successful learners, successful schools and successful education systems influence educational debates and educational policy at a global scale. The role of PISA as an instrument of governance is currently expanded also to target schools and their teaching in a more direct way: A PISA-like instrument, “PISA for Schools” is developed for local use, for schools and school districts, enabling them to compare their own schools with “PISA winners”. Expansion of testing into adult life has also taken place (PIAAC), and OECD comparative initiatives for Kindergarten/preschool are also on its way. A special “PISA for development” is constructed for use in low- and middle income countries. At the same time, PISA is also expanding by including new domains in the test, like “Financial Literacy” and, for the PISA 2018 also “Global Competency Assessment.”

In these activities, the OECD now operates in close contact with different money-making interests, the most influential being the world’s largest commercial company in the education sector, Pearson Inc.

This chapter will present details of the development of PISA and critical points of two categories. The first relates to the PISA project as such. These problems are inherent in the PISA undertaking, and hence cannot be “fixed”. The main point here is that the quality of a nation’s education system cannot be reduced to a single, universal and global metric – independent of that nation’s history and culture, let alone the values and ideals of the school system.

The second category of critical points relates to some of the rather intriguing results that emerge from analysis of PISA data: It seems that pupils in high-scoring countries also develop the most negative attitudes to the subject. It also seems that PISA scores are unrelated to educational resources, funding, class size etc. PISA scores are also negatively related to the use of active teaching methods, inquiry based instruction and the use of ICT. Whether one “believes in PISA” or not, such intriguing results need to be discussed.

Th e chapter ends by more directly addressing PISA as an instrument for governance: how the OECD through PISA and PISA-related projects globally exert power and infl uence on educational debates, policy and governance. Th e most important is the implicit epistemic governance: how PISA redefi nes and narrows the meaning and value of education. More concretely, PISA and the OECD exerts its power through a range of modes: Policy governance by numbers, indicators, rankings and statistics, governance by comparisons, and celebrating “successful” learners, teachers, schools, education systems.


Comparative studies school governance educational policy globalization standardization OECD PISA 


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© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH, ein Teil von Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.OsloNorwegen

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