Datafication as a Political Technology: US Federal Policy Discourses on International Standardized Tests and Rankings


This paper examines the nexus of educational policy discourses and the growing datafication of education. We problematize widespread presuppositions surrounding the emerging hegemony of data-based international standardized testing systems in global educational governance by asking: How do policymakers respond to the datafication of global education in the form of international rankings such as PISA and TIMSS? We argue that US educational policy makers are neither predominantly nor deliberately driven by data. In fact, the most salient of these data practices have very little to do with robust leveraging of the data itself, as they are devoid of intensive research practices or analyses.We analyze US federal policymaker discourse on and data practices around international standardized assessments during the Obama Administration, especially around Singapore and other high performing systems. As discourse, we examine international educational benchmarks and data practices as an ensemble of texts that constitute knowledge and construct meaning. They operate as regimes of truth (Foucault, 1991), homogenizing information and obscuring robust research, data, and lived experiences. As technologies, understood within their total context (Hornborg, 2016), we regard educational policies and data practices as systems that are always embedded within broader social practices and political economies. We present how US federal policy discourses on PISA, education system “high-performance,” and education reform remain in the realm of rhetoric steered by a neoliberal agenda, particularly the ongoing shift from a so-called welfare state to a competition state (Cerny, 1990).

Author Information
Robert De Roock, National Institute for Education, Nanyang Technology University, Singapore
Darlene Machell Espena, National Institute for Education, Nanyang Technology University, Singapore

Paper Information
Conference: ACEID2018
Stream: Educational Policy, Leadership, Management and Administration

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon