PISA, education policy, and the teaching profession: How context matters.
Campbell, Janine Anne
When resources are scarce, and education policies must be selected and enacted at a national level, how do policymakers select the policy options most suited to their context? Few countries can raise the quality of pre-service teacher preparation, increase induction and mentoring programs, improve teaching conditions, and pay teachers higher salaries, all at the same time. Yet international policy recommendations indicate that these form the pathway to becoming a successful educational system. Where should policymakers start? In this study, I investigate the dilemma of “how to prioritize among competing policy options” (World Bank, 2013, p. 8) and shed light on “which system-specific factors mediate the relationships between teacher professionalism and outcomes” (OECD, 2016a, p. 122). I provide background to the field of international comparative research in education, the principles and politics of policy transfer, and the role that the OECD and PISA have assumed in the promotion of traveling educational policies. I then critically discuss the existing literature on teaching and student outcomes, policy transfer in education, system-specific conditions and ecological models, and the theory and practice of professions in general and the teaching profession in particular. Through the exploration of a social ecological model for the teaching profession, and an innovative research design, I conclude that some system-specific factors are consistently associated with higher PISA results, that these factors mediate the relationship of policies and outcomes, and that set-theoretic methods are useful for the study of this phenomenon. Specifically, my findings indicate that gender equality, income equality, human development, and individualism are consistently associated with higher PISA results, and that high gender equality is the most important of these conditions. Gender equality and human development also consistently mediate, in both strength and direction, the linear relationship that policy and professional conditions have with student outcomes. These findings have important implications for both policy borrowing and lending, and for comparative educational research. For policymakers, they provide the mechanism for identifying meaningful peer countries between which the transfer of educational policy is less likely to be mediated by context and therefore more likely to be successful, thereby providing a tool for prioritizing between competing policy options. For researchers, these findings indicate that contextual complexity in comparative social research can be systematized and simplified, and that the question of which macro and cultural factors are consistently associated with educational outcomes can be rigorously explored. For methodologists, these findings contribute a replicable example of a set-theoretic analysis of contextual conditions mixed with a linear analysis of proximate conditions, for the study of the mediating effects of system-level factors. And for all readers of this thesis, these findings emphasize the importance of gender equality for social outcomes. These conclusions suggest many future areas of study, including case studies to better understand the mechanisms of the mediation by outcome enabling conditions, the replication of studies exploring educational inputs and student outcomes with the inclusion of outcome enabling conditions, and analyses of the effect of outcome enabling conditions, especially gender equality, on other social outcomes.
Advisor: Berg, David; Smith, Lisa
Degree Name: Doctor of Education
Degree Discipline: College of Education
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: context; PISA; student achievement; educational policy; mediating effects; set-theory; set-theoretic relationships; linear relationships; human development; gender equality; teacher professionalism; teaching; social ecological models; culture
Research Type: Thesis