So What’s in a Ranking?

Hello all!

I’ve had the spreadsheet out and I’ve been nerding it up over the past couple of days. I’ve been thinking to myself about the hallowed PISA rankings. As I’ve said in a previous posting, it seems a bit onerous for someone supporting their arguments against National Standards-based ranking of schools by politicians and the media with PISA – a rankings based testing system.

In saying all that, I’ve been using a little spreadsheet programme to create a little graph of comparable countries.

The featured graph compares the literacy rankings of several countries. I’ve included New Zealand & Australia because they are currently dipping their toes in the sea of GERM. Finland is there because they are consistently the top ranked non-Asian nation. Canada is in there because they have a long history of quality public education. I’ve also included our good mates from the United Kingdom and the United States because their education systems have been undergoing GERM warfare for many years now.

Before we get into that there’s a few things you should know… firstly, there was no official data for the US in 2006 or the UK in 2003 so I’ve inserted an average between the two years either side. Although this meant I was making up data, it also means you can see the trend.

PISA Literacy Rankings 2000-2009

PISA Literacy Rankings 2000-2009

As well as this, there has been an increase in OECD member countries – from 28 in 2000 to 34 in 2009. I suspect this was why Australia has dipped a couple of places.

So – what is the data saying? Well, I’m no statistician but there are some quite striking results from this little graph. Firstly – the United Kingdom has had a ranking nose-dive. They’ve gone from 7th to 20th in a little less than a decade. This fall is much greater than would be expected with the increased membership of the OECD over that time. In the UK, Education Secretary Michael Gove is continuing the reforms over there. Some fairly crazy things are happening, but we will have to wait and see whether Labour undoes all the wrongs when the Tory/LibDem coalition is thrashed at the next election. The role the British newspapers play in shaping education policy in that country by scaring politicians and school communities through rankings and high stakes league tables has this teacher thinking they won’t.

Secondly, the United States have had a steady ranking over the decade. This would suggest that rather than “no child left behind,” all of the children are being left behind. Reformers there have been arguing for change based on allegedly low teaching standards. Thanks to the LA Times you can get a ranking for your teacher based on the test scores of their pupils. Never mind that the kids in question might have all sorts of other issues impacting on their lives and their ability to pass a test on any given school day. Kiwi kids may not turn up with lunch, but for some US kids gun violence is part of life. I can’t imagine the impact that would have in the classroom. How can you seriously expect a teacher to have any control over that part of a child’s life?

Thirdly, Finland, New Zealand, Canada and Australia have remained steady as well. New Zealand and Australia politicians have recently bought into the GERM model of edu-reform. It will be interesting to see how their rankings shape up when the next PISA survey is released. I’m thinking that Finland will remain where it is at the top and the Kiwis and Ockers will slip a couple of places. Guesstimates are always much better with the benefit of hindsight, so I shall wait for their release before saying too much more.

Coming up: Maths and Science rankings…. where do we stand? How are we being set up for the 21st century knowledge economy?

Mr B

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