Utskrift från Malmö högskolas webbplats www.mah.se

Thomas S. Popkewitz

The promise of empirical evidence and benchmarks: the Lorelei's Whispers 

Using empirical evidence and benchmarks for improving education is akin to Lorelei siren singing beckoning sailors to their impending fate.  It is daunting and enticing; leading policy makers and researchers to find scientific knowledge for formulating models for future success. 

However, this promise of future successes has limitations. The seminar’s starting point will be to examine the historical principles that shape and fashion international assessments and research to guide university teacher education reforms.  

The questions related to the cultural sociology of knowledge, what I call a “social epistemology”.  My discussion pursues current research I am doing in collaboration with two Swedish researchers and a more general historical project about present social science research in education.

Benchmarks and “empirical based” reforms are organised around three dimensions inscribed in the international assessments and professional educational reforms:

1) When statistics and numbers enter into social arenas in organising benchmarks, the number and categories are connected with historical, cultural practice about social life, schools and change.  They are no longer “purely” about mathematics and the technologies of measurement.  In the context of international assessments and national school systems, numbers “act” in ordering what the problems and solutions related to quality and change.

2) The assessments of student performance are based on models of curriculum that define the learning about science, mathematics, and literacy.  If we think of models of school subjects as an alchemy, using the analogy to the Medieval attempts in transforming substances, how can we assess the translation models into school subjects of mathematics and science as generating principles about who students are and should be.

3) The international assessments are techniques of comparative analyses.  How does the comparative analyses “work” (as cultural principles) to describe differences about nations and people?  If we put the idea of difference in the assessment practices under a microscope, what are the principles generated about who is included and excluded. 

This exploration is to think about the boundaries to school change and the practices of social inclusion and exclusion in the international performance assessments.  The questions detail the conditions in which the international assessments are made intelligible for policy and research policy and not their internal rigour.

Last updated by Amanda Malmquist