"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How Finland Triggers the Selective Perception of Sandy Kress

When Sandy Kress sat down with Margaret Spellings (remember her?) to cobble together the improvised education explosive device (IEED) that has terrorized educators, children, and parents since 2002, he knew less about education than than he does now--which is truly a scary thought when one considers what Kress and his field trip pal, Tom Luce, have not learned by looking at the Finnish educational system.

Kress and Luce are prominently quoted in a Dallas Morning News piece on what we might learn from Finland to advance the Kress agenda for higher test standards and a national curriculum to go with his national test that will be festooned with his bargain basement version of growth models. A couple of prominent clips to demonstrate that some people are really slow learners when it comes to school reform:
State demographer Steve Murdock, now head of the U.S. Census Bureau, has shown that Texas will see a decline in household income of more than $5,000 a year by 2040 unless the public schools can do a better job of educating minority students.

"We have to demand a hell of a lot more from our schools than we did 20 years ago," said Luce, a leader in the fight for No Child Left Behind and other equity causes in Texas and U.S. public schools for more than 20 years. "The schools say, 'You are being unrealistic, woe is me,' and I understand that ...

"But in Finland, they've really had a national buy-in to high standards of public education. I want to know what they're doing to create that environment," Luce said, citing a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on Finland's test results.

Education and innovation are considered crucial to Finland's identity as a knowledge-based economy. Science and math are integral to this consensus. Even in the worst economic times, Finland has maintained spending for education in order to enhance its economic future.
A couple of things, Mr. Murdock and Mr. Luce and Mr. Kress: Have you bothered to do any analysis on how much household income might decline over the next 30 years if the thieves who have bankrupted our nation are left in charge of the banks, the stock markets, the financial industry, the credit card companies, the major corporations, most of the national government, and the corporate media? Any analyis of that, or are you just focused on schools doing "a hell of a lot more" to mysteriously create conditions that generate prosperity rather than widespread calamity that we now witness and which has nothing to do with schools?

What the Finns "are doing to create that environment" of success, Mr. Luce, is to stop making such absurd, diversionary demands as yours on schools, demands based on embarrassingly-flimsy economic analyses pasted together by right-wing think tanks. You may learn something, too, from the Finnish mission for basic education: it is not to prepare children to absorb some simplistic and distantly-irrelevant economic catechism about preparing to compete in the global economy but, rather, it is simply to "to give everybody a good start in life," says Reijo Laukkanen, counselor to Finland's National Board of Education." That's all.

More from DMNews:
Teaching honored
Kress, another adviser on former President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind effort, spoke admiringly of Finland's teachers.

"The sweet spot is the professionalism of teaching," he said. "Teaching in Finland is a true profession. It's honored. It's highly regarded. And it takes a lot to become a teacher."

Teaching carries so much prestige that only one in 10 applicants seeking to major in education are accepted at Finland's universities. Finland's public school teachers are paid less than American teachers, but they have greater classroom autonomy about how to meet the goals of the national curriculum.
Not true. A lie.

Based on the latest available date from OECD and cited by IB, Finland pays its teachers 146% of per capita GDP, while the U. S. pays its teachers 101%--which, by the way, is fourth from the bottom on OECD's list. According to our own own CIA Factbook (2008), the U. S. spent 5.3% of GDP for education, while Finland spent 6.4%. Another 1% of our total GDP of $14 trillion would have to be added to get us close the Finnish contribution for their education system, which would mean another $140 billion per year for education in the
U. S.

So what were the big bullet point takeaways for Kress and Luce from their field trip to Finland? The importance of

•Establishing a single, straightforward curriculum for all schools

•Expecting good results from all students and providing extra teaching resources to get those results

•Giving well-trained teachers respect and freedom to teach

It may be of interest to Kress and Luce that Finland's physical size and cultural diversity are quite different from the U. S. Two Finlands, in fact, would fit cozily within Kress's home state of Texas, and Finland has 0.73 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2008 est.), whereas the U. S. has 2.92 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2008 est.). And studying coastal biomes might make more sense in Maine than it does, let's say, in Arizona. Just as Hispanic cultures might be more prominently studied in L. A. than American Indian cultures, which are aa primary focus in South Dakota. A national curriculum designed by monocultural nabobs does not make sense for a country like the U. S. Other differences:

The U. S.:
Ethnic groups:
Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order
white 79.96%, black 12.85%, Asian 4.43%, Amerindian and Alaska native 0.97%, native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander 0.18%, two or more races 1.61% (July 2007 estimate)
note: a separate listing for Hispanic is not included because the US Census Bureau considers Hispanic to mean a person of Latin American descent (including persons of Cuban, Mexican, or Puerto Rican origin) living in the US who may be of any race or ethnic group (white, black, Asian, etc.); about 15.1% of the total US population is Hispanic
Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order
Protestant 51.3%, Roman Catholic 23.9%, Mormon 1.7%, other Christian 1.6%, Jewish 1.7%, Buddhist 0.7%, Muslim 0.6%, other or unspecified 2.5%, unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4% (2007 est.)
Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order
English 82.1%, Spanish 10.7%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 2.7%, other 0.7% (2000 census)
note: Hawaiian is an official language in the state of Hawaii
And Finland:
Ethnic groups:
Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order
Finn 93.4%, Swede 5.6%, Russian 0.5%, Estonian 0.3%, Roma (Gypsy) 0.1%, Sami 0.1% (2006)
Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order
Lutheran Church of Finland 82.5%, Orthodox Church 1.1%, other Christian 1.1%, other 0.1%, none 15.1% (2006)
Definition Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order
Finnish 91.5% (official), Swedish 5.5% (official), other 3% (small Sami- and Russian-speaking minorities) (2006)
The most devastatingly obvious, though ignored, aspect of Finland's educational system is, of course, that Finland does not use high-stakes tests or, as the Brits call them, league tables, to punish schools, teachers, and children. Or for any other reason, for that matter. Why would Kress and Luce not notice or think that we would not notice that they did not point out this most prominent and relevant of facts about Finland's education system? From The Guardian on the Finnish model:
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 7 December 2004 16.43 GMT

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, an international Paris-based thinktank, Finnish education is the best in the world. The study of test results from 250,000 15-year-olds in 41 countries ranked it number one in science and reading and second only to Hong Kong in maths.

The UK, meanwhile, did not submit enough information to be included in the study. However, a crude analysis, which was dismissed by the Department for Education and Skills as incomparable and relegated to the annexes of the 400-page report, suggested that in the three years since the survey was last undertaken, the UK has dropped from fourth place to 11th in science, seventh to 11th in reading and eighth to 18th in maths.

So what is Finland doing right?

Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, says just about everything. "They have no league tables, no Ofsted, no literacy/numeracy hours, no heavy government interference generally.

"The lessons from that is screamingly self-evident; dismantle much of the intervention machinery and have just a thin outline of policy."

Which is what the Finns do. There is a national curriculum, but it's more of a guide on which teachers base their lessons around. The only national exams are the school-leaving ones at 18. In comparison, English children are tested on a national basis at seven, 11, 14, 16, 17 and 18. Instead of national tests and the school league tables constructed from them, the Finns do an annual sample test to gauge school standards. Essentially, schools are given much more autonomy.

Erno Lehtinen, a professor of education at the University of Turku, the second largest university in Finland, and policy advisor to an influential thinktank of the Finnish parliament, says the idea that schools should be run from the centre, or even have their test results published, is unthinkable in Finland.

"Apart from those at 18 all the examinations are local so that teachers themselves are not controlled. They [the government] are not allowed to publish the results of individual schools, because according to our policy all that will do is increase the differences between the schools and it doesn't help very much," he says.

What is unique about the Finn system, says Professor Lehtinen, is that in the 1960s a decision was made to have a comprehensive system - a decision that has been stuck to. "There is very little variation in standards. There are differences in achievement because of background, but the quality of teaching is as good in inner city working class areas as in upper class areas."

This is made easier partly because there is less social variation in Finland. The country has a more homogenous population, but even where deprivation does exist, school standards are maintained. There is practically no private system to drain-off the brighter pupils, and where private schools do exist it is because they are specialist - such as Steiners, foreign language and the odd Christian school - but all are state subsidised, meaning all children have access to them.

But there may be an even simpler reason why Finnish education is such a success. "There is a very strong support for education. It's very highly valued in the culture," says Professor Lehtinen. "In the lower social groups, among the working class, education is very highly valued. That's one very important reason that means across the whole society there is very strong support for schools."

This is particularly felt towards teachers; the profession is seen on a par with law and medicine, although still not as well paid. In Finland, even primary school teachers have to be educated to masters level. Professor Wragg says this is a marked difference from the UK. "I'm afraid that teachers are paying the price of being rubbished by successive governments."

Both professors agree there's a lot to learn from the Finnish system, although the social differences are, in many ways, harder to overcome - a more diverse population in the UK, for example.

But Professor Wragg adds: "The 2002 Education Act stipulates that teachers are supposed to apply in writing to ministers with their plans to innovate. In Finland the idea that you should have to ask to innovate and fill in a form is unthinkable. In Finland you're permitted organic growth. You try to improve and if it works better you carry on. I think we've got the wrong educational climate."

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009
Finally, there is something else that Kress and Luce might learn from the Finns if they were so inclined: The Finnish education system, including its curriculum and its instructional design, was created by educators, not lawyers or eonomists. If Luce and Kress really want to do something productive regarding education, they will acknowledge this fact and get the hell of the way of people who know something about learning environments, children, and the cultures. Go play some canasta or something--I heard W. was looking for a game.

1 comment:

  1. This is great. I am especially fond of your closing paragraph. Be well!