Communities of practice and PISA for Schools: Comparative learning or a mode of educational governance?

Steven Lewis


This paper examines the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) PISA for Schools, a new variant of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) that compares school-level performance on reading, math and science with international schooling systems (e.g., Shanghai-China, Finland). Specifically, I focus here on a professional learning community – the Global Learning Network (GLN) – of U.S. schools and districts that have voluntarily participated in PISA for Schools, and how this, arguably, helps to normatively determine ‘what works’ in education. Drawing suggestively across diverse thinking around contemporary modes of governance, and emerging topological spaces and relations associated with globalization, and informed by interviews with 33 policy actors across the PISA for Schools policy cycle, my analyses suggest that GLN allows the OECD to discursively and normatively constrain how ‘world-class’ schools and systems, and their policies and practices, are defined. However, and in light of the productive capacities of power relations, I also argue that GLN provides opportunities for local educators and leaders to undertake meaningful collaboration and sharing, and to find policy spaces outside of those defined by more performative discursive framings of school accountability. To this end, I explore how GLN may help to foster alternative policy spaces from which educators can ‘talk back’ to national and state authorities, and potentially promote more ‘authentic’ understandings of, and possibilities for, schooling accountability.


PISA for Schools; OECD; governance; Global Learning Network; best practice; professional learning communities; topology

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Copyright (c) 2019 Steven Lewis


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