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.

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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.