ExcelinEd's Pitch to Drive Student Progress: Not for Children

Late last week, an email arrived from Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.  She was pitching a new online course. With spring testing over, and the opt-out folks quiet, I guess ExcelinEd thought this a propitious time for study.


Launched by Jeb Bush in 2008, the organization boasts that it is transforming education for the 21st century economy. Their guiding principles: all children can learn; all children should learn at least a year’s worth of knowledge in a year’s time; and all children will achieve when education is organized around the singular goal of student success.

And they’re talking to me? That second principle’s heresy. Whatever happened to each child’s unique developmental trajectory? This organization desperately needs a new marketing director.

Here’s the opening pitch:


On behalf of ExcelinEd, I am pleased to announce that enrollment is open for our newest EdPolicy Leaders Online course, How Do We Stack Up? Using OECD’s PISA to Drive Progress in U.S. Education.  The course is a combined cohort and self-paced model, starting on May 23.  It offers seven weekly webinars for participants to connect with education leaders across the country.

The second paragraph, directly following a link to “Enroll Now,” delivers the course content:

How Do We Stack Up?  explores how state, district and school level education leaders can use PISA’s powerful data and information from the OECD Test for Schools (based on PISA) to improve student outcomes.  The course was developed in collaboration with America Achieves with editorial contributions from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Among the experts featured in the course is Andreas Schleicher, OECD’s director for education and skills.   The Program for International Student Assessment—the infamous PISA—is in his wheelhouse.

Every three years, the PISA measures the performance of America’s high school students in math, reading, and science, along with that of their peers from more than 50 countries. In December, upon the release of the scores, the United States has a full-scale panic attack, watching the inexorable shift downward, a prosperous future slipping away.

Obviously, Patricia Levesque hasn’t kept up with critiques of the PISA exams. Doesn’t she read Forbes? ExcelinEd’s two top donors last year, the Bill and Melinda Gates and Walton foundations, are regularly featured in the “capitalist tool.”

In 2014, the magazine published an article, “Could Falling Test Scores Be a Good Thing?”  Author Scott Gillum cited some data from Yong Zhao, author of Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon?   He had compared the PISA math scores with those of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, which assesses the activities, aspirations, and attitudes of individuals in more than 50 countries, 23 of them PISA participants.  Wouldn’t you know that Zhao found an inverse correlation between test scores and perceived entrepreneurial moxie.  The top performers on the PISA tests were hardly stellar on the innovation front.

Of course, Levesque probably loves Schleicher’s TED talk, “Use data to build better schools.” But no doubt she missed the open letter to the OECD executive, sent in 2014, and signed by academics, educators, and concerned citizens across the world.  The global assessments, they wrote, were wreaking havoc:

They have begun to deeply influence educational practices in many countries. As a result of PISA, countries are overhauling their education systems in the hopes of improving their rankings. Lack of progress on PISA has led to declarations of crisis and “PISA shock” in many countries, followed by calls for resignations, and far-reaching reforms according to PISA precepts.

The reforms according to PISA precepts have been far-reaching, indeed, “PISA shock” shaking the foundations of early childhood education. In America’s quest for college and career readiness  and global preeminence, we are doing grave injustice to our young children.

A year before the letter to Schleicher, more than a hundred teachers, writers and academics—including Lord Layard, director of the well-being program at the London School of Economics—had written to secretary of state, Michael Gove, to protest Britain’s education policies. They demanded that children be allowed to play, warning of damage to their healthy development.  The quest for school readiness, they asserted, had gotten terribly out of hand, foisting “the tests and targets which dominate primary education” upon four-year-olds.”

“Enroll now to secure your spot!” Levesque urges, once more, before signing off.  I don’t think so.


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