Good education in an age of measurement: on the need to reconnect with the question of purpose in education

Abstract

In this paper I argue that there is a need to reconnect with the question of purpose in education, particularly in the light of a recent tendency to focus discussions about education almost exclusively on the measurement and comparison of educational outcomes. I first discuss why the question of purpose should always have a place in our educational discussion. I then explore some reasons why this question seems to have disappeared from the educational agenda. The central part of the paper is a proposal for addressing the question of purpose in education—the question as to what constitutes good education—in a systematic manner. I argue that the question of purpose is a composite question and that in deliberating about the purpose of education we should make a distinction between three functions of education to which I refer as qualification, socialisation and subjectification. In the final section of the paper I provide examples of how this proposal can help in asking more precise questions about the purpose and direction of educational processes and practices.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Allen, J. (2003). Daring to think otherwise? Educational policymaking in the Scottish Parliament. Journal of Education Policy, 18(3), 289–301.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Apple, M. W. (1993). Official knowledge. Democratic education in a conservative age. London/New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Ball, S. J. (2003). The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity. Journal of Education Policy, 18(2), 215–228.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Biesta, G. J. J. (2001). How difficult should education be? Educational Theory, 51(4), 385–400.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Biesta, G. J. J. (2004a). Education, accountability and the ethical demand. Can the democratic potential of accountability be regained? Educational Theory, 54(3), 233–250.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Biesta, G. J. J. (2004b). Against learning. Reclaiming a language for education in an age of learning. Nordisk Pedagogik, 23, 70–82.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Biesta, G. J. J. (2005). George Herbert Mead and the theory of schooling. In D. Troehler, & J. Oelkers (Eds.), Pragmatism and education (pp. 117–132). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Biesta, G. J. J. (2006a). Beyond learning. Democratic education for a human future. Boulder: Paradigm.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Biesta, G. J. J. (2006b). What’s the point of lifelong learning if lifelong learning has no point? On the democratic deficit of policies for lifelong learning. European Educational Research Journal, 5(3–4), 169–180.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Biesta, G. J. J. (2007a). Why ‘what works’ won’t work. Evidence-based practice and the democratic deficit of educational research. Educational Theory, 57(1), 1–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Biesta, G. J. J. (2007b). The education-socialisation conundrum. Or: ‘who is afraid of education?’. Utbildning och demokrati, 16(3), 25–36.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Biesta, G. J. J. (2008a). A new ‘logic’ of emancipation: The methodology of Jacques Ranciere. Educational Theory.

  13. Biesta, G. J. J. (2008b). What kind of citizen? What kind of democracy? Citizenship education and the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence. Scottish Educational Review.

  14. Biesta, G. J. J. (2008c). Education after the death of the subject: Levinas and the pedagogy of interruption. In Z. Leonardo (Ed.), The handbook of cultural politics in education. Rotterdam: Sense.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Biesta, G. J. J., & Lawy, R. S. (2006). From teaching citizenship to learning democracy. Overcoming individualism in research, policy and practice. Cambridge Journal of Education, 36(1), 63–79.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Bogotch, I., Mirón, L., & Biesta, G. (2007). “Effective for what; effective for whom?” Two questions SESI should not ignore. In T. Townsend (Ed.), International handbook of school effectiveness and school improvement (pp. 93–110). Dordrecht/Boston: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Dearden, R. F., Hirst, P. & Peters, R. S. (eds)(1972). Education and the development of reason. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

  18. DfEE (1998). The learning age. A renaissancefor a new Britain. Sheffield: Department for Education and Employment.

    Google Scholar 

  19. DfEE (1999). Learning to succeed. A new framework for post-16 learning. Sheffield: Department for Education and Employment.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Ecclestone, K., & Hayes, D. (2008). The dangerous rise of therapeutic education. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Field, J. (2000). Lifelong learning and the new educational order. Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Fischman, W., DiBara, J. A., & Gardner, H. (2006). Creating good education against the odds. Cambridge Journal of Education, 36(3), 383–398.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Giroux, H. A. (1981). Ideology, culture and the process of schooling. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Granger, D. (2008). No child left behind and the spectacle of failing schools: the mythology of contemporary school reform. Educational Studies, 43(3), 206–228.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Gray, J. (2004). School effectiveness and the “other outcomes” of secondary schooling: a reassessment of three decades of British research. Improving Schools, 7(2), 185–198.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Haugsbakk, G., & Nordkvelle, Y. (2007). The rhetoric of ICT and the new language of learning. A critical analysis of theuse of ICT in the curricular field. European Educational Research Journal, 6(1), 1–12.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Henry, G. T. (2002). Choosing criteria to judge program success: a values inquiry. Evaluation, 8(2), 182–204.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Hess, F. M. (2006). Accountability without angst? Public opnion and no child left behind. Harvard Educational Review, 76(4), 587–610.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Hirsch, E. D. (1988). Cultural literacy: What every American needs to know. New York: Vintage Books.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Hostetler, K. (2005). What is ‘good’ education research? Educational Researcher, 34(6), 16–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. House, E. R., & Howe, K. R. (1999). Values in evaluation and social research. Thousands Oaks: SAGE.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Kerr, D. (2005). Citizenship education in England – listening to young people: new insights from the citizenship education longitudinal study. International Journal of Citizenship and Teacher Education, 1(1), 74–96.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Lawy, R. S., & Biesta, G. J. J. (2006). Citizenship-as-practice: the educational implications of an inclusive and relational understanding of citizenship. British Journal of Educational Studies, 54(1), 34–50.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Luyten, H., Visscher, A., & Witziers, B. (2005). School effectiveness research: from a review of the criticism to recommendations for further development. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 16(3), 249–279.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Mollenhauer, K. (1964). Erziehung und Emanzipation. Weinheim: Juventa.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Nicolaidou, M., & Ainscow, M. (2005). Understanding failing schools: perspectives from the inside. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 16(3), 229–248.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Peters, R. S. (1966). Ethics and education. London: Allen & Unwin.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Peters, R. S. (ed.) (1976). The concept of education. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

  40. Pirrie, A., & Lowden, K. (2004). The magic mirror: an inquiry into the purposes of education. Journal of Education Policy, 19(4), 515–528.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Rancière, J. (1991). The ignorant schoolmaster: Five lessons in intellectual emancipation. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Ross, K. (1991). Translator’s introduction. In J. Rancière (Ed.), The ignorant schoolmaster: Five lessons in intellectual emancipation (pp. 7–23). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Rutter, M., & Maughan, B. (2002). School effectiveness findings 1979–2002. Journal of School Psychology, 40(6), 451–475.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Schwandt, T., & Dahler-Larsen, P. (2006). When evaluation meets the ‘rough’ ground’ in communities. Evaluation, 12(4), 496–505.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Scottish Executive (2004). A curriculum for excellence. The curriculum review group. Edinburgh: Scottish Executive.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Siegel, H. (2004). High stakes testing, educational aims and ideals, and responsible assessment. Theory and Research in Education, 2(2), 219–233.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Slavin, R. (2002). Evidence-based educational policies: transforming educational practice and research. Educational Researcher, 31(7), 15–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Tomlinson, S. (1997). Sociological perspectives on failing schools. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 7(1), 81–98.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Townsend, T. (2001). Satan or savior? An analysis of two decades of school effectiveness research. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 12(1), 115–130.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Townsend, T. (ed) (2007). International handbook of school effectiveness and school improvement. Dordrecht/Boston: Springer.

  51. Usher, R. (2006). Lyotard’s performance. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 25(4), 279–288.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Valero, P., & Zevenbergen, R. (eds)(2004). Researching the socio-political dimensions of mathematics education. Dordrect: Kluwer.

  53. Winch, C. (2005). Education, autonomy and critical thinking. London/New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gert Biesta.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Biesta, G. Good education in an age of measurement: on the need to reconnect with the question of purpose in education. Educ Asse Eval Acc 21, 33–46 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11092-008-9064-9

Download citation

Keywords

  • Good education
  • Evaluation
  • Accountability
  • Aims of education
  • Evidence-based