The Atlantic profiles Andreas Schleicher, the German scientist behind PISA -- the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment. Not surprisingly, he was trained in physics before becoming interested in educational assessment.
For previous PISA-related posts, see here, here and here.
Rindermann, in The g‐factor of international cognitive ability comparisons: the homogeneity of results in PISA, TIMSS, PIRLS and IQ‐tests across nations, showed that country IQ estimates of Lynn and Vanhanen were consistent with the educational performance data, and that a country level "G" factor explains most of the variation.
The Atlantic: ... The story of how an introverted German scientist came to judge and counsel schools around the world is an improbable one. As a mediocre student in Hamburg, Schleicher did not particularly care about his classes—to the distress of his father, who was a professor of education. Later, at an alternative high school, teachers encouraged Schleicher’s fascination with science and math, and his grades improved. He finished at the top of his class, even winning a national science prize. At the University of Hamburg, Schleicher studied physics. He had no interest in his father’s field, considering it too soft. Then, out of curiosity, he sat in on a lecture by Thomas Neville Postlethwaite, who called himself an “educational scientist.” Schleicher was captivated. Here was a man who claimed he could analyze a soft subject in a hard way, much the way a physicist might study schools. At the time, 1986, the education establishment was dominated by tradition, theories, and ideology. “You had people dealing with every subject,” Schleicher tells me, “except looking at reality.”
... He likes to end his presentation with a slide that reads, in a continuously scrolling ticker, “Without data, you are just another person with an opinion … Without data, you are just another person with an opinion …”
... Today, 70 countries collectively give PISA to representative samples of more than 500,000 15-year-olds every three years. A longitudinal study of 30,000 Canadian students recently found PISA scores to be more accurate than report-card grades in predicting which kids will go to college. The latest results came out in 2010, and for the first time the test included Shanghai—which trounced every single country. Schleicher credits Shanghai’s success in part to a policy of rotating the best teachers into the region’s worst-performing schools (the opposite of what tends to happen in the U.S.). The Shanghai delegation came to the New York summit to share its secrets, much to Schleicher’s satisfaction. “You could see, when the minister from Shanghai was speaking, everybody started to write notes,” he told me afterward. “It was incredible! Ten years ago, you know, everybody would’ve said, ‘We are unique. We have a specific culture.’ And now we understand that culture is created by what we do.”
... Ironically, Schleicher’s own three children currently attend public school in France, a country that houses the OECD’s headquarters but, according to PISA, has solidly mediocre schools. “It was a difficult decision. I don’t think the French school system is great,” Schleicher says, his voice trailing off. “You never really know whether that was the right decision,” he says, sounding suddenly like many American parents—worried about his children’s school but hoping for the best.