More thoughts on PISA: Are the comparisons of parental employment unfair?

The University of Oregon's Yong Zhao has posted a series of blogs analyzing PISA results. In his February post he explores how sampling issues have dramatically distorted the way that cross-nation comparisons with Shanghai have been made. In particular, he addresses a recent PISA claim that students of parents in "elementary occupations" in Shanghai and Singapore outperform children of professionals in the U.K. and U.S. in mathematics. Zhao believes this is not supported by the data. What do you think?


By Yong Zhao

"China’s poorest beat our best pupils"—The Telegraph (UK), 2-17-2014

"Children of Shanghai cleaners better at math than kids of Israeli lawyers"—Haaretz (Israel), 2-19-2014

"Cleaners’ children in China beat kids of US, UK professionals at maths study"—NDTV (India), 2-18-2014

"Children of Chinese janitors outscore wealthy Canadians in global exams"—The Globe and Mail (Canada), 2-19-2014

These are some of the most recent sensational headlines generated by PISA with a 4-page report entitled "Do parents’ occupations have an impact on student performance" released in February 2014. These headlines exemplify the secret of PISA's great success as a masterful illusionist: effective misdirection of attention by exploiting human instinct for competition.

From the start, the entire PISA enterprise has been designed to capitalize on the intense nationalistic concern for global competitiveness by inducing strong emotional responses from the unsuspecting public, gullible politicians, and sensation-seeking media. Virtually all PISA products, particularly its signature product—the league tables, are intended to show winners and losers, in not only educational policies and practices of the past, but more important, in capacity for global competition in the future. While this approach has made PISA an extremely successful global enterprise, it has misled the world down a path of self-destruction, resulting in irrational policies and practices that are more likely to squander precious resources and opportunities than enhancing capacity for future prosperity.

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