Earlier this year, delegations from 16 countries and regions met at the Hilton New York for an unprecedented exchange of ideas and angst: an off-the-record summit on how to improve teaching. For nearly 10 hours, the education ministers of places ranging from Hong Kong to the United Kingdom sat beside their teachers-union leaders and haltingly traded stories of successes and failures. Even the Japanese delegation made it, despite the 9.0 earthquake that had rocked their country less than a week before. (They had slept in their offices to ensure they’d make their flights.)
One person at the table, however, was not representing any country: Andreas Schleicher, quietly tapping notes into his computer, was there on behalf of children everywhere—or at least on behalf of their data. And without him, the meeting never would have happened. A rail-thin man with blue eyes, white hair, and a brown Alex Trebek mustache, Schleicher works for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a bureaucrat without portfolio. And in recent years, he has become the most influential education expert you’ve never heard of.
Arne Duncan, President Obama’s secretary of education, consults with Schleicher and uses his work to compel change at the federal and state levels. “He understands the global issues and challenges as well as or better than anyone I’ve met,” Duncan said to me. “And he tells me the truth.” This year, U.K. Education Secretary Michael Gove called Schleicher “the most important man in English education”—never mind that Schleicher is German and lives in France.