Skip to main content

On Thursday night I saw the premiere of "The Finland Phenomenon:  Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System."  This is the latest film by Robert Compton, who perhaps best known for "Two Million Minutes."  

Let me simply list the key takeaways from the film:
1.  Finland does not have high stakes tests
2.  Finland worked to develop a national consensus about its public schools
3.  Having made a commitment to its public schools, Finland has few private schools.
4.  When asked about accountability, Finns point out that they not only do not have tests, they do not have an inspectorate.  They find that trusting people leads to them being accountable for themselves.
5.  Finland does not have incredibly thick collections of national standards.  They have small collections of broadly defined standards, and allow local implementation.
6.  Qualifying to become a teacher is difficult.
7.  Teachers are well trained, well supported, and given time to reflect about what they are doing, including during the school day.
8.  Finns start school later in life than we do
9.  Finnish students do little homework.
10. There is meaningful technical education in Finnish Schools

The premiere was introduced by the Ambassador of Finland to the US, and followed by a panel discussion.  I will provide some comments about the panel discussion, but I want to focus mainly on the takeaways.

The premiere was by invitation only, held in the auditorium of the National Press Club in Washington DC.  After he was introduced  by Bob Compton,  the Ambassador offered a few remarks about the importance of education in Finland.  We then saw the film, which was  followed by a panel discussion led by Dr. Tony Wagner of Harvard U, who is the narrator of and featured in the film.  Then came the panel discussion, about which more anon.

Some commentary on the takeaways with which I began.

No high stakes tests -  Finland does have one test for college admissions.  It does not have high stakes tests for high school graduation.  Teachers and schools are not evaluated on the  basis of student scores on such tests.  And yet when nations are compared on the basis of scores on international tests such as PISA and TIMSS, Finland has been consistently at the top.   Keep that in mind.  Also understand that absent such tests with high stakes, Finland is not taking instructional time way from meaningful learning in order to prepare students for such tests.  That leads to a more efficient use of instructional time for real student learning. There are entrance exams for tertiary education, which are used for student selection.  There are no exit exams from high school, and no use of student performance on external exams as part of the evaluation of teachers or schools.

National Consensus -  The film points out that Finland is not rich in natural resou��rces, other than timber.  They understood the need to develop creativity, to develop the minds of students to be creative people for the economy and the society.  Much of what occurs in Finland is derived from this national commitment, which was developed over a number of years, and was very much the process of a bottom-up study rather than imposed from above legislatively or administratively.  Here I might not that we do NOT have such a consensus.  Insofar as there is a conventional wisdom right now in the US, it is that everyone is supposed to be college/career ready upon graduation from high school, which an increasing emphasis on STEM -  science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  I would also note that the Finns seem to understand the importance of educating the whole child, something that our current focus on STEM seems to ignore

Having made a commitment to its public schools, Finland has few private schools.   This of course is not possible in the United States -  we have private schools with a history older than the US as an independent nation.  That Finland went this route indicates how different our cultures are.  Still, it is worth noting because of the emphasis on a common educational approach across the entire nation.   It is also worth noting that the Council of State must approve the opening of a new private school, and that school is provided funding on the same basis as the local public schools, cannot charge tuition, and must admit students non-selectively.  This makes private schools far less attractive than many in our country, which are deliberately established as elite institutions.  

When asked about accountability, Finns point out that they not only do not have tests, they do not have an inspectorate.  They find that trusting people leads to them being accountable for themselves. -  our emphasis on "accountability"  for schools and those that work in them (although for some reason we do not seem willing to apply the same metric to those who almost destroyed our economic system) is often destructive real learning.  When those of us who are professional educators try to point this out we have thrown back at us an accusation that we don't want to be accountable.  We are accountable, first and foremost to the students before us, in ways that often cannot be measured by the poor quality tests upon which we have been relying.   We are accountable to one another, since most of us recognize that we do not teach our students in isolation from the other adults responsible for their education, starting with their families, but including every adult within the school system.  

Finland does not have incredibly thick collections of national standards.  They have small collections of broadly defined standards, and allow local implementation. - By contrast, our direction in the US has been to cram more and more in, even though it is not possible to meaningfully test all of the mandated content.  As a result, in many subjects our approach to education is coverage of material but with superficial understanding.  Assessments such as PISA which require a deeper understanding and application of material demonstrate that the emphasis we have been making is not improving real learning, even if the scores on our various state tests may have been going up.  Local implementation allows for greater flexibility in meeting the students where they are, rather than being forced to move at an artificial speed to ensure coverage of material that will be assessed by external tests.  We use tests to drive instruction to the detriment of real learning, no matter how good the performance on those tests might be.

Qualifying to become a teacher is difficult.  We have institutions in the US that take all comers.  In Finland, as those paying attention already know, one has to have demonstrated superior academic performance at a post-secondary level in order to be eligible for teacher training.  That is the greatest barrier.  Then the training is far more extensive, with all teachers expected to earn the equivalent of a masters degree.  

Teachers are well trained, well supported, and given time to reflect about what they are doing, including during the school day. - The training and support are part of the preparation and qualification.  New teachers do not simply walk into a classroom with responsibility for a full load of teaching.  They are inducted gradually, with greater support, more opportunity to learn from experienced teachers.  Of equal importance, even after they are experienced, they are expected to cooperate, collaborate, and most of all reflect, and they are given time within the school day.  I know as a teacher how valuable it is to have to think about what just happened in a class.  That is rare.  There are times when I have had 4 classes back to back, covering 3 different preparations.  I have 5 minutes between classes, some of which time I have to use for administrative tasks in order to maximize the amount of time available for instruction and learning.

Finns start school later in life than we do. - in Finland schools start at age 7.  In the US, 1st grade is normally age 6, but we have near universal Kindergarten at 5, and an increasing emphasis upon preschool even earlier.  In someways what we are doing in these earlier programs is contrary to our best understanding of human growth and development, especially as we push elements of academic learning to ever earlier ages.  We now obsess on having children reading "on grade level" in third grade, even though many of our young people are not developmentally ready for what we throw at them, and as a result get turned off to reading, a skill that is essential for much of what we later demand of them.  I wonder if our approach is not more to provide mass child care to allow parents to earn greater incomes at the same time as providing business and industry with a larger work force that enables them to depress wages. But then, that is my cynical side showing.   On this I think we keep children in school for too long -  in terms of number of years, even in terms of number of hours.  And then we ask even more of them.  Which leads to the next immediate takeaway:

Finnish students do little homework. -  at the high school level, it might be an average of 30 minutes a night.  We insist on so much more, to the point where some of our students are in theory supposedly doing 4-6 hours of homework.  Of course they don't do it all, and what they do they often rush through.  I want to come back to this point, and not just because I pay attention to what Alfie Kohn offers, and he has been critical of our insistence upon homework for many years.

Finally, There is meaningful technical education in Finnish Schools -  that is, it involves real world task with real world people.  The Finns do not have our obsession with trying to prepare everyone to be college ready -  or as we now phrase it, college or career ready - upon graduation from high school.  Too much of our technical education is becoming focused on STEM, and does not recognize the real world skills that can enable one to earn a good living with other skills.  I have written about this in the past, which is perhaps why this part of the film caught my attention.

What also caught my attention was seeing students work in groups to solve real world problems.  It was finding out that they have much more freedom in choosing the projects they do to demonstrate competence.  I will also return to this point.

Homework -  Let me focus on my Advanced Placement class.  It is supposed to be a college level class in American Government and politics.  It meets 45 minutes a day for the entire year.  While we have in theory 180 instructional days, the AP test is in early May, which cuts the time for instruction before that to around 150, although it is less with mandated testing, assemblies, shortened periods due to weather or administrative functions.  If it met for 45 minutes for 5 periods a week, that would be 225 minutes.   A college class that meets 3 times a week does so for 150 minutes.  We are already devoting more instructional time than students would have in college.   Of course, in college I would expect students to do 2 hours of work for each hour of class.  That would be a total of 450 minutes between instruction and independent work.   To equal that, students would be doing 45 minutes a night for my class outside of school, right?  Except consider this:   in college a full load of classes is usually 4, occasionally only 3.   In our school students take 7 courses, occasionally 8.  A similar commitment of outside time is simply not possible.  

Of course, related to this is our increasing emphasis on AP courses.  We have students who as high school juniors are taking 6 such courses.  That is 1.5 times the class load of a college student, when they are not yet in college.  That concerns me.  It concerns me that they do not have time to reflect about what they are learning.

In the film we discover that older high school students in Finland often take only 3 or 4 courses at a time.  That seems so much more sensible.  We could do that with course that met for two periods for half a year, except what we do with AP makes that impossible -  if you do it in 1st semester, the students are not in the course at the time of the AP exam, and if you do it in 2nd semester, the amount of time before the AP exam - or for non-AP courses any external state exams - means you have less instructional time than you would in first semester.

Let me turn briefly to the panel discussion.  It was led by led by Dr. Tony Wagner of Harvard U, who is the narrator of and featured in the film.  It included   Annmarie Neal, Chief Talent Officer from Cisco Systems; Gene Wilhoit, Executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers;  John Wilson, Executive Director of the National Education Association;  and Tom Friedman, author and columnist for the New York Times.  I am going to ignore most of what Friedman said, other than to note that he seemed to want to prove that he was cleverer than anyone else and that he could coin the most memorable phrases. I got little of value from his remarks.   Wilhoit and Wilson spoke at times bluntly, both representing the point of view of the organizations they direct.  There was actually a fair amount of agreement.

It was the remarks of MS Neal that caught my attention.  She was very impressed by what she saw of students staying 26 hours in a school working together on a common project within broad outlines to come up with a real world solution.  She related that to how Cisco puts groups of people together to brainstorm future business endeavors.   And she related it to one of her real passions, which is Montessori education - she is a mom as well as a high-ranking business executive.   In the Montessori approach one key emphasis is on the interest of the student.  The role of the teacher is far less "sage on the stage" than it is of facilitator and to some degree of co-learner with the students.   The kinds of people she is seeking for Cisco are far better prepared by that kind of approach that by the kinds of instruction far too common in our schools.

Further, even though she works for a technology company, and needs engineers, she values the learning how to think that is a product of a liberal arts education.  She expressed some concern that our focus on STEM is too narrow.  

I had a chance to chat with MS Neal briefly afterward, and she repeated those points.   Remember her title -  "Chief Talent Officer."  She goes all over the world seeking out the best people for one of the more productive high tech companies in the US.  I told her that her approach reminded me of something I had encountered when I worked in a data processing placement company many years ago.  The old Philadelphia Railroad did not want mathematicians to train as computer programmers, it wanted musicians.  I also noted that the 2nd best orchestra in the Boston area has traditionally not been found at Harvard or the New England Conservatory, but at MIT.  

There are things we can learn from Finland, as the film makes clear.  It is not that we can simply transfer their approach to the US.  If nothing else, we by now should have learned that taking a model out of its context and imposing it in a different situation often leads to failure, as many of our attempts at whole school reform demonstrated in the past couple of decades.

What we can learn is that the direction we are going with our national policy on education is diametrically opposed to what Finland did to totally reform their educational system over a period of several decades.  The Finns began in the 1970s.  Our current round of reforms can arguably be dated to A Nation at Risk in 1983.  While the Finns have made major improvements in their public education, we have perhaps not even tread water for too many of our students.

We do have some superb public schools.  We also have inequitable distribution of resources, and not just within schools.  We lack a consistency of approach on how we are going to address our problems.   We attempt to do much of what we do from the top down, whereas much of what happened successfully in Finland was because of a deliberate decision to do as much as possible from the bottom up.  

There are other things I could note.  All students in primary and secondary schools get free meals.  Students grow up learning Swedish and English as well as Finnish.  There is health care in the schools.  Oh yes, Finland's teaching force is 100% unionized.  Administrators function in support of teachers, not in opposition.

Some of this I knew before seeing the film.  Not all of it is addressed in the film, nor was it addressed in the panel discussion.

Can we learn from Finland?  I believe we can.  Too often Americans seem to want to ignore what we can take from other nations.  Yet there is much we have already taken from other nations in education.  After all, the original concept of kindergarten was German, as the name itself demonstrates  (too bad that it is decreasingly a garden and much more of a regimen).  We have in some places learned what Maria Montessori developed.  It might be helpful for those wanting to understand what is possible in educating young children to also examine Reggio Emelia -  I note that when I have asked some major politicians who are often considered committed to education what they know about the last, I have yet to find anyone who has any knowledge beyond perhaps having heard the name.   Of course, the same is unfortunately true of most in the media who write about education and schools. Few politicians or education journalists are familiar either with Simpson's paradox or Campbell's Law, both of which are basic to truly understand much of the data upon which we are now basing major policy decisions.  

If I could offer one overall sense of what I derived from seeing the film, it was this -  education in Finland is much more conducive to producing the citizenry necessary for the sustaining of a democratic government than what we are currently doing in the United States.  

That does not mean we should copy the Finns.  In many ways we cannot.  it is not merely that they have less than 6 million people, have far less poverty or economic disparity than we do.  There are major cultural differences that can require differences in approach.  

But surely we can learn from them.

Surely we can learn the importance of giving students the opportunity to explore their own interests.

Perhaps we can learn from them that excellence in education can be achieved without mandating sameness from the top down, with no need for a punitive approach based on a test-based accountability system.  

We should learn from them the importance of properly selecting and preparing teachers.  Yet for all our verbiage on the importance of teachers, somehow the policies we implement seem to work contrary to that stated goal.

Is what Finland has accomplished really all that surprising?  It shouldn't be.  That the word "surprising" is part of the title of the film speaks more to what is wrong in our approach to education than it does to what is outstanding in Finland.

Thursday night I saw the film, I talked with some people from the panel both before and after seeing it.  I talked with the producer both before and after viewing it.  

I pondered until Saturday morning, when i began drafting this piece, to which i returned several times, finally finishing it in mid-evening.

Were I to see the film again, I might have different takeaways.  

I offer this as a starting point, to let you know about it, and about my experience on Thursday.

If you are interested in education and have a chance to see the film, I suggest you do.  I found it worth the time spent viewing it.  


Originally posted to teacherken on Sat Mar 26, 2011 at 04:45 PM PDT.

Also republished by oo and Teachers Lounge.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Some more info, hopefully of value: (40+ / 0-)

    You can buy a dvd of the film for home viewing for $25.  For more information about the film and the producer you can follow this link  For additional resources, on the film and on Finland's educational approach, you can click here.

    "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

    by teacherken on Sat Mar 26, 2011 at 04:45:04 PM PDT

  •  I hope this finds something of an audience (14+ / 0-)

    I know this is not my normal time to post, and I have no idea what if any kind of traction this may get.

    The film IS worth seeing.

    There are things we can learn from Finland.


    "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

    by teacherken on Sat Mar 26, 2011 at 05:01:27 PM PDT

  •  Finlandia (19+ / 0-)

    You've just written a tidy but comprehensive synopsis of how one nation systematically revamped its educational approach, and is now reaping evidence of its efficacy. Such a comprehensive re-structuring might be more difficult in America, but it is entirely possible. We are, however, going in exactly the wrong direction.

    The question is not "how can we be more like Finland?"--that's easy. You just laid out a plan. The real question is "who is benefiting from the keeping the American system divided into pretty-good schools for advantaged kids and terrible schools for children in poverty?" A subsidiary question: "who will benefit from the policy tweaks embedded in the US DOE Blueprint: Common Core standards/ curricula / assessments, more charter schools, lowered-bar admissions into temporary teaching, merit pay, and federal funding by competitive grant?"

    When you can answer those questions, you will know why Finland-style reform is currently out of reach.  Cui bono, indeed?

    •  as you know I write on topics other than education (10+ / 0-)

      economic inequity being an issue I regularly address, as I did in my diary earlier today on Bob Herbert's last column.

      I don't disagree that we are going in the wrong direction.

      Cui bono? is one question we should be watching.

      The other applies equally -  Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

      The lack of appropriate oversight, including of those supposing to be watching on our behalf, is in large part what has led to the economic - and thus political - crisis being used as an excuse by some to destroy what is left of public education.

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Sat Mar 26, 2011 at 05:26:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  And you've hit on the crux of the situation. (12+ / 0-)
      The real question is "who is benefiting from the keeping the American system divided into pretty-good schools for advantaged kids and terrible schools for children in poverty?"

      And right now, we know that answer.  And I'd like to hope that there are some trying to get the best out of this particular system as possible.

      I fear it will take a serious revolutionary movement before we move towards anything resembling Finland.

      "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

      by zenbassoon on Sat Mar 26, 2011 at 05:30:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  #1 factor omitted: (relative) teacher pay. (0+ / 0-)

        First of two comments on factors omitted in this analysis. (But the diary is still great work--thank you, teacherken!)

        In Finland a teacher's salary is comparable to that of a doctor or a lawyer. BUT Finnish teachers make--depending on whose data you accept--about half of, or about the same as, what US teachers make. How is that possible? Because Finnish doctors and lawyers make much, much less than US doctors and lawyers.

        And that's a big monkey wrench in translating Finnish education success to America. Obviously we're not going to slash the pay of US doctors and lawyers. And if we look at the Wisconsin budget process repeating in more or less virulent forms in many state budgets, we see teacher pay getting farther from, not closer to, US doctor and lawyer pay.

        It's quite ironic that conservatives are quick to defend high salaries for CEOs, financiers, etc. as key to attracting the best talent, and thus making their employers perform in ways that benefit the economy at large. You'd think they'd be just as quick to apply that same principle to education. But that would require those conservatives to have principles.

        Obviously I think we can learn a lot of useful stuff from Finland, other than relative teacher pay, that would improve our schools. But we should not forget that there comes a point when you get what you pay for.

        "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

        by HeyMikey on Sun Mar 27, 2011 at 01:59:03 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Best comment I have read in a long time (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      historys mysteries, Lujane, martini

      This should be a Top Comment.

      A desperate disease requires a dangerous remedy.

      by Guy Fawkes on Sat Mar 26, 2011 at 06:00:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  We have 50 States (0+ / 0-)

      The Beauty of our Nation is that we can do this in one of our 50 States and show that it works.  

      The strange thing about our nation is that the privatization of education has never been shown to work in any state or nation, but Republican politicians and the right-wing, tea-party groups continue to push for the destruction of our American educational system in favor of one that won't work.

    •  Finlandia! (0+ / 0-)

      Good music always helps diary digestion:

      "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

      by HeyMikey on Sun Mar 27, 2011 at 02:15:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is the anti-Waiting For Superman (13+ / 0-)

    Predictably, it will not get a fraction of the coverage that "documentary" did. But there's a reason for that...

    You assume politicians actually WANT a functional educational system. Such a system would fundamentally alter American politics, economic structure, and society in general. "Worse" yet, it would rip away the fantasies of many a CEO who sees the dollar signs in privatizing education.

    We can't teach critical thinking in would undermine religious fanaticism.

    We can't teach history in would undermine capitalism.

    We can't teach real science in would upset BP.

    We can't teach a global perspective in would the Republicans ever get votes?

    The ailing, flailing education system we have today benefits those at the very stop a great deal. And it's not going to change without a fight.

    Here's to our last drink of fossil fuels - may we vow to get off of this sauce...shoo away the swarms of commuter planes...and find that train ticket we lost.

    by terra on Sat Mar 26, 2011 at 05:33:12 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for promoting this film (5+ / 0-)

    I keep thinking of how much attention Waiting for Superman got - I have a feeling that this film may not enjoy the same promotion or popularity.

    As I read through the list at the beginning of your post, I just keep thinking - yep - this one is common sense. Yep, the next one is, too. And on and on to the next . . . .

    Probably any teacher would have that reaction.

    But I think point number two, the one about reaching consensus about schools, is key. We live in a country with an elite class that rules through divide-and-conquer methods that promote hatred and distrust between peoples, and then ratchets up the pressures between peoples through withdrawing resources from the public sphere.  How difficult it is to come to any consensus about anything!

    None of this makes a bit of difference if they don't count your vote.

    by Toddlerbob on Sat Mar 26, 2011 at 05:41:37 PM PDT

  •  This is excellent Ken! (6+ / 0-)

    I teach teachers how to teach at a great public university and would love to see us implement more of these ideas into our programs and schools.  The one drawback is what do we do with our really struggling students from families that don't place a strong value on learning, attendance and respectful behavior?  We have such a widely diverse student population in the USA compared to Finland which, you have to admit, has a much more homeogeneous ethnic and cultural clientele.

    "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe." A. Einstein

    by moose67 on Sat Mar 26, 2011 at 05:43:29 PM PDT

  •  National Consensus (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Seems to be the differentiating factor between the U.S. and Finland.

    Hard to imagine that we can ever have this consensus with the north-south divide.

    Find me fast on Daily Kos by following me.

    by bink on Sat Mar 26, 2011 at 07:31:50 PM PDT

    •  Actually we do have a consensus (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      As an immigrant to this country, I can tell you, with my "if-an-alien-landed-from-space" perspective, that there is a very strong national consensus on what an american high shool should be.  An american high school is an institution for team sports, with some extracurricula academic programs thrown in there. Judged on this basis, America has the best schools in the world.

  •  Great diary. Two questions (0+ / 0-)

    This is a great diary on a very timely topic. What makes the Finnish schools tick? I have two questions:
    1. How did the finns do on the international tests before their school reforms in the 1970's?
    2. Do these international comparisons only measure public school kids? In this country the best and the brightest are all siphoned off to the private schools. If the international comparisons only look at the public schools then I can see why we do so poorly.

    •  answers as you might expect (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      1  not well  -  although there are problems with most of the comparisons, as I have written about in the past.  Because the comparisons are used as a weapon it is worth looking at how many of the high scoring countries are taking a different path than we are

      2  only a comparison of public schools.  I should warn you that the percentage of students in private schools is less than 10%, and many of the students there are not necessarily high scoring, if one were to look at things like SAT and ACT scores.  Remember, few of our private schools are St. Grottlesex or Jesuit run -  we have an increasing number of "christian" schools that don't even teach real science.  I do not think the students in non-public settings, including home schooling, have that much of an impact on how US scores.

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Sun Mar 27, 2011 at 04:37:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Suomi/Finland... (0+ / 0-)

    A rather conservative nation in many ways, but smart. They mostly do things right. They are extremely practical and America could learn a great deal about how to run elections, healthcare and education from them.

    I personally think having school early is a big help for kids and parents...though perhaps publicly funded childcare would be as good or better.

    I also feel that homework is good for my kids. My step daughter gets a rather extreme load because of where she goes to school and also does things like wrestling. She complains but she seems to like it more than when she had more free time and got bored. And she'd rather take on more than ease off.

    I think free meals in schools is equalizes so much. Learning other languages is also such a better thing than the "English only" attitude here. I try to expose my son to both Japanese and Spanish...but since I am not fluent in either (merely so-so) there is only so much I can do. But hopefully it will help him later.

    FREEDOM ISN'T FREE: That's why we pay taxes. Read the PROGRESSIVE DEMOCRAT Newsletter

    by mole333 on Sun Mar 27, 2011 at 06:22:00 AM PDT

  •  The gap between rich and poor (0+ / 0-)

    is a major concern not just for education, but also for health, which of course is necessary for learning.  I also found my sources on that from you, as I recall.  There is somethings about considering people (and therefore children) as sensient, whole creatures that leads to a higher quality of life for everyone.

    I often think we should begin our evaluations of schools with the physical plant and the message children get from their surroundings.  But then I trained with Bettelheim.

    Thank you for this interesting diary.

    When shit happens, you get fertilized.

    by ramara on Sun Mar 27, 2011 at 11:42:18 AM PDT

  •  Spelling is the real problem. (0+ / 0-)

    I have been teaching in schools in Canada for a few years.  Here is the problem I see.

    Children are very excited to be in school around grades 1 - 3.  They are ready to learn, excited to explore.  They have very high hopes.

    By grade 8 they realize that they have almost no freedom to explore because they cannot adequately read on their own.  A child cannot just pick up say a science book and read it.  Cannot explore more unusual topics.  They do not have the vocabulary to pronounce the words they read.  If you ever observe a grade 8 class reading out loud you will be surprised how big a problem unfamiliar vocabulary is.

    In countries with phonetic languages, students can explore on their own.  They have perfect spelling by the end of grade 1.  (This is really true, no joke)  They pick up books and materials that they find of interest to them.  Children feel more independent, more mature, and far less frustrated.

    In North America, by Grade 8 the enthusiasm of students is gone.  They have to be managed quite a bit because frankly they cannot read.

    One of the biggest annoyances for me is Spelling Bs.  Where you take a few exceptionally bright students and show how well they can spell and pronounce words.  This is not the norm.  This is not the experience of average students.

    Will it ever be possible to reform and simplify the spelling of the English language?

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site