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A global education race now pits countries, regions, and school systems against one another. The racecourse has been created by a small number of influential international testing programs, and the popular media announces winners and losers. Fear of falling behind haunts policy-makers and shapes educational priorities around the world. But are we running in the right direction?

We all have a stake in education, and as informed citizens we need to understand the increasingly influential and controversial phenomenon of international testing and what it means for students and the future of our schools. The Global Education Race provides educators, parents, and policy-makers with a lively and accessible introduction to the most influential international testing program: PISA, the Programme for International Student Assessment, operated by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The authors draw on the latest research on assessment and education policy to provide a clear account of how the test works and to investigate PISA’s influence on educational goals and practice in schools around the world. The book aims to provoke informed debate about the role of testing, data, and comparison in educational change.

Table of Contents

Foreword: PISA--A good servant but a bad master, by David Berliner and Pasi Sahlberg
Introduction: Running the wrong race?
1. The PISA Racetrack
2. Stories
3. Rankings
4. Tests
5. Comparisons
6. Validity
7. Politics
Conclusion: Helping policy-makers find the right track

The Global Education Race provides an indispensable road map to the world’s most pervasive testing program. The authors show with a wealth of evidence that it is high time that we make the transition from the cul-de-sac of big data to the far more inspiring galaxy of big ideas.

Professor Dennis Shirley, Lynch School of Education, Boston College

This book seeks to broaden professional and public understandings of what PISA is, what it does, what it cannot do, how it is often used, and how it ought to be used for productive policy purposes. This book is exemplary in fulfilling this task and demands to be read.

Professor Bob Lingard, School of Education, The University of Queensland

It is short, balanced, eminently readable, and, unlike some other academic critiques of PISA, the authors know what they are talking about. They are also not afraid to set out some clear policy proposals.

Education International

What sets Sellar, Thompson and Rutkowski's book apart from other literature is its ability to engage with complexity in an accessible way; to explain clearly without simplifying; and to avoid binaries and polarising divides while acknowledging differing perspectives.

the edu flaneuse

The Global Education Race is a book every educator should read. In a time when education funding and support is so hotly debated, the book helps build the capacity for the wider public to engage in one of the most popular data sets used when developing policy.

Read Write Respond

The book is comprehensive in its understanding and offers a real insight into the worth and workings of PISA.


A useful read for academics, this book engages a broader audience and is primarily geared toward parents and educators. It equips readers with talking points to enable them to engage confidently in conversations about international testing.

ATA Magazine

For everyone else [with limited knowledge of PISA] working in schools, education policy or research—and especially if your knowledge of PISA is limited to the stories you read in the mainstream press—then this is a must-read—and a quick, accessible one.

Schools Week

Sam Sellar

Sam Sellar is Reader in Education Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University and a member of the Board of Directors for the Laboratory of International Assessment Studies. Sam has studied school systems in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom to explore how educational data shape policy and practice in schools.

Greg Thompson

Greg Thompson is Associate Professor of Education Research at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). Prior to becoming an academic, he worked as a high school teacher in Western Australia for 13 years. Thompson’s research interests focus on educational theory, education policy, and the philosophy/sociology of education assessment and measurement with a particular emphasis on large-scale testing.

David Rutkowski

David Rutkowski is Professor of Education at the Center for Educational Measurement (CEMO) at the University of Oslo, Norway. His research is focused in the area of educational policy and technical topics within international large-scale assessment.