by Pasi Sahlberg
"One thing that has struck me is how similar education systems are. Curricula are standardized to fit to international student tests; and students around the world study learning materials from global providers. Education reforms in different countries also follow similar patterns. So visible is this common way of improvement that I call it the Global Educational Reform Movement or GERM. It is like an epidemic that spreads and infects education systems through a virus. It travels with pundits, media and politicians. Education systems borrow policies from others and get infected. As a consequence, schools get ill, teachers don’t feel well, and kids learn less.
"GERM infections have various symptoms. The first symptom is more competition within education systems. Many reformers believe that the quality of education improves when schools compete against one another. In order to compete, schools need more autonomy, and with that autonomy comes the demand for accountability. School inspections, standardized testing of students, and evaluating teacher effectiveness are consequences of market-like competition in many school reforms today. Yet when schools compete against one another, they cooperate less."
To read more of this fascinating analysis, click here.
Jim Lerman's insight:
Originally published on June 19, 2012 in the Washington Post, I discovered this piece while dipping into the flow of reaction to the release of the newest PISA results on Dec. 3, 2013. I had not encountered the term "GERM" before (Global Education Reform Movement), but its view of the components that make it up is certainly familiar to many: Competition, School Choice, and Accountability.
Sahlberg elaborates on GERM more fully in an April 2012 post. He lists 5 characteristics common to GERM infection: Standardization, Focus on Core Subjects, Search for Low-Risk Ways to Reach Learning Goals, Use of Corporate Management Models, Test-Based Accountability Policies.
Sahlberg's 2011 book, Finnish Lessons, which tells the story of Finland's remarkable ascent to the top of the testing charts, received widespread critical and popular acclaim both internationally and in his native country.
It comes as no surprise, he is not a proponent of the GERM approach to educational improvement.