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Friday, December 2, 2011

Whatever It Takes

An article from the teachers' magazine TSTA Advocate and written by LynNell Hancock (winter 2011-12) titled "Why are Finland's school successful?" describes the amazing results public schools (not private) in that Nordic country have been able to achieve,  topping academic rankings on a worldwide basis for several years.

The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) publishes annually the educational ranking by country; Finland has been at the top for several years and we, the U.S. have vegetated in the middle of the pack for quite a while. We may reject these studies as fantasies concocted by international bureaucrats who have to justify their jobs. Perhaps! But the numbers still give a general idea regarding which educational system works best; the surprising findings indicate that the Finns have no standardized tests. As their top teachers frequently comment:"A test result cannot begin to describe what a good teacher does. It eliminates the human component which is all important in the classroom". One more fact: 90% of Finnish students go to public schools and have complete health coverage paid by the state until they leave high school. Wow! I can just hear some Republicans heading for the doors to vent their indignation at this blatant intervention by the national government. HOW DARE THEY? WE MAY AS WELL  SOCIALIZE THE WHOLE PACKAGE!                                                                                    

(The capital letters indicate right-wing politicians shouting) 

The article adds a very significant piece of information: "..its teachers are trusted to do whatever it takes to turn young lives around."

Whatever it takes! Wow! They refuse to allow failure due to lack of skills, low intelligence level, and/or family circumstances. Lest you readers accuse me of favoring the Nordic race, allow me to add a juicy tidbit that will resonate with our immigration foes:"..more than half of its elementary students are immigrants, from Somalia, Iraq, Russia, Bangladesh, Estonia and Ethiopia.."

And we complain because we have immigrants from Central America on our southern border? The teachers in Finland take a boy from Somalia who knows no Finnish and within a year, the youngster can sustain conversations with his schoolmates. They give him an intense, full immersion training in his new language day after day for 52 weeks. The head of public education stated that they don't teach children how to test but how to learn. Their students learn how to learn. Do ours? Granted, the Suomi nation has only 6 million inhabitants due to its abundance of Arctic land. But don't you think that it could be used as a perfectly valid sample in a research paper on education?

They have roughly the same proportion of kids with learning disabilities that we have and, except for the most severely affected, they mix them with the general population of students, a practice that is more and more common in U.S. schools. One of the "secrets" of Finnish academic success is to have small schools with small groups. The teachers there say that they know every kid and follow them throughout the years until they pass to the next level. That factor, to me, a teacher with 25 years of experience, is key to the academic success of the student. Again, in high school, we have begun doing the same and I can say that an intimate knowledge of the pupil and his/her family helps enormously when it comes time to make a decision such as going to college or to a vocational school.

Those who propose private vouchers to parents so that they may register their children in private schools push a very bad idea. A recent investigation of IDEA schools revealed that they receive mostly high functioning students who would be successful anywhere. It doesn't take a genius of a teacher to teach smart kids; they usually teach themselves very well. It takes a very dedicated instructor to achieve success with a learning disabled student. It takes time, patience, and savvy. Private schools lack time and patience as their main goal is to make money.

Why don't we "import" a 100 Finnish teachers who speak English to work in our most challenged schools; maybe they can teach us a few things.


Marcia said...

Our educational system is so full of standards and tests, they continuously miss the point; the child suffers in the process. That's where the "occupy" movement should spend their energies; ensuring our children get educated.

Jeri said...

Along with importing 100 Finnish teachers we would probably have to import their society as a whole. Our country doesn't value education and it doesn't respect teachers. Teacher dedication certainly counts, but what about the larger system we have to work within? Where is the best place to start to fix what ails us?

I recently moved from Idaho and students are now going to be required to take two online classes every year. On the surface, it looks like money will be saved, but it's really allowing the state superintendent to grease the pockets of makers of educational software.

Oh there must be a million reasons why America can't get education right and good teachers will continue to leave the profession. How have you stayed in the game for 25 years? I lasted six and am not sure if I will go back or not (I'm taking this year off to write.)