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Why Finnish Schools Score #1 and What Our Corporate Politicos Could Learn--If They Wanted To

Ohanian Comment: Effective teacher has become a term serving as the handmaiden of the corporate politico cabal and should not be used by people who care about education. Let's consign it to the junk bin with other bombast designed to deceive and destroy.

That said, look at what the Finns do for students who don't "keep up." Compare this to the ludicrous small group instruction mandated by Reading First commandos: The teacher works with, say, seven children, while fifteen or more are left to do their worksheets. The teacher is not allowed to choose suitable materials for this independent work; choice rests at the publishing houses of Harcourt and SRA.


On the ARN discussion list, Craig Gordon writes,
"I've copied below what I think is the most telling section--stunning, actually---from Richard Hake's post about Finnish education. It shows that the kind of ongoing small-group or one-on-one attention that could assure much higher degrees of success for many of our students is recognized and actually practiced in a public schools system.

"I think this passage places the truism restated in the abstract---that the most important ingredient in good schools is effective teachers--into a broader, more realistic context: the conditions under which teachers can be effective. Yes, an effective teacher is indispensable to good education, and there
are people who won't ever teach well even under the best conditions who should move on to other things. Unfortunately, many people who enter teaching who have it in them to be very good teachers in any reasonable system, are the onewho move on to other things. By the way, I don't mean to imply that the abstract suggests that an individualistic view of "effective teachers"; in fact, the rest of the post repeatedly puts that concept into context. But the concept of effective teachers has been so thoroughly distorted in our society that I think that even veteran educators like myself have a hard time thinking of it without conjuring up Hollywood's visions of Jaime Escalante or Erin Gruwell.

Anyway, those who may have missed this amazing description of schools in Finland, should check this out below."

... in his piece Everything I Really Need To Know I Learned In Helsinki, W. Norton Grubb (2005, the David Gardner Chair in Higher Education at UC Berkeley, wrote:


I have just returned from studying Finland's education system.
According to PISA scores. . .[PISA (2004), Sen et al. (2005)]. . . this country of 5 million people ranks second (to South Korea) in math, third (to Japan and South Korea) in science and first in literacy by a substantial margin. Variations among Finnish students on these tests were the lowest or near the lowest.

To accomplish this, Finland has developed interlocking practices that foster both high and equitable performance.

[1] If a student starts falling behind his peers or grade norms, the teacher works with him one on one, or in small groups.

[2] Another approach involves a school assistant who may sit beside the student in class to provide help and encouragement, or work one on one or in small groups with him.

[3] The third approach involves a special-needs teacher - not a special-education teacher, but a credentialed teacher with additional preparation in learning difficulties.

[4] The fourth line of attack is to send in a multidisciplinary team, including school personnel, social workers, representatives of the health and mental health systems as necessary and perhaps individuals from public housing. If non-school problems are solved by other professionals, teachers are free to concentrate on instruction.

THIS FOUR-PRONGED APPROACH DEPENDS ON OTHER FEATURES OF THE FINNISH SYSTEM:

[a] SMALL CLASS SIZES AND SMALL SCHOOLS. . .[see e.g., Clinchy (2000), Levine (2002), Swidler (2004), Toch (2003), Witcher & Kennedy (1996)]. . . make it easier to diagnose learning problems.

[b] Teachers keep the same students for several years and get to know them [Meier (2002)].

[c] Thorough training develops teachers with expertise in their subject matter and pedagogical alternatives [Cuban (2003), Hake
(2005d)].

[d] A STRONG WELFARE SYSTEM - NUTRITION, HOUSING, HEALTHCARE AND FAMILY SERVICES - COMPLEMENTS SCHOOLING . . .[see e.g., Duguid-Siegel (2005), Kozol (1992), Tyack (2003)].

The Finns do not rely on excessive low-level testing, as the U.S. does. . . They have explicitly rejected the "naming and shaming" that goes on in American schools through the publishing of test scores. Test scores are never made public. . .[as mandated by the NCLB [USDE
(2005)], see, e.g., Carnoy, et al. (2003), Hake (2005c), Nichols & Berliner (2005), Sternberg (2004)]. . . They are used for diagnosis and improvement only. . . [i.e., for *formative* assessment, see e.g. Black & Wiliam (1998, 2005), Black et al. (2004), Hake (2002)]. . .
not for invidious comparisons or to excoriate teachers, demean students, or identify the worst performing groups.


Here's the full article (no longer available at the LA Times website):

EVERYTHING I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN HELSINKI
By W. Norton Grubb
Los Angeles Times
June 5, 2005


One of the many complaints about schooling is that we are failing to
prepare students for the technical demands of the global economy. We
import computer specialists from India, outsource our engineering and
fear China and its competitive education system.

Meanwhile, the U.S. ranks about average on math and science tests
administered to 15-year-olds in 41 countries by the Program for
International Student Assessment, or PISA.

Our literacy scores are also average, and highly unequal. California
is worse. Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress,
the "nation's report card," place us 47th in eighth-grade math and
tied for last in both science and reading. This kind of performance
doesn't prepare us for the global economy.

The decline of California's education system has taken several
decades, and so will a revival. The nation - and California - will
have to spend more on education, schools and personnel, but it also
desperately needs a vision and a stable plan to guide this investment.

I have just returned from studying Finland's education system.
According to PISA scores, this country of 5 million people ranks
second (to South Korea) in math, third (to Japan and South Korea) in
science and first in literacy by a substantial margin. Variations
among Finnish students on these tests were the lowest or near the
lowest.

To accomplish this, Finland has developed interlocking practices that
foster both high and equitable performance. If a student starts
falling behind his peers or grade norms, the teacher works with him
one on one, or in small groups. Another approach involves a school
assistant who may sit beside the student in class to provide help and
encouragement, or work one on one or in small groups with him. The
third approach involves a special-needs teacher - not a
special-education teacher, but a credentialed teacher with additional
preparation in learning difficulties. The fourth line of attack is to
send in a multidisciplinary team, including school personnel, social
workers, representatives of the health and mental health systems as
necessary and perhaps individuals from public housing. If non-school
problems are solved by other professionals, teachers are free to
concentrate on instruction.

This four-pronged approach depends on other features of the Finnish
system: Small class sizes and small schools make it easier to
diagnose learning problems. Teachers keep the same students for
several years and get to know them. Thorough training develops
teachers with expertise in their subject matter and pedagogical
alternatives. A strong welfare system - nutrition, housing,
healthcare and family services - complements schooling.

The Finns do not rely on excessive low-level testing, as the U.S.
does. They have explicitly rejected the "naming and shaming" that
goes on in American schools through the publishing of test scores.
Test scores are never made public. They are used for diagnosis and
improvement only, not for invidious comparisons or to excoriate
teachers, demean students or identify the worst performing groups.

Obviously, California cannot simply copy Finnish values and
practices, or its small size, or its strong welfare state. But it can
use some of its educational practices as guides. Until we start
moving in this direction, California and the nation will lag behind
our competitors in subjects crucial to the global economy, and our
children will be left behind.

Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times


— W. Norton Grubb, comments by Craig Gordon
Assessment Reform Network


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