How is education studied around the world? Are there different knowledge traditions to the study of education? Have there been changes over time? And what has been the impact of globalization?

My guests today, John Furlong and Geoff Whitty, have embarked on a collaborative research project that sought to understand how the study of education was configured in different countries.

The project has resulted in a co-edited volume entitled Knowledge and the Study of Education: an international exploration, which was published by Symposium Books in June.

John Furlong is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oxford and Geoff Whitty holds a Global Innovation Chair for Equity in Higher Education at the University of Newcastle in Australia and a Research Professorship in Education at Bath Spa University in the UK.


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We often think of international assessments as being synonymous with PISA, the OECD international assessment that has been the focus of many shows in FreshEd’s mini-series on global learning metrics.

But international assessments have a history far beyond PISA. In fact, it was the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, known as the IEA, that first introduced large-scale comparative studies of educational systems in the late 1950s.

This history is important to consider when thinking about global learning metrics today.

My guest today is Dirk Hastedt, Executive Director of the IEA. He’s spent many years working with the IEA, seeing the development of assessments in new subjects, such as citizenship and computer literacies, and the emergence of league tables, which rank education systems and have become popular today. Drik offers valuable insight for any discussion on the feasibility or desirability of global learning metrics.

Today we continue our mini-series on global learning metrics during the lead up to the inaugural CIES Symposium, which will take place in Scottsdale, AZ this November.

So far in this mini-series, we’ve heard why international assessments can be valuable for national governments and how many governments have begun to see like PISA. Today, we jump into a case study of the way in which countries learn from one another based on international assessments.

My guest, Professor Bob Adamson, takes us through the case of how England learned from Hong Kong. He unpacks the selective learning of English policymakers on their visits to Hong Kong. He see this as akin to political pantomime. The larger implication of the rise of superficial policy referencing among countries is the challenge it brings to comparative education.

Bob Adamson is Chair Professor of Curriculum Reform and Director of the Centre for Lifelong Learning Research and Development at the Education University of Hong Kong. In December 2015, Bob was named UNESCO Chair holder in Technical and Vocational Education and Lifelong Learning.

I’m going to generalize here. I bet for many listeners schooling is understood as an institution that instills in children a type of practical knowledge that hopefully makes them future productive citizens. Education through schooling is the answer to many social problems. It’s very purpose is to improve society.

But where did these ideas come from? Why do many people think schooling is to improve society? What knowledge and systems of reason govern this type of thinking about education?

My guest today, Professor Tom Popkewitz, dives deep into these questions. Tom joined me to talk about some of his newest thinking, which he is currently writing up as a book tentatively entitled, The Impracticality of Practical Research: A History of Present Educational Sciences and the Limits of its System of Reason.

Get ready: My conversation with Tom covers a lot of ground: touching on the notion of cosmopolitanism, connecting the Enlightenments in the 18th and 19th centuries to the 20th century progressive education era in America, and finally to contemporary teacher education and the rise of PISA.

He challenges us to think about what it means to compare in educational sciences today. Where did such comparative thinking come from and how does it primarily work?

Tom Popkewitz is a professor in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Today: Case Studies. My guests: Fran Vavrus and Lesley Bartlett . They have a new co-written book entitled Rethinking Case Study Research: A Comparative Approach, which will be published by Routledge later this year.

Fran and Lesley contend that the recent conceptual shifts in the social sciences, some of which have been discussed by previous guests on this show, demand that case studies re-configure their approach towards culture, context, space, place, and comparison.

Fran Vavrus is a professor in the college of education and human development at the University of Minnesota.

Lesley Bartlett is a professor in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

They have written an exclusive summary of their forthcoming book, Rethinking Case Study Research: A Comparative Approach, for FreshEd listeners, which can be downloaded here.