How the US press continues to parrot the ‘party line’ that American students suck, despite the facts

This excellent post on how perhaps US schools aren’t so bad after all comes from The Daily Howler by Bob Somerby. He does a great service by putting together the points I was trying to make when I showed graphs and figures from the TIMMS report showing how well the US did. His summary is much better put-together than mine. Good job, Bob!

FOOLED ABOUT SCHOOLS: Fools for Finland!

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2012Part 5—Good news outscored by script: How well did American students do on last year’s international tests?That can’t be easily answered. In reading, American students scored very near the top of the world. Among the large nations which took part, only Russia outscored the U.S.

In reading, American students outscored the vast bulk of the world! Unless you read major American papers, where this success was largely obscured.

In math, American students did somewhat less well—and without any question, a fairly small group of Asian nations tend to outscore the world by significant margins in math. That said, here’s a surprise:

In fourth-grade and eighth-grade math, American scores were “not measurably different” from the scores of students in Finland.

We mention Finland for an obvious reason. In the past decade, this small, middle-class, unicultural nation has been all the rage in America’s low-scoring press corps. Its strong performance on international tests has been a constant source of commentary from journalists who don’t have the slightest idea what they’re talking about.

That’s why you might think it would count as news when the U.S. came close to matching Finland on last year’s international tests. Indeed, Finland was walloped by some U.S. states—states which took part in last year’s testing as independent “education systems.”

Continue reading …

A Bit More About Finnish Schools

An excellent article on the ways that education in Finland differs from the disastrous course we are taking with public schools here in the US.

An excerpt, dealing with teacher training. Compare this in-depth, time-consuming process in Finland with the 5-week propaganda camp that is foisted on Teach For Awhile (TFA) candidates, who are so unprepared that almost all of them are gone after 2 or 3 years. (Of course, many of them ever planned to stay in the classroom…)

Finland’s highly developed teacher preparation program is the centerpiece of its school reform strategy. Only eight universities are permitted to prepare teachers, and admission to these elite teacher education programs is highly competitive: only one of every ten applicants is accepted. There are no alternative ways to earn a teaching license. Those who are accepted have already taken required high school courses in physics, chemistry, philosophy, music, and at least two foreign languages. Future teachers have a strong academic education for three years, then enter a two-year master’s degree program. Subject-matter teachers earn their master’s degree from the university’s academic departments, not—in contrast to the US—the department of teacher education, or in special schools for teacher education. Every candidate prepares to teach all kinds of students, including students with disabilities and other special needs. Every teacher must complete an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in education.

Because entry into teaching is difficult and the training is rigorous, teaching is a respected and prestigious profession in Finland. So selective and demanding is the process that virtually every teacher is well prepared. Sahlberg writes that teachers enter the profession with a sense of moral mission and the only reasons they might leave would be “if they were to lose their professional autonomy” or if “a merit-based compensation policy [tied to test scores] were imposed.” Meanwhile, the United States is now doing to its teachers what Finnish teachers would find professionally reprehensible: judging their worth by the test scores of their students.

Published in: on February 15, 2012 at 4:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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More on Finnish Schools

Two articles that are worth reading:

http://www.tnr.com/print/article/politics/82329/education-reform-Finland-US

and

http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=no_education_silver_bullet

Published in: on January 30, 2011 at 2:38 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , ,

Can’t import the “Finnish approach” – cultural roots

A ‘guest post’ via Jerry Becker:

” Received from Stefan Turnau, Sunday, January 2, 2011 in response to the posting on “Shanghai Schools’ Approach Pushes Students to Top of Tests” on January 1st, 2011. You might want to take a look at http://www.teachers.tv/videos/the-human-factor where what follows can be found plus a great deal more, due to Nigel Bispham who is a deputy head teacher from Cornwall who visits Finland to discover why the country scored so well on the international OECD PISA assessments.”

I’m afraid the “Finnish approach” can’t be exported wholesale to any other cultural context.
A by no means exhaustive list of aspects that make the Finnish approach work (in my short experience as a Brit who’s lived here in Helsinki for 7 years and has a daughter in primary education at the moment):
1. Finns have a deep and lasting respect for the teaching profession and education in general, people aspire to be teachers!
2. Parents respect the job teachers do and let them do it (they are not well paid but they enjoy high status). The government lets teachers get on with teaching,
3. Parents are reminded several times a year to come into the school anytime to observe lessons or any other part of the school day.
4. Teachers at all levels hold master’s degree qualifications in pedagogy and are left to get on with it without too many restrictions.
5. All facilities are in good repair and teaching aids are plentiful (with little damage from arson and vandalism because kids are generally protective of their schools and use the playground areas after school).
6. Active after school clubs from everything from art to athletics etc.
7. Short and sweet school days (e.g. 8-9 year olds 9 till 1/2pm).
8. Small class sizes (20-25).
9. Many kids have an early sense of self reliance from looking after themselves in the afternoons.
10. Kids here also get to roam free, expend a lot of energy, climb trees and skin their knees.
11. And so on….. 

I think I can sum it up by relating a somewhat minor bugbear I do have with the Finnish Ed System and it is that my daughter’s favourite expression is “Teacher says….xyz!” to put her parents right!

I think if you ask any Finnish school kid who the 10-15 most important people are in their lives, there is a good chance that their teacher will figure in there for many? How about in the UK, top 100?

I think the things that CAN be imported are ideas that allow a refocusing away from testing and performance by giving teachers more autonomy, a focus on quality rather then quantity of teaching, higher level academic teacher training qualifications, improving the status of teaching as a profession.
I’m afraid the “Chinese approach”, very different but equally successful, cannot be imported for the same reason.

Why does no-one mention Finland?

Here is a table that gives the latest PISA results in science, reading, and math.

The NYT highlighted Shanghai, Macao, and Hong Kong, individual cities within China. A number of people have pointed out that Shanghai, in particular, probably attracts some of the brightest students within China.  I don’t think there is any way that American students would tolerate the extremely long hours and hard work that Chinese students put in.

Notice that I highlighted Finland.  Finland used to score at extremely low levels on international tests like this, but has risen dramatically in the past few decades. But NOT by using any of the methods currently popular among the US Educational Deform movement. Instead, they do just about the opposite. See my previous blogs on that.

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