Unions seek greater input on testing
Teachers around the globe are concerned about the impact of large-scale international testing, and its uses and abuses in development of national education policies.
For this reason, Education International has been working closely with TUAC, the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD, to ensure that teachers’ concerns and proposals for improvement are heard in the development of one of the world’s most important educational assessment programs: the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment. Administered every three years in 30 OECD countries and 27 partner countries, PISA tests achievement of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematical and scientific literacy. The results attract intense media interest. However, simplistic interpretation by politicians and others can be misleading, and can run counter to goals defended by teacher trade unions. In September the first-ever joint seminar on PISA took take place at the OECD headquarters in Paris, jointly hosted by EI and TUAC. The event attracted more than 90 educators and scholars, including representatives of teacher trade unions from 44 member organizations in 26 countries. "PISA has an undeniable impact on public opinion and policy, and can provide valuable insights on issues of quality and equity in education," said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. “We want to make sure that the teachers are involved through their unions in all stages of PISA, that the focus is on the interests of the pupils, and that the data is not misinterpreted by politicians for their own purposes.” Meanwhile, EI is also concerned that the OECD’s influential annual report, Education at a Glance 2006, stops short of urging governments to significantly increase investment in public education. Even as the report offers further evidence of the importance of accessible quality education in promoting social cohesion and economic prosperity, the obvious main message to governments is missing. “We are eager to hear the OECD say loud and clear that increased public investment in public education is essential in the knowledge society of the future,” van Leeuwen said. “We see a fundamental contradiction between the OECD’s avowed commitment to social equity through strong public education systems, and its encouragement of private investment, both by individual students and parents, and by corporate interests and other private actors.” The study reports that in many countries the share of public funding for all levels of education actually decreased between 1995 and 2003. Meanwhile, the results of PISA 2003 suggest that socio-economic status plays a major role in determining students’ performance, and that schools in many OECD countries reinforce existing socio-economic inequities. By contrast, the example of Finland shows that with sufficient public investment and universal access to quality education, governments can overcome the dramatic social inequities that plague some countries. “It is crucial that education be maintained as a public good accessible to all,” van Leeuwen said. “That means significantly increasing funding to public education, giving teachers competitive salaries and improving their working conditions and professional development. This can be achieved only by governments taking more responsibility, not less.”