Jan 25, 2012

ARTICLE: Ignoring Finland

What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success

"...Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play." 

I've drastically cut back on my homework this year. Occasionally, I will send something home. And it causes me more trouble than it's worth. Homework sucks--what a stupid idea.

"'[T]here are no private schools in Finland.'"

"Finland has no standardized tests... Instead, the public school system's teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves."  

Trusting teachers to assess the students and using tests and observations to guide their instruction? Risky. You know teachers aren't very bright.

"As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg [director of the Finnish Ministry of Education's Center for International Mobility] shrugs. 'There's no word for accountability in Finnish,' he later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. 'Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted' [emphasis added]. For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master's degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal's responsibility to notice and deal with it."  

That quote gets me. A sage observation. If teachers are treated as idiots, unable to make decisions, then others feel the necessity to hold us "accountable." That one sentence paints a true picture of American education. Buried under laws, policies, unrealistic assessments, and budget cuts, teachers are still criticized for lack of gains, and decision-makers spend more time discussing accountability. In Finland, though, they behave professionally and they are treated as professionals--able to make their own decisions.

"And while Americans love to talk about competition, Sahlberg points out that nothing makes Finns more uncomfortable... The main driver of education policy is not competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation."

"Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality."

"Educational policy, Abrams [a visiting scholar at Columbia University's Teachers College] suggests, is probably more important to the success of a country's school system than the nation's size or ethnic makeup... The problem facing education in America isn't the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society, and this is precisely the problem that Finnish education reform addressed. More equity at home might just be what America needs to be more competitive abroad."  

The article mentions Norway, a country with an extremely homogeneous population and an education philosophy similar to the United States. It scores in the average range. More and more, I realize that, as a country, we can invent excuses like nobody's business. That's keeping us from setting clear, positive goals and taking strides to reach them.

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