Gita Steiner-Khamsi

The use and abuse of research evidence for policy and planning in education

Gita Steiner-Khamsi, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, Fulbright Scholar.


UNESCO Chair in Comparative Education Policy of the Geneva Graduate Institute

The keynote presentation starts out with explaining why the standards-based school reform (implemented globally) has led to a massive increase of standardized tests as well as, in the larger context, to a proliferation of data and “evidence.” The standards-based school reform, also referred to as “school autonomy with accountability” (Antoni Verger) consists of a bundle of policies, including for example, (i) professionalization of school management, (ii) requirement of schools to develop plans and a pedagogical profiles, and (iii) establishment of school boards that oversee the school budget and the school development plans, on the school autonomy side, and the (a) establishment of a national competency-based curriculum framework, (b) learning standards for each school cycle, grade, and subject, and (c) standardized testing of students at key stages of the school levels on the accountability side of the reform. Twenty, thirty, or in some countries forty years after these fundamental neoliberal policies, aspects of the reform bundle have been softened, amended, or “hollowed out” (Morais and Porto de Oliveira, 2023), as seen with the trend to transcend the focus on foundational learning (numeracy and literacy) alone and also pay greater attention to social-emotional learning and child wellbeing. Even though the content or the various elements of the reform bundle hollow out over time, the policy instruments, such as “governance by numbers” (Jenny Ozga and Sotiria Grek) or the use of evidence for school reform decisions and planning tend to be quite resistant to change. An interesting phenomenon, addressed in the keynote presentation, is the rise of knowledge brokers in education that have it made it their mandate, due to the surplus of (mis)-information posted on digital platform, to synthesize, translate, and communicate (their) research evidence to a broader, influential audience, including policy and decision makers.


The presentation draws on debates in comparative policy studies, including in the five-country study “Policy learning and lesson-drawing in Nordic school reform in an era of international comparison” (POLNET, see Karseth, Sivesind, Steiner-Khamsi, 2022), administered at the University of Oslo (Principal Investigator: Kirsten Sivesind) and funded by the Research Council of Norway. The five-country study lasts from 2018 – 2023 and included educational researchers from Denmark, Finland, Iceland (Berglind Rós Magnúsdóttir, Jón Torfi Jónasson, Gunnlaugur Magnusson), Norway, Sweden, as well as from Teachers College, Columbia University, New York.


Reference: For more information on the POLNET study, see Karseth, B., Sivesind, K, and Steiner-Khamsi, G., eds (2022). Evidence and expertise in Nordic education policy: A comparative network analysis. New York: Palgrave/Springer. Open access, available here.


Biographical note

Gita Steiner-Khamsi, is professor of international and comparative education at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York and chair holder of the UNESCO Chair in Comparative Education Policy at the Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. Her research priorities include comparative analyses of national education policies from a transnational perspective, global reform processes, and education in international cooperation and development. Prior to her emigration to the United States (1995), she established and directed for almost ten years the unit «Intercultural Education» at the Ministry of Education of the Canton of Zurich. She published thirteen books and numerous other publications on topics related to school reform and policy studies in education.