What if Finnish Teachers Taught in the USA?

You have all heard that FInland does the best job in the world at getting high scores on tests like PISA without burdening their students or their teachers with extreme workloads. Finland does not have long hours of homework for elementary kids, and they don’t require the daily filing of rigidly formatted, complex lesson plans for teachers. Finnish teachers are selected from the very best of their university classes, and have enormous amount of control over what they do, which they plan with their peers.

So what if some of these Finnish teachers came and worked here in the US?

Now we know, thanks to an article in The Atlantic.

A couple of quotes, from three such teachers. One said,

“If you asked me now, my answer would be that most likely I would not continue in this career.”

Another:

While teaching in Finnish schools, she had plenty of leeway to plan with colleagues, select curricular materials for the principal to consider purchasing, and influence decisions about schedules and responsibilities.

Today, with 16 years of teaching in U.S. public schools under her belt, this ESL teacher feels that she lacks a career in teaching. She described it as a rote job where she follows a curriculum she didn’t develop herself, keeps a principal-dictated schedule, and sits in meetings where details aren’t debated.

And another:

“I teach six classes a day with a one 45-[minute] ‘planning’ period,” she said. “My classes are at three different proficiency levels, and I have four minutes between classes to prepare for the next class. At the same time, I am expected to stand in the hallways to monitor students as [they] transfer from class to class, and to check my email for last-minute updates and changes because of ongoing testing or other events.”

All of those tasks, and several others, wear her down: “I feel rushed, nothing gets done properly; there is very little joy, and no time for reflection or creative thinking (in order to create meaningful activities for students).”

Muja concluded her response with a quote from one of Pasi Sahlberg’s articles for The Washington Post, “What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools?”

Sahlberg, an education scholar and the author of Finnish Lessons 2.0, answers the theoretical question in his article’s title, writing in part: “I argue that if there were any gains in student achievement they would be marginal. Why? Education policies in Indiana and many other states in the United States create a context for teaching that limits (Finnish) teachers to use their skills, wisdom and shared knowledge for the good of their students’ learning.”

Education in India and China

Perhaps you recall the alarming ads from a few years ago about the millions of Chinese and Indian students who weren getting better educations from their system’s schools and wildly out-performing American students. The threat, of course, is that these Asians were about to eat the collective lunches of American students, and that we evil, lazy, stupid, unionized American teachers were to blame.

Lloyd Lofthouse has a column about how lousy the Chinese and Indian school systems are, in fact. I recommend reading it, but, unfortunately, he didn’t cite any of his sources, so I decided to dig around a bit to try to verify his figures.

So far, so good, and let me share a few things I discovered:

education in india

Take a glance at this table that I copied and pasted from a survey of Indian education by some group called CLSA. Notice that by  the high school level (grades 9-12), only thirty-two percent of the children in India are still in school. 

That means that 68% of the children in India have dropped out of school by the time they reach high school.

Wow.

And according to Hindu Business Online, not probably a hotbed of wild-eyed Marxists, the typical Indian child only spends about 5.1 years in school. Five years!

And while it is true that China has done an amazing job of opening up opportunities for its youth and reducing the illiteracy rates from about 80% to about 5% (mostly the aged), and while it is true that many Chinese students study very hard and do very well on tests, this should be taken with some grains of salt. According to James Fallows in the Atlantic,

“it is certainly arguable the Chinese educational system and culture leads the world in training students how to take tests. But it is not clear whether this type of training prepares students for much else other than taking tests. Certainly I have seen much evidence for this proposition in the Chinese graduate students that I have worked with. My favorite examples were the Chinese students with perfect TOEFL scores who could neither read nor write English in any meaningful way.”

[TOEFL used to mean Test of English as a Foreign Language]

I have not yet been able to nail down figures for what percentage of Chinese students actually make it to middle school or to high school or to college. But from what I see so far, you can rest assured that these numbers are much, much less than 100%!!

Apparently it doesn’t matter to that nearly every other nation has close to 100% union membership among its teachers, notably Finland — another nation whose students appear to be eating our lunch, too, according to the same international tests. It also doesn’t matter that in the USA, states where teacher union membership is high tend to have higher test scores than states where union membership is low.

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 …

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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