Tuesday, January 22, 2013

3 lessons from Finland and a surprising warning

Finnish Lessons book asks "What can the world learn from educational change in Finland?"  Written by Pasi Sahlberg, PhD, with a forward by Dr. Andy Hargraves.Innovative educators know that looking to Finland as the golden standard for education because of their test scores makes little sense for a number of reasons. This includes the fact that if we adjust for poverty and speakers of other languages in our nation, their results are no more remarkable than ours.  Internationally, these tests are no more than a measure of poverty and ability to speak the national language in any given country.   But  even when we take the tests out the picture, we should recognize Finland because 80% of the taxpayers trust their public school system and 75% of the citizens think that their publicly funded education system is their most significant accomplishment since independence. Those are laudable accountability measures to hope to live up to.  
Pasi Sahlberg, author of the 2013 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award winning book, Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? warns us, that even if we wanted a system like theirs, we probably couldn’t have it because many of the successful aspects of Finland's education system are rooted in cultures and values that are a not a part of the U.S. For example, high levels of trust in people and institutions, pursuit of equality and fairness in society and life, and willingness to pay taxes for common good. But they do suggest, that despite this, Sahlberg says we can learn some concrete lessons. These lessons are built on the premise that rather than over-standardize teaching and learning in schools by prescribed curricula and frequent high-stakes testing, three other aspects of education should be standardized instead.

Here they are:

  1. Universal standard for financing schools, so that resources are channeled to schools according to real needs. This is essential in order to enhance equity and quality in American education.
  2. Universal standard for time allocation in schools, allowing pupils to have a proper recess between classes and a balanced curriculum among academic learning, the arts and physical education.
  3. Universal standard for teacher preparation that follows standards in other top professions. Initiating a bar exam for teachers is a step towards higher professional standards in teaching.

All this brings us to an interesting realization about the Finnish school system. They are doing a kick ass job of school. Others wants to be like them. But when the government school system perfects their ability to raise kids, Sahlberg shares an unexpected and unfavorable outcome that has resulted.

Their latest problem.

There is a growing concern among psychologists and pediatricians that the quality of children's lives outside of school is declining. Some argue that parents increasingly leave upbringing of their children to schools. Teachers continue to urge parents to take more responsibility for their children e.g. giving more time and attention to them at home. 

Living in New York City, where we are victims of a recent bus strike, it becomes all too clear what can happen when we become dependent on the government, not only to care for our children all day, but also to provide commuting services for them.  

So, let’s learn from places like Finland and work to provide the best possible opportunities for our children, but when we do, we must be careful not to give away too many parental rights and responsibilities.