Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Finland’s approach to education & the corporate ed reformers

It has now become commonplace to hear glowing mention of Finland’s student test scores and international rankings, and about its fabulous educational system which was reinvented a generation ago. However, there is never a follow-up conversation about how the U.S.'s current education policy is heading us in the exact opposite direction.

A complete disconnect seems to exist between what has been proven to work (and what we should be adopting), and what is currently being forced upon districts and schools. For this, we can thank the corporate ed reformers and their ilk who, having attacked and marginalized educators, cleverly acquired occupation of important federal and state ed central offices so they could set the policies. For the sake of our country’s future, these people need to be unseated...now.

Pasi Sahlberg of the Finland Ministry of Education has been doing his best with trying to help us see the light. He compares the two approaches in slide #37 (IMAGE ABOVE) of his PowerPoint presentation “Lessons from Finland: The evolution of the Finnish school system and its lessons for other nations.

Global vs. Finnish Way

Global educational reform movement (germ)

  • Teaching core subjects
  • Standardization
  • Test-based accountability
  • Race to the top
  • Renting reform ideas: Adopting educational reform ideas from corporate world and scientific management. Hiring private sector experts as leaders.

Education policies in Finland

  • Broad and creative learning
  • Customizing
  • Professional responsibilities
  • Slow learning
  • Owning a dream: Building a shared inspirational vision of what good education system school and teaching look like. Appointing education professionals to leadership positions.

From this list of priorities, it looks to me as if Finland is on another planet. And who knew that 40% of Finnish secondary school students are in vocational school/apprenticeship training (slide 23)?

Even if we adopted Finland’s approach, we’ve got HUGE problems that will probably get in our way from achieving similar success. For instance, Finland’s child poverty rate is one of the lowest of all OECD countries at 4.3%. The child poverty rate in the U.S. is one of the highest at 22.4%. Child poverty rates in U.S. public schools are certain to be substantially higher.

Would Finland's academic success be the same if its child poverty rate was sextupled? There is no way to gloss over this disturbing difference.

Finland’s trade union membership is 76% of its employed population, ranking it at #2 of the OECD countries (tied w/Denmark). The U.S. is near the bottom of the ranking (#17), at 13% and dropping.

So maybe what we need to simultaneously be doing is focusing on reducing our despicable child poverty rates as well as providing security to families a la union-type protections. And we’ll also need to deal with the impact of our family-destroying incarceration rate (# 1 United States: 715 per 100,000 people; #113 Finland: 71 per 100,000 people).

For more comparisons see HERE.

Listen to Pasi Sahlberg of the Finland Ministry of Education discuss his nation’s program. Just ignore Andrea Mitchell’s awful and uninformed commentary.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

You can read Sahlberg’s 2009 paper A short history of educational reform in Finland” HERE.

Watch another report on Finland’s schools on this NBC Nightly News piece HERE.

Maybe this leak of rationality from Education Nation, in what otherwise was nothing more than a pro-school-privatization propaganda-fest, will help keep this ship from being dashed to pieces on the rocks after all.


califather said...

Finland also provides special ed services to a greater percentage of their kids (23% of students in gen ed) than we do (http://www.stat.fi/til/erop/index_en.html). Giving help to kids who need it: another key to Finland's success?

CarolineSF said...

So this brings up two important relevant points.

In some (an unknown number of) countries, students on the academic/vocational track and also the arts track in secondary school officially graduate, with a diploma, earlier than U.S. students' "end of school" point after 12th grade. In the Netherlands and in Switzerland, those students graduate after the equivalent of our 10th grade, at or about age 16. I've heard that in Japan, it's 8th grade.

So just to compare with one country:
-- In the Netherlands, students may legitimately graduate after the equivalent of our 10th grade, at or about age 16, with a diploma.
-- In the U.S., a students who leaves school after 10th grade is a dropout, without exception.

I don't know of any reports comparing other nations. But even just these examples demonstrate that it's unsound, invalid and (if done knowingly) dishonest to claim that the U.S. has a higher dropout rate than other countries. Due to the far higher poverty and lack of safety net, in fact, the U.S. probably WOULD have a higher dropout rate than other nations, but the reality is that the frequently made statement that it DOES have a higher dropout rate is untrue and invalid.

Also, let's look at the fact that 40% of Finnish secondary students are on the voc/apprenticeship track. So that means that a maximum 60% (perhaps less if there are other tracks, such as an arts track) are college-bound. Just a useful point to know too, when you hear comparisons of college rates.

Also, in some/many/most/unknown number of nations, students' college tuition and living expenses are paid when they're in college. Here in the U.S., of course, college expenses are the financial challenge of a lifetime for many families.

Nancy Flanagan said...

Children in Finland begin school in the year they turn 7, approximately the point (2nd grade) where American schools determine which children have reading "deficiencies," and diagnose the need for "remedial" or supplementary instruction. Finnish children catch up quickly--and make about as much progress in a half year as American children do in the whole year where they turned 6. The American response? Start reading instruction in pre-school.

The Perimeter Primate said...


"9 signs that America is in decline," 10/28/2010, US News & World Report


- The nation's poverty rate, about 17%, is third worst among the advanced nations tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In that sample, only Turkey and Mexico are worse.

- The most prosperous nations, according to the Legatum report, are Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. These fairly homogenous European countries are the teachers' pets of global rankings, often appearing near the top because of right-sized economies and a relatively small underclass.

The Perimeter Primate said...


"United States of Poverty," 9/23/2010, Real-World Economics Review Blog

By the numbers:

* Approximately 45 million Americans were living in poverty in 2009.
* 2009 saw the largest single year increase in the U.S. poverty rate since the U.S. government began calculating poverty figures back in 1959.
* The U.S. poverty rate is now the third worst (above only Turkey and Mexico) among the developed nations tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
* According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, on a year-over-year basis, household participation in the food stamp program has increased 20.28 percent.
* The number of Americans on food stamps surpassed 41 million for the first time ever in June.
* Approximately 50 million Americans could not afford to buy enough food to stay healthy at some point during the last year.
* 1 out of every 6 Americans is now being served by at least one government anti-poverty program.
* More than 50 million Americans are now on Medicaid, the U.S. government health care program designed principally to help the poor.
* 1 out of every 7 mortgages in the United States was either delinquent or in foreclosure during the first quarter of 2010.
* Nearly 10 million Americans now receive unemployment insurance, which is almost four times as many as were receiving it in 2007.
* The number of Americans receiving long-term unemployment benefits has risen over 60 percent in just the past year.
* According to one recent survey, 28 percent of all U.S. households have at least one member that is looking for a full-time job.
* 1 out of every 5 children in the United States is now living in poverty.

GR said...

Reg Finnish kids starting school at 7, I read something in Thom Hartman's latest book. It says starting to read/write at a very early age leads to over-development of the left brain which leads to masculine behavior and overemphasize logical thinking over feminine, right brain thinking. Starting to read late doesn't affect student ability like the Finnish case shows. That is what the Scandinavians follow. He refers to another book whose title I can't recall now.

The Perimeter Primate said...

Hechinger Report
December 9, 2010
What can we learn from Finland?: A Q&A with Dr. Pasi Sahlberg

When questioned about the use of value-added data to measure teacher performance, Sahlberg responded, “If you tried to do this in my country, Finnish teachers would probably go on strike and wouldn’t return until this crazy idea went away.”


The Perimeter Primate said...

Excellent article by Samuel Abrams in The New Republic about Finland's educational system: "The Children Must Play -- What the United States could learn from Finland about education reform." (January, 29,2011)


The Perimeter Primate said...

SEE "26 Amazing Facts About Finland's Unorthodox Education System." Business Insider, 12/14/2011