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Great short article over at the Atlantic - What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success that neatly summarizes much of what I feel about the flaws in the US education system.

The concept is breathtakingly simple. All the talk about charter schools, testing, in fact almost any type of education reform, is missing the single biggest problem in American education - inequality of opportunity ... from Day 1.

Imagine a 100 yard race where by paying a small entrance fee the contestants can start at the start line. But by paying more they can start further ahead (say 15 yards ahead), and by paying more even further ahead (say 25 or even 40 yards ahead). And those unable to pay the entrance fee can still race, but they have to start 10 yards further back from the starting line. Does this sound like a fair race? Is it by any way certain that the best runner will win? Well, that is the US education system.

Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.

It is a very very simple concept. Every child gets as close to the same opportunity as possible. Money does not count. In fact, money can not be allowed to count.

Finland's experience suggests that to win at that game, a country has to prepare not just some of its population well, but all of its population well, for the new economy. To possess some of the best schools in the world might still not be good enough if there are children being left behind.

Our Canadian province made the switch a few years ago to more equal funding. In the past each district school board set taxes and some boards naturally ended up with more money and better schools. The Province switched to a system of Province wide funding. In principle every child would be funded equally ($x,xxx per student paid to each school board). Adjustments were/are allowed based on various factors such as ESL students, immigrants, poverty rates, and costs of living etc., but the core idea is the same. Students get funded equally.

Of course this is still not enough to eliminate inequality, but it is a very important, dare I say absolutely fundamental, first step. Interestingly my experience with the school system has been that special needs funding far far exceeds enrichment funding. An awful lot of effort and money is spent on the kids at the bottom, and far less on the kids at the top. If you are trying to minimize inequality this of course makes clear sense.

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strong>Yet one of the most significant things Sahlberg said passed practically unnoticed. "Oh," he mentioned at one point, "and there are no private schools in Finland."

This notion may seem difficult for an American to digest, but it's true. Only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland, and even they are all publicly financed. None is allowed to charge tuition fees. There are no private universities, either. This means that practically every person in Finland attends public school, whether for pre-K or a Ph.D.

I am a huge believer that structure drives behavior and results. If you set up the right system with the right incentives and disincentives you can allow a lot of internal freedom, pretty sure that everyone will be working towards the same goal. If you set up the wrong system and instead are forced to use all kinds of measurement tools (testing) and standards to keep track of what is going on you are doomed to failure.

So, it is painful to realize that all the reform efforts in the US are essentially not going to work because the most fundamental (and difficult in the US economic/political/social system) reform can not or will not take place.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Hard to compare a relatively small... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NYCee, nextstep

    Scandinavian country that is almost entirely homogeneous with the United States of America.  I wish people wouldn't do that.

    It really is almost meaningless.

    •  The article addresses that (10+ / 0-)

      and dismisses it quite easily.

      Also in the Province of Ontario (my case) I would argue we are even less homogeneous than the US (over 1/2 of the people in Toronto were not born in Canada).

      Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. - JFK

      by taonow on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 09:57:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It doesn't address the fact... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bnasley

        that 13 percent of the American population was forcefully brought to American from Africa and that legacy of inequality is still ingrained in, and imprinted on, the educational system.  

        Every single systemic problem in America, from education, to health care reform, to unemployment insurance, welfare and prisons, is mired in racial politics.  

        This is simply not to be found in Finland or in Ontario.

        •  But in Finland there (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          taonow, elwior, northsylvania, nicolemm

          are no private schools, the quality of the schools are equal as opposed to the US where money talks.  It is more complicated than that and Finland has had its own in flux of immigration.

          My 8-year-old, Charlotte, asked if Herman Cain's tax plan was called, "Mine, mine, mine!"

          by Ellinorianne on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 10:41:11 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  You know that nothing in Finland... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ajwagner, bnasley

            compares to millions of black children having to be integrated into the public school system after centuries of slavery and Jim Crow.  

            Private (Christian) schools are an attempt by wealthy white people to avoid having their children sit in schools with black children.

            We all know this.

            Nothing compares to this anywhere in the world, so there can be no comparison.

            •  The point (9+ / 0-)

              is that those kids deserve just as good an education as the white kids and so by having private schools we still have separate but equal, which is bullshit because money does matter, but it is legal and it is socio-economic segregation.  I think you mistaken me arguing against you, the Finland model can be used to actually argue in favor of helping those kids.

              Obviously, it has to do with issues that go beyond the schools that we also need to address as a society, that must happen as well and I would never argue that it doesn't.  But Finland is a great way to show that you do not have to bust unions and privatize education to get good results.

              My 8-year-old, Charlotte, asked if Herman Cain's tax plan was called, "Mine, mine, mine!"

              by Ellinorianne on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 11:12:46 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  You can make a model like that in Finland... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                bnasley

                you can't make one like that in the US because of long-historical and political reasons.  

                Culture here is the key.  

                It's why you can sell wine in McDonalds in Paris, France, but not in Paris, Texas.

                •  I am (8+ / 0-)

                  completely aware of that!  But I am also tired of union bashing, teacher bashing and the idea that private education is going to be the answer!  How can I say that any more clearly.  I do not think that we should be like Finland because we are not Finland but I also believe that our public education system is failing these kids because it has been under attack fir the past thirty years along with the middle class.  It is very complicated as I said, but why can we not look at what other countries are doing?

                  My 8-year-old, Charlotte, asked if Herman Cain's tax plan was called, "Mine, mine, mine!"

                  by Ellinorianne on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 12:01:53 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Our family's experience with (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    historys mysteries, Ellinorianne

                    Catholic education revealed to us that private schools are not doing a good job in math or science.  

                    Our daughter is receiving a much better education in a local public charter school than in the $6000 per year (plus extras) Catholic school where she attended K-2.  There is a lot less mean-girl behavior as well.

                    People are spending money for the right connections, and to keep certain people who are different away from their children.

                    "Since when did obeying corporate power become patriotic." Going the Distance

                    by Going the Distance on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 12:12:56 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

            •  Not to mention the tons of ELLs (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              David Kroning II

              (english language learners)... we have a tremendously diverse patchwork in terms of ethnicities, languages and socio-economic disparity that Finland simply does not have. Daily Howler did a good job of noting this naked emperor when Finland suddenly became the darling of media teacher/public school bashers. Funny, they took everything good about the results Finland gets while taking none of what Finland IS into account. Nor the vast gulf between its system, culture and population and ours. And of course, they forgot to mention how little testing is done, how respected the teachers and unions are... nope, just be like Finland while being so not like Finland. And with reforms they were hawking out the other side of their mouths that take us even farther from Finland.

              What a mess! Now principals are revolting against these revolting teacher measure reforms. They are finding what we of the sane brigade were saying all along: They can NOT be fairly or effectively implemented. They will turn out to be a nightmare, a mess. Welcome to your messy nightmare, reformers.

              Let's hope they will go back to ignoring education in the New Year. Since BushObama put it in the spotlight, to "fix" it, it's been a disaster.

              Should a "progressive" Dem blog dwell in the safe zones of a lame party, or should it drive a lame party to break out? If it cant, should it break out?

              by NYCee on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 11:30:15 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  The Guardian (7+ / 0-)

                has a good article on minority ethnic educational achievement in Finland, and it seems to be working pretty well.

                Finland is seen by many outsiders as monocultural – its foreign-born citizens make up just 5% of its population, compared to about 11.5% in the UK. But, over the last 15 years, Finland has diversified at a faster rate than any other European country. By 2020, a fifth of Helsinki's pupils are expected to have been born elsewhere – the majority in Russia, Estonia, Somalia and the former Yugoslavia.

                At Laakavuori primary, in the poorer, eastern part of Helsinki, 45% of pupils have a language other than Finnish as their mother tongue. And yet they achieve as much as others in more affluent areas of the country, where there are few, if any, immigrants.

                "Bootstraps are a fine invention as long as they are attached to boots." blueoasis

                by northsylvania on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 11:56:05 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

            •  What specifically (4+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Linda Wood, kyril, Ellinorianne, elfling

              in the Finnish model do you think would not work if it could be implemented here?

              I mean what would not be successful educationally, as opposed to what could not be implemented for political reasons?

              We decided to move the center farther to the right by starting the whole debate from a far-right position to begin with. - Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay

              by denise b on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 04:04:00 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Thank you for asking this key question (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                kyril, Ellinorianne

                about specifics. I notice defenders of our current public school curricula choose parts of the Finnish educational model, i.e., features of self-directed learning in the higher grade levels, as something to emulate but seem to reject the notion that anything but the elimination of poverty in the U.S. can close the achievement gap here.

                My personal view is that the breakdown of instruction in reading and math in the earliest grades in the United States has harmed American children immeasurably and has led to this whirlwind of disagreement we are experiencing.

                •  What breakdown? (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Linda Wood

                  I have little personal knowledge of what is going on in our schools, but I am very interested in understanding it. Can you elaborate on your answer?

                  I would have bet money that David wouldn't answer me.

                  We decided to move the center farther to the right by starting the whole debate from a far-right position to begin with. - Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay

                  by denise b on Mon Jan 02, 2012 at 02:18:27 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Where to begin... (0+ / 0-)

                    This issue is so contentious because it's so loaded with importance and so difficult to have close personal experience with on a large enough scale to think you know the truth about a national trend. Teachers disagree about it, parents disagree about it, educational experts disagree about it.

                    From my vantage point it appears the period of time during which large numbers of public school districts replaced systematic teaching of reading and math skills in the early grades with whole language and fuzzy math programs coincides with a decline in measurable skills, culminating with state universities and colleges having to provide remedial reading and math courses to incoming students. This is one place to begin reading about what can be called a breakdown of standards.

                    I include the simplistic terms, whole language and fuzzy math, so you can look them up, but the subject matter described by those terms is not simple, and I hope someone will respond to defend them so you will have a more well-rounded view of the history and current state of affairs.

                    The argument here, I think, centers on whether poverty causes the Achievement Gap for low-income students, or whether instructional deficiencies cause middle and higher-income families to pay for private instruction, which raises their children's scores. I think the instructional deficiencies are causing the decline in skills across the board, and that low-come children are disadvantaged by their parents' inability to pay for private instruction.

                    http://www.mercurynews.com/...
                    Cal State campuses overwhelmed by remedial needs
                    By Matt Krupnick, Contra Costa Times
                    © Copyright 2011, Bay Area News Group

                    Wracked with frustration over the state's legions of unprepared high school graduates, the California State University system next summer will force freshmen with remedial needs to brush up on math or English before arriving on campus.

                    But many professors at the 23-campus university, which has spent the past 13 years dismissing students who fail remedial classes, doubt the Early Start program will do much to help students unable to handle college math or English.

                    "I'm not at all optimistic that it's going to help," said Sally Murphy, a communications professor who directs general education at Cal State East Bay, where 73 percent of this year's freshmen were not ready for college math. Nearly 60 percent were not prepared for college English.

                    "A 15-hour intervention is just not enough intervention when it comes to skills that should have been developed over 12 years," Murphy said.

                    The remedial numbers are staggering, given that the Cal State system admits only freshmen who graduated in the top one-third of their high-school class. About 27,300 freshmen in the 2010 entering class of about 42,700 needed remedial work in math, English or both...

                    The remedial problem is hardly confined to California...

                    "We're all trying to figure out how to handle these students who are woefully unprepared," said Mark Wade Lieu, an Ohlone College instructor who directs remedial education for the state's community colleges. "The greatest fear is we're going to lose a generation of students."

                    Remedial needs at California State University
                    New freshmen in the 23-campus system, fall 2010: 42,738
                    New freshmen who needed remedial help, fall 2010: 27,298
                    Percentage of fall 2011 freshmen taking remedial math, Cal State East Bay: 73 percent
                    Percentage of fall 2011 freshmen taking remedial English, Cal State East Bay: 58 percent
                    Percentage of fall 2011 freshmen taking both subjects, Cal State East Bay: 46 percent
                    Sources: California State University; Sally Murphy, Cal State East Bay

                    •  Hasn't Whole Language (0+ / 0-)

                      been abandoned for a while? That was my impression from reading the newspaper (which is where most of my information about the schools comes from, as a childless 62-year-old).

                      My other source of information is friends with a kindergartener and first-grader in public school. I'm rather shocked at how early academics are being started now. Her first-grader is being asked to do things I'm sure I didn't do until third grade, and he's floundering. I'm actually quite concerned about him. I think he's bright, but seems to be lagging in some areas, including motor control of his hand. I think too much is being expected of him at this point.

                      I wonder what goes on in our schools of education. Lots and lots of people with PhDs have been getting paid to do research for decades. Shouldn't we know how to teach all kids to read by now? I know the academics are the ones who came up with Whole Language in the first place, and it makes me wonder what they're doing and why. In all the discussion about our schools their part seems to get ignored. What part of the problem are they?

                      We decided to move the center farther to the right by starting the whole debate from a far-right position to begin with. - Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay

                      by denise b on Tue Jan 03, 2012 at 06:16:44 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  My understanding about Whole Language (0+ / 0-)

                        is that it was discredited to the point where states got to the point of stipulating exactly how K-3 instruction in reading would be conducted. In 2007 I believe the State of California spelled it out in no uncertain terms. Even if districts had heeded that mandate immediately, I think we would still see the effects.

                        Unfortunately, districts that had really bought into the Whole Language philosophy responded by saying, we'll consider adding some reading instruction, but we'll design a more "balanced" approach, meaning they would provide what is sometimes called a "sprinkling" of systematic reading instruction within a whole language environment. That has a certain appeal because the environment they're advocating is very supportable, if you can read, but critics like myself will say, you can sprinkle children with water, but it won't teach them to swim, or some such cheap shot, and we find ourselves facing the haughtiness of people in positions of power convinced of their superior understanding of the issues, especially the issue of poverty.

                        I came to see the equivalent problem in Fuzzy Math very recently. I had no idea the same constructivist theory could be applied to math, but I had underestimated how ruthless this movement is.

                        So to sum up in answer to your questions, they're still at it, they're still sending teachers to conferences to learn how to avoid state mandates, and they're still buying into this stuff. And I do mean buying into. These programs, with their specialists, remedial programs, workshops, conferences, special furniture so students can face in certain directions, libraries of approved literature, and training for teachers cost big bucks. It's hard enough for people who have fallen for a kind of cult to realize they may have been wrong. But it's even harder for them to realize how much money they've spent on it. There's enormous resistance to change.

                        Your question about who is designing this stuff is so important. I would love to know more about it. These programs are insidious. I had to look up that word to make sure it means what I meant, and the definition came up as: operating or proceeding in an inconspicuous or seemingly harmless way but actually with grave effect. That is what I meant.

                        •  I love the word insidious (1+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          Linda Wood

                          Great word.

                          This is all so depressing. Cults seem to abound in all sorts of places. There's so much money to be made from people who want to believe.

                          My career was in IT but I can recognize what you describe. Every few years there was a whole new way of doing software development, replete with books and seminars and training courses and new buzzwords and slick promoters and very expensive consultants. When I had 20 years under my belt I'd been through five or six iterations of this, and all I could do was laugh.

                          We decided to move the center farther to the right by starting the whole debate from a far-right position to begin with. - Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay

                          by denise b on Wed Jan 04, 2012 at 02:00:12 AM PST

                          [ Parent ]

        •  This is not an argument (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          denise b, Linda Wood, elfling

          against the Finnish model.

          This is an argument for the Finnish model.

          "Let’s just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let’s be Marines." - Sgt. Maj Michael Barrett on DADT repeal

          by kyril on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 02:03:18 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Homogeneous pop with a homogeneously embracing... (5+ / 0-)

      system of govt, in that it lets folks who arent at the top focus on more than scrambling to keep a roof over their heads and deciding between a doctor visit and fixing the hole in that roof.

      It really is ridiculous to compare Finland to the US pop. Esp when they go on and on about the gap in minority achievement here (Minorities, despite all the problems, many from the home front, were actually making notable strides since the seventies, if one looks at the data) and of course, they end up blaming the teachers and unions and public schools for that. (Handy little trick to neoliberalize that work force, while we're going down that road with all else!)

      Well, Obama certainly took a sledge hammer to those obstacles, with his vicious and insane reforms that swept at least 34 states, once we had a Dem Prez that the Dems would follow into the GOP's waiting arms, in all those legislatures. I stopped counting how many states changed their laws to win Obama's Race to the Top, to get in good standing and win the useless, meager grant $, about a year ago, when it was 34 states. The reforms were straight from the conservative reform column (weaken union protections and public schools: eg, be able to fire teachers by students' test scores and amp up charters, nationwide)

      Why .... oh why... cant we be Finland!

      Fire more teachers! Hire more hedge fund operatives off Wall Street to spread the reform money and propaganda (like Democrats for Education Reform did in NY)... On to vouchers! The next  Democratic (former) sacred cow these folks are aiming to topple.

      Then we will be Finland. Ahhh... Cant wait!

      Should a "progressive" Dem blog dwell in the safe zones of a lame party, or should it drive a lame party to break out? If it cant, should it break out?

      by NYCee on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 10:51:20 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for noting this; so often forgotten when (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NYCee, David Kroning II, bnasley, elwior

        discussing comparisons of the US/Canada with European and Asian nations.

        Justified anger does not grant you unrestricted license.

        by GoGoGoEverton on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 10:58:03 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  False claim about Finland: (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        nicolemm, kyril, historys mysteries
        Why .... oh why... cant we be Finland!... Fire more teachers! Hire more hedge fund operatives off Wall Street to spread the reform money and propaganda... Then we will be  Finland.

        You know this is a false analogy, you know the people who want to learn from Finland do not think they have taken on privatization or corporate education.

        You swallow the notion that Finland's population is homogenous and always has been. False. Finland before their social and educational reforms not only suffered as most countries did with widespread poverty but also contained and still contains more than one language group.

        You make it sound like Finland has forever had freedom and equality! What they have is the result of hard work over time and has included vital reforms, especially in education.

        What's missing in this debate is acknowledgement that curriculum matters. In Finland and the other Scandinavian countries, a key to solving the problems of centuries of poverty and inequality was a decision to provide the same high standard of education to rich and poor, starting in the earliest grades, and it has paid off.

        http://www.ncee.org/...

        ... we hasten to add that self-directed problem- and project-based learning can easily turn into a poor substitute for deep mastery of the underlying subjects in the curriculum.

        When the student lacks a firm command of the nuances of the core subjects in the curriculum, project- and problem-based curricula often result in very shallow knowledge gained in the classroom. What makes it work in Finland is the fact that these pedagogies and learning methods rest on top of solid mastery of the core subjects in the curriculum, acquired by Finnish students in the lower grades...

        When one looks far enough back in the history of most industrial nations... separate schools were created for three groups of students: the children of the working class, the children of the artisans and shopkeepers and the children of the nobles, or, later, the professionals, owners and managers of the larger enterprises.

        ...in the United States, there were different tracks or streams within those comprehensive schools for the children of different social classes, so the result for the students was the same as in those countries that had different schools for students from different social classes...

        In the Scandinavian countries, after World War II, the period of comprehensive basic education for all students was extended to the point that most of the Scandinavian countries now have common schools through grades nine or ten. Students from all backgrounds attend these schools and they get the same curriculum. In these and some other countries, it is not until a student is sixteen that education paths begin to diverge.

        Inevitably, as the previously separate education programs are merged and the decision to give all students substantially the same education is made, there is a national discussion about the standard to which that education will be set. In the countries with the high- performing education systems, that argument was almost always settled by a decision that the standard to be adopted would be the standard that formerly applied only to the students in the top track.

        •  Just a minute. By saying: (0+ / 0-)
          Why .... oh why... cant we be Finland!... Fire more teachers! Hire more hedge fund operatives off Wall Street to spread the reform money and propaganda... Then we will be  Finland.

          I was simply mocking what we actually do in our reform movement along with the sheer audacity of its proponents in the way they use Finland to peddle their crap.

          And no, I dont "know" that those who use Finland are the ones who want to be more like Finland, in the good, progressive way. I have seen it used by the rotten Wall Street hedge fund cohorts in this movement, the corporate media cheerleaders and politicians alike.

          Many who are selling American education reform are the same ones who love to throw out "Finland!" as if there is a correlation between the way we do business, between their horrendous reforms and getting to Finland's results. They discount what we have had to deal with in our system and put all the failure on teachers' shoulders, all the better to whack that workforce down to neoliberalized, hardly unionized status. A mill of rotating low paid newbies without protection, like Teach for America resume padders, who drop in and out, dont stick around to fight for their careers, get up the pay ladder, collect the benefits of retirement, etc.

          That is what turns my stomach. I hope it is clear.

          Should a "progressive" Dem blog dwell in the safe zones of a lame party, or should it drive a lame party to break out? If it cant, should it break out?

          by NYCee on Mon Jan 02, 2012 at 08:32:14 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  It is clear, and it was clear before, and (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            NYCee

            I apologize for quoting you and not making it clear what I meant.

            I think you and others who blame poverty for the Achievement Gap are unaware that this debate is triangulated, not polar. The perspective that seems to be left out of the Daily Kos discussion is like mine,  that the Achievement Gap and the desertion of the public schools by so may American families are the result of questionable curricula in our schools, especially in early reading and math instruction which leaves our children functionally illiterate for virtually everything else in the higher grades. Families with the resources with which to buy private tutoring or to provide it directly themselves are raising the test scores for higher income students, leaving the lower income students wondering why they can't catch up.

            The Finnish system seems to combine the teaching autonomy and professional respect advocated by your side, but they provide their kids with mastery of the core skills and subject matter in the lower grades.

            I agree with you that privatization is evil and is not the solution.

            •  I agree with you, but I have... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Linda Wood

              a lot more to add to your thoughts, on the other side of it - the roles played by the community and family, as well as the social safety net -  a side that is slowly improving, in many places, but is still a key part of our academic problem apart from what the schools do. It greatly informs our lag.

              While it seems you are talking common sense reading and math fundamentals at school (hopefully with flexibility, unlike NYC's one size fits all tack, under Blooomberg, to address ELL and special needs kids, esp), one cannot neglect the fundamentals that are missing in a child's life from day one until they enter school, and that continue in school, that handicap them educationally. This is not just a lack of the positive but also an inclusion of the negative in many impoverished famiiles/communities.

              All this combined informs much more of the picture than simply the school system's weaknesses in math and reading instruction in the early grades. And the school system's weaknesses that add to the problem go beyond their math and reading curriculum. It also has to do with the sort of support given to teachers, kids, parents in the school, esp in such communities.  

              Should a "progressive" Dem blog dwell in the safe zones of a lame party, or should it drive a lame party to break out? If it cant, should it break out?

              by NYCee on Mon Jan 02, 2012 at 10:45:00 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  When I say slowly improving, I am talking... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Linda Wood

                the drop in crime, better materially equipped schools, families in poor communities that are more intact than before, and oriented toward getting a good education for their kids - what I see more in NYC than before, on the good side. And in the ELL dominant hispanic community where I work, there is a lot of safety net support for poor families, even undocumented, some of it coming from the neighborhood's previous inhabitants and original latino immigrants, Puerto Ricans, who pushed to build strong Latino-oriented support services.

                Should a "progressive" Dem blog dwell in the safe zones of a lame party, or should it drive a lame party to break out? If it cant, should it break out?

                by NYCee on Mon Jan 02, 2012 at 10:50:21 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

              •  I completely respect and have no argument (0+ / 0-)

                with your response. The Berliner report that has been recommended at Daily Kos many times expresses so well what you say. Berliner is eloquent, logical, and clear about the effects of poverty on school children, starting long before they enter school.

                But David Berliner also recommends "high-quality preschools for all children" and remedial summer programs for low income children because he believes these will make a very big difference in poor children's chances of school success.

                The question that arises for me after I read his conclusion is why the public schools do not provide what those preschools and summer programs provide. At this point parents are paying out of pocket to access these advantages for their children.

                http://www.nea.org/...

                Berliner concludes that “the gaps might shrink more readily if we spend our nation’s precious resources on such strategies as trying to:”

                1. Reduce the rate of low birth weight children among African Americans

                2. Reduce drug and alcohol abuse

                3. Reduce pollutants in U.S. cites and move people away from toxic sites

                4. Provide universal and free medical care for all citizens

                5. Insure that no one suffers from food insecurity

                6. Reduce the rates of family violence in low-income households

                7. Improve mental health services among the poor

                8. More equitably distribute low-income housing throughout communities

                9. Reduce both the mobility and absenteeism rates of children

                10. Provide high-quality preschools for all children

                11. Provide summer programs for students from low-income homes to reduce summer losses in their academic achievement.

                I also feel that the points in Berliner's excellent study and report apply to most American children to a certain extent. That is, I think the issues of low birth rate, drug and alcohol abuse, environmental pollution, access to medical and mental health care, food quality if not insecurity, family violence and stress, neighborhood safety, divorce and family mobility, apply to most American families to one extent or another. But I respect Berliner's conclusion that these factors effect low income students more, of course.

                The issues the schools can most directly effect, in addition to the Free Lunch Program, the quality of which has been made questionable by conservatives, are the high quality preschool and remedial summer programs.

                I hope this helps to clarify my position.

      •  I'm not getting you at all (3+ / 0-)

        We seem to agree that the US is going in the wrong direction educationally. What we are doing to teachers will guarantee that the profession is downgraded in prestige and the ability to attract good people instead of upgraded.

        Finland seems to provide evidence that most of the "reforms" we are making are unnecessary and counterproductive. We don't need to bash or measure and micromanage teachers or destroy their unions. We don't need to obsessively test and measure. We don't need to push academics down to kindergarten or lengthen the school day or curtail outdoor play time or load young children down with homework.

        I don't see anything in the Finnish model that could be used to support the direction our so-called reformers are taking us. On the contrary, it seems to me to refute it completely. We would do much better if we learned from their experience.

        We decided to move the center farther to the right by starting the whole debate from a far-right position to begin with. - Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay

        by denise b on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 04:20:43 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Is it possible to compare any country... (9+ / 0-)

      ...with the United States of America as far as population, diversity, and poverty levels?

      Finland was ranked #1 in the world in education.  

      Should we ignore their policies and funding of education merely because they have different demographics than Americans?  

      •  The problem is, our reformers conveniently ignore (4+ / 0-)

        all that we are that Finland is not, which definitely plays into the picture, and ignore all that Finland has in its school system (strong unions, respect for teachers, scant testing, a strong, comprehensive social safety net to support those who use the system, a much more homogeneous demographic and far different historical background, in terms of equal access/treatment) and simply take Finland's stellar results to use as a hammer to bash their neoliberal reforms into our system, which are NOT how Finland does it, in order to (fantastically) get us to Finland, in results.

        Unpack this messy piece of work, and you see where their use of Finland completely fails us.  

        Should a "progressive" Dem blog dwell in the safe zones of a lame party, or should it drive a lame party to break out? If it cant, should it break out?

        by NYCee on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 11:41:08 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I agree with you completely (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          NYCee, elfling

          I think that we should be using Finnish methods to get Finnish results through which include strong unions, respect for teachers, scant testing, and a strong, comprehensive social safety net to support those who use the system.  

          Of course our current administration educational policy fails to embrace any of those tactics.

          Those are areas of improvement we actually can affect in the United States.  Despite not having the same demographics I still think we could use all the things you mentioned to improve education in America.  

      •  It shouldn't be ignored... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Linda Wood, historys mysteries

        but it shouldn't be looked at as a solution either.

        Good for the Finns, but they don't have 11 aircraft carriers and 5000 nuclear weapons either.

        •  Why can't it be a solution? (0+ / 0-)

          Could we not take the steps in America of strengthening teacher's unions, promoting a more respectful frame/view towards teachers, end the overemphasis on testing, and work on expanding the social safety net?  

          As NYCee mentioned these are all common practices in Finland.  Should we not try and implement some/all of these policies in order to match Finnish results?  Do you think our demographics would hamper the effects of those policies?

    •  I think the point is not to (5+ / 0-)

      copy Finland's entire system, but to learn from some of the fundamental ideas behind it.

      From the article:

      Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.

      In the Finnish view, as Sahlberg describes it, this means that schools should be healthy, safe environments for children. This starts with the basics. Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance.

      If our goal was to reinvent our system to be more in line with goals of equity instead of "star performers", even though we wouldn't be able to follow Finland's system exactly, it would move us in the right direction.

  •  Education in America is a disaster (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Anna M, elwior, Linda Wood, pale cold

    the proof is everywhere.

    I didn't abandon the fight, I abandoned the Party that abandoned the fight...

    by Jazzenterprises on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 10:02:46 AM PST

  •  you might want to read (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kmbaya, Ellinorianne, taonow, elwior, Tentwenty

    Finnish Lessons, the post in which I explore the book by the same title by Pasi Sahlberg

    "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 Jan 01, 2012 at 10:17:31 AM PST

    •  teacherken, I hope you will search (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kyril, SingleVoter

      and research the issue of primary education in Finland, especially with respect to reading and math. Your assertions appear to indicate that Finnish children never receive structured education in basic skills, and I think that is a false assertion.

      http://www.ncee.org/...

      ... we hasten to add that self-directed problem- and project-based learning can easily turn into a poor substitute for deep mastery of the underlying subjects in the curriculum. When the student lacks a firm command of the nuances of the core subjects in the curriculum, project- and problem-based curricula often result in very shallow knowledge gained in the classroom. What makes it work in Finland is the fact that these pedagogies and learning methods rest on top of solid mastery of the core subjects in the curriculum, acquired by Finnish students in the lower grades...

  •  A few years ago, my neighbor (14+ / 0-)

    hosted a foreign exchange student from Sweden while her own son studied abroad in France.

    The girl was lovely- her English perfect (of course- being taught by age five helps a lot).

    But at her going away party, I asked her for her thoughts on the American educational system.  Her response:

    Americans put way to much emphasis on football, homecoming and competitions.

    She explained that while there are sports activities available in Sweden, they are not run by the schools.

    "If all the kids who worked on homecoming alone put the same energy into their studies, everyone would be an honor student.

    She also said America's courses of study lack behind what is available in Sweden.

    Growing old is inevitable...Growing up is purely optional

    by grannycarol on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 10:36:24 AM PST

    •  Yet, she came to America to study... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ajwagner, GoGoGoEverton

      Having lived in Denmark and Sweden, I can tell you that it's a nice place if you want to eat fish every day and ride your bicycle to work every day.  Scandinavia has its problems too.  

      •  Yeah but uh the super legit newspaper Der Spiegel (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        elwior

        says we're all crazy!

        Justified anger does not grant you unrestricted license.

        by GoGoGoEverton on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 11:01:04 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Actually, I would love to ride my bike to work (7+ / 0-)

        every day, an impossibility right now.  And as for eating more fish, with some veggies, and good beer or wine, sounds decent to me.

        What's better?  Making more pollution?  Living faster?  Buying more plastic junk from China?

        "Since when did obeying corporate power become patriotic." Going the Distance

        by Going the Distance on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 12:15:46 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Could America survive with artificially (0+ / 0-)

          imposed tax of of 200 percent on gasoline?  Because that's what the Scandinavian nations do to make cars unaffordable.

          I see that going over really well in the US of A.

          •  Actually (0+ / 0-)

            Actually the US can't afford not to add a huge tax on gas.

            1/2 of the trade deficit is oil related. So $1 billion a day leaves the economy for foreign shores. That is like a huge hole in the side of the economy. No wonder things suck.

            Then there is the defense budget, much devoted to keeping oil shipping lanes safe. Another whack of $$$s.

            If the US would price oil like the rest of the civilized world it would actually be a lot richer and with a healthier economy.

            The US approach (lifestyle) is a bit like leaving the window open with the A/C running full blast and wondering why there is no money left for food.

            Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. - JFK

            by taonow on Mon Jan 02, 2012 at 10:29:36 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  And I've known Americans (4+ / 0-)

        who went to Colombia on foreign exchange programs. Your point?

        "Let’s just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let’s be Marines." - Sgt. Maj Michael Barrett on DADT repeal

        by kyril on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 02:12:03 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Americans turns everything into a competition (14+ / 0-)

      I noticed that sharply after spending 8 years in Germany.  Everything here is about getting the highest scores, the most points, being the prettiest, the most athletic, the most popular, being "the best" in whatever.  Even the arts have been turned into competitions - who is the best singer, created the best painting etc.  All the "Reality"  TV shows, and little-girl beauty pageants are perfect examples of the American obsession with competition.

      I used to do the Volksmarches in Germany - I remember initially being confused about the lack of rules of "competition".  There you can start anytime you want (within about 4 hours), and finish at anytime before the march closes, and everyone gets a prize at the finish.   No timekeeping involved.  The point is to get exercise and enjoy yourself with friends and family.  Here in America they would have to turn it into a race with "winners" of some sort.

    •  TV helps (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kyril, grannycarol
      I believe nowadays English is taught in schools from the first grade. Most young people in Sweden speak basic to intermediate level English. Very few individuals are fluent. Swedes often understand their level of English is not as good as they thought when they actually have to speak with a British or American tourists.

      As with many other small anglicised European countries tv programmes are subtitled instead of dubbed which is the case in France and Germany
      ....
      Among non-native speakers of the English in Europe, I think the Dutch are number one. It's understandable considering the geographical - and lingiustic (of Ingvaeonic languages) proximity between Netherlands to England.

      Read more: http://www.city-data.com/...

      I'm in Iceland now and yes- everyone speaks English. I'd assume it would be similar to the Swedes (and the Swedish tourists I've met have generally had a much milder accent on the whole). Most TV is in English so that's how many people learn. Heck- in Iceland the kids in my homestay spoke very good English for never having taken an English class (starts at age 10 here and they were 7 and 9) due to having English TV programs.

      •  Yeah, the English fluency in Iceland... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kyril, grannycarol, elfling

        is really impressive.  Unfortunately, it makes it harder to learn the language.  For example, I go up to storekeeper and ask, "Ertu með jólabrauð?", and he responds, "Jólabrauð?  No, I haven't baked it yet."  :P

        I work as a programmer for an Icelandic company, and the programming is in English.  And by that, I don't mean that the programming language itself is English-based (for loops, while loops, if statements, etc). I mean the comments, function names, variable names, filenames, etc, all in English.  The conference meetings and day-to-day discussions (with the native Icelanders, at least) are in Icelandic, though.

      •  I'm a preschool teacher (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Rei

        so I spend a few hours each week checking out what the kids are watching.

        On NickJr, there was a show imported from Iceland. I forgot the name, but it was a mix of live people and puppets, starring a girl names Stephanie and her 'hero' Sparticus.

        I was amazed when I read the credits that the show was from Iceland.  The English was...well...English.

        Iceland is a country I would love to visit- except I won't fly.  Someday maybe.

        Growing old is inevitable...Growing up is purely optional

        by grannycarol on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 08:33:42 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Lazytown (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          grannycarol

          Or as its known in Iceland, Latibær.  Yeah, I'd say that roughly 1 in 4 Icelanders have so little accent that they could fit right in in America without anyone guessing they weren't born here.  Which is all the more impressive because Icelandic pronunciation is so different from English pronunciation.  I found a curious correlation, by the way, between those who had the least accent and those who were most into the TV show "Friends".  ;)  Just like Sigur Rós's "Heima" seems to have been the best unintentional ad for Icelandic tourism, "Friends" seems to have been the best unintentional English language lesson for Icelanders.  :)

          Re, Latibær: I had never seen the show, and only learned of it through the pictures of Stephanie on the box of skyrís (sort of like frozen yogurt).

          Iceland is an awesome country; you really should try to visit some time  :)  There are cruises that stop there if you don't like flying.

  •  Equal funding is not the solution..... (6+ / 0-)

    In Michigan, public schools are funded by the state at the same amount per FTE.   A handful of public schools get a few dollars more because they were held harmless when funding was changed.   Equality starts in the womb.   Equal health care, safe neighborhoods, educated parents, employed parents, etc.    Poverty is the great divide.

    You can't see a new shore unless you let go of the coast.

    by dkmich on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 10:52:47 AM PST

    •  Part (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dkmich, bnasley, elwior, marina, kyril

      It is part of the solution. To not do it makes the whole task of equality much much harder.

      Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. - JFK

      by taonow on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 11:26:29 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I agree in part, but many uneducated parents (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kyril, dkmich

      historically have decided that their children would thrive academically.  That ethic seems to be missing these days.

      We need greater societal equality, and we need parents to push for the best with their children as well.  It's a two-fold solution.

      "Since when did obeying corporate power become patriotic." Going the Distance

      by Going the Distance on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 12:18:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  What makes you think "uneducated parents" (0+ / 0-)

        aren't pushing for and demanding better schools for their children, not just in the form of equal funding but also in the form of better programs of instruction? What makes you think the clamor for improved schools is exclusively coming from educated parents or high-income parents? The efforts to initiate reform are coming from parents in all communities where schools are failing to teach basic skills and are failing to provide safety or accountability.

        Your statement,

        ...many uneducated parents historically have decided that their children would thrive academically.  That ethic seems to be missing these days.

        is based on what?

        •  Daily experience in Stockton California (0+ / 0-)

          the most dangerous and illiterate city in California.  We live here.  I am a progressive activist here.  We are a hybrid, half Mexican family, so I know institutionalized discrimination when I see it.  I know lots of great families that are pushing their children to do well regardless of their personal economic situation.  But I also see parents who are not doing their part and who do not care.

          Apathy and entitlement are not only a diseases of the rich and middle class in this country.  It has spread across all classes, and is as much a problem as poverty itself.  It's part of the American ethos at every level.

          "Since when did obeying corporate power become patriotic." Going the Distance

          by Going the Distance on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 01:48:43 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  What I see is that (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            kyril

            this is an opinion that cuts across classes. Many educated parents have decided that their children will thrive academically too, no ethic needed.

            •  Yes -- I have seen an equal number (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              kyril

              of educated parents, or parents with advantages, who do not pay attention to their children's education either.  Spiritual and intellectual apathy is problem across all boundaries.  

              I just don't like seeing scenarios where schools are supposed to solve all the problems.   Parents from all backgrounds need to step up to the plate.

              "Since when did obeying corporate power become patriotic." Going the Distance

              by Going the Distance on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 07:31:02 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  Finland is not like the US or Canada (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    David Kroning II

    it's extremely homogenous and the vast majority of its citizens live within 1/3 of the land area.

    I don't like excuses for difficult challenges, but let's not just disregard that when discussing.

    Justified anger does not grant you unrestricted license.

    by GoGoGoEverton on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 11:00:17 AM PST

    •  Doesn't matter (7+ / 0-)

      Funding equally is a prerequisite for any sort of attempt at equality. If the better off can always have better schools by simply paying more you will never address inequality.

      Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. - JFK

      by taonow on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 11:25:43 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  But that ignores two realities: (0+ / 0-)

        1) just because the funding is more equitable, doesn't mean that's the only or even the most important factor in the success of Finnish education

        2) Rich people will always have it better/more luxurious than the non-rich. The goal should be to get it where everyone has access to quality education/healthcare/work, not stopping the rich people from buying even better.

        Justified anger does not grant you unrestricted license.

        by GoGoGoEverton on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 12:08:14 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  interesting (4+ / 0-)

          That is a very American attitude.

          In Canada I would argue that that is not the prevalent opinion. The idea is that if everyone has to use the same system, everyone has an interest in making a good system. If you can just opt out and go elsewhere, where is the incentive to try to do better, so you end up with a 2 tiered system, one for the rich and one for the rest of us.  The Canadian health model, for example, tries very hard to avoid a 2 tiered system (although there are always those trying to fight against the restrictions).

          Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. - JFK

          by taonow on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 12:46:44 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yours is an attitude, mine is a historical fact. (0+ / 0-)

            In Canada there are plenty of rich people, and you cannot prevent your citizens from going to the US or elsewhere if they want to receive a different education outside of the country. Even if you outlawed any private education, rich people could afford special tutors....would you make that illegal for the sake of "equality"?

            Do you also think that schooling is the only way to wisdom, knowledge, etc?

            Justified anger does not grant you unrestricted license.

            by GoGoGoEverton on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 01:01:28 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  You don't get it. (4+ / 0-)

              Its a societal attitude. Yes we have some in Canada that think like Americans (not surprising given the media invasion), many in Alberta (our version of Texas)', but overall Canadians are far more interested in everyone being treated similarly, even if it means we do not get to be first in line if we have the $$s. It's ""life liberty and the pursuit of happiness"" vs. ""peace order and good government"".

              It is not a black and white issue as I agree you can not reasonably outlaw someone going overseas for treatment, but you do not have to make it so easy that they just walk down the street.

              As for education of course schooling is not everything and there are a ton of things wrong with our education system, but surely making sure that every student is funded relatively equally (with more funding if required for special situations) is a pretty indispensable part of a system that would produce graduates with less of a gap between the bottom and the top.

              Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. - JFK

              by taonow on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 01:26:10 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  Totally off point (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Linda Wood, historys mysteries, kyril

              As taonow was saying, people have equal access within Canada.

              Now, that of course does not preclude them seeking things outside the country. Or even private tutors. And homeschooling is still legal here too.

              But within that system, it makes it better if what is offered is equal opportunity, and not dependent on the tax base or socio economic realities for one community or family.

              And that, is a fact. Not an "attitude."

              Fuddle Duddle--- Pierre Trudeau.... Canadian politics at......A Creative Revolution

              by pale cold on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 03:27:44 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  So..and this is not rhetorical...there are no (0+ / 0-)

                privately-practicing medical professionals in Canada? Or are they merely not allowed to opt-out?

                Justified anger does not grant you unrestricted license.

                by GoGoGoEverton on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 04:51:05 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  definitions (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  kyril

                  In simplest terms Canada operates single payer systems in each province. A family doctor can have a "private" practice but all his/her billing goes to the provincial program. He/she hires their own staff, office etc, but all the income comes from one place.

                  For services covered by provincial plans a second tier of service (where the patient pays directly) is generally not allowed.

                  Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. - JFK

                  by taonow on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 05:40:28 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

    •  According to this, that's not true (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Tentwenty
      in contrast with Finland’s reputation for ethnic homogeneity, more than half of its 150 elementary-level students are immigrants—from Somalia, Iraq, Russia, Bangladesh, Estonia and Ethiopia, among other nations.

      Why Are Finland's Schools Successful? (Smithsonian Magazine, Sept. 2011)

      We decided to move the center farther to the right by starting the whole debate from a far-right position to begin with. - Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay

      by denise b on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 04:26:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The US system (7+ / 0-)

    From what I understand of the US system ... primarily from a good friend who deals with both US and Canadian students and US and Canadian universities the situation in very simplistic terms is 1) the best US universities and schools are the best anywhere but 2) the average US university/college or school is dreadfully inferior. And that is what you will always get in a competitive, money driven system (think OWS).

    Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. - JFK

    by taonow on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 11:29:06 AM PST

  •  At a Finnish progressive school (5+ / 0-)
    It's a few minutes past eight and the dim October morning has not yet given way to daylight when the pupils of Strömberg Lower Comprehensive School (ages 7–13) start taking off their jackets, caps and shoes in front of their coat-racks
    ....
    Some of the groups are being taught in their own home classrooms. For these lessons, which include Finnish, mathematics and more, the pupils determine weekly targets with their teachers and choose tasks to be carried out at their own pace.

    Some groups are taking their turn in the workshops, learning through practical training. For instance, each group regularly spends time in the magazine workshop, working on their own publication.

    The lessons are by no means spent in silent memorization; the children walk around, gather information, ask advice from their teacher, cooperate with other pupils and occasionally even rest on the sofa. The classroom situation is active, but the teacher never lets go of the reins – and doesn't have to resort to authoritarian methods
    ....
    Learning by carrying out "chores" is a key element in the school's curriculum. This means that pupils participate in common chores from the first year onwards. Taking turns in groups, they see to the school's houseplants, library, wastepaper collection, recycling, compost, yard and aquarium. They help in the kitchen
    ....
    Non-teaching staff guide the kids in these chores: cleaners, kitchen workers, the caretaker, the school secretary and attendants
    ....
    Like all Finnish schools, Strömberg School serves a free hot meal every day....The children eat at cosy tables with tablecloths and flowers in vases throughout the year
    ....
    The school day is over between 12 noon and 2 pm, depending on the day and group. Nearly all the children come from families where both parents work fulltime, as is customary in Finland, and the little schoolchildren find the afternoon alone at home too long. Consequently, city authorities have built a playground near the school, with access safe from motor traffic
    ....
    After four o'clock in the afternoon, the playground gate opens and shuts repeatedly as parents arrive to pick up their children. The knees of the children's trousers are dirty and their gloves are damp; they've done and seen a lot. They've played hard and a fun time has been had by all.

    http://finland.fi/...

    •  Some observations from Germany (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elfling
      Around 470,000 students from 65 countries took part in the 2009 PISA survey
      ....
      The questions are not designed to test knowledge learned in school but the “ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-life problems”.4
      In public debate PISA is understood to be a comparison of schools, but on closer inspection this is not really the case. PISA’s goal is to show the ability of students in as near “real-life” situations as possible, but the study does not allow firm conclusions to be drawn on where and how these skills have been acquired. As a result it is impossible to say that PISA successes or failures are solely down to the performance of the schools.
      A significant feature of Finnish schools is their small class sizes. This is primarily due to the low population density in many areas. Finland has around 5.3 million inhabitants in a country of 338,000 square kilometres, which makes it not much smaller than Germany (357,000 square kilometres) The population density in Finland is therefore only 17 inhabitants per square kilometre, while in Germany it is around 230. This population structure has a significant influence on the school system, with one quarter of Finnish schools having fewer than fifty pupils and only three per cent having more than 500. 60 per cent of schools have fewer than seven teachers.
      The use of a national curriculum and the same textbooks also ensure that teaching content is the same throughout the country.
      According to figures from Statistics Finland only 3.1 per cent of the population in 2011 are foreigners.18 In Germany the figure is much higher: of a total population of around 81 million 6.75 million inhabitants are foreign nationals and more than 15 million (18 per cent) have an immigrant background.19
      A basic principle of Finnish educational policy is giving students individual attention. Teaching assistants are often there to help, particularly in the early years of schooling. Every school has to have a student welfare team (oppilaanhuolto) consisting of a social worker, an educationalist and a school nurse.
      Remedial teaching for weaker students is particularly successful in Finland and contributes to the comparatively uniform results achieved by students in the PISA study. Spiegel writer Christian Füller analyses it as follows: “The Finns are not world champions in the PISA international school assessments, rather thay are the uncontested champions of the bottom ten thousand.”22
      In Germany teachers are about as unpopular as politicians26, in Finland teaching is among the most popular professions. Teacher-training establishments always have more applicants than available places, despite the fact that teachers’ salaries are nothing like as high as in Germany.
      For Finland too, the latest PISA assessment has thrown up strong discrepancies in the reading abilities of girls and boys....
      The myth of an educational paradise also starts to crumble when we take a look at the job market. In October 2010 Germany had the lowest youth unemployment in Europe at 8.5 per cent; while 20 per cent of Finland’s young people were out of work.
      In Germany the best performances have come from students in the south, with Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg once again emerging as clear victors, despite these states having a traditional three-tiered school system.34 In contrast, the German states which provide six years of primary education and hence a longer joint learning period did less well. This is the case for the states run by coalitions of the Social Democrats and the left-wing party The Left, such as Berlin and Brandenburg, and also for Bremen, governed by a social democratic/green coalition which, according to the survey, is at the bottom of Germany’s educational league table.

      http://www.kas.de/...

  •  In Finland (0+ / 0-)
    Pupils in basic education living some distance from school (more than 5 km) or the journey is considered dangerous are entitled to free transport. If the daily travel time exceeds three hours, the pupil is entitled to free board and lodging in a dormitory.

    http://www.oph.fi/...

    •  In California, schools are not legally obligated (0+ / 0-)

      to provide home-to-school transportation, regardless of distance, except for special needs students.

      Traditionally, many have, but it is not required, and the state funding to do so is being slashed.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Mon Jan 02, 2012 at 08:46:04 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  We're Undergoing a Corporate Conquest. (5+ / 0-)

    The story is the same in every sector of the economy and society.

    Finland is being run as a nation state; to an increasing degree the US is more a location where markets are run, and is decreasingly being run as a nation. It's not only the people but the interests of the nation itself are being fought.

    This specific issue is about how to go about corporatizing education. With both parties favoring it, it's not really a matter "whether" any more.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 12:03:02 PM PST

  •  2FF (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marina, taonow, nicolemm, kyril

    So many will discount the evidence you have presented, because.....Something something.

    Yes the makeup of the population is vastly different.
    It does not mean that equalizing funding cannot be done. It would have a HUGE effect.

    Along with funding better school lunches AND removing that competitive crap from everything that goes on at a school.

    Oddly, getting the best marks is not competitive, it's often nerdy and non glamourous. In many Asian countries that are succeeding with education, that is turned around.

    The US is at the bottom of the pack for education ratings in the industrialized world.
    Finland tops many lists.
    Canada, is well above the US.
    We have in fact huge challenges here as well. We are also a nation of immigrants. Much of the population is centered in a strip along the shared US/Canada border.
    There are also isolated places.
    Now, our shame is what is going on in many First Nations communities. But everyone can blame someone else on that one, while nothing is done.
    You want to see what happens when schools are not equally funded?
    Look at Attawapiskat.

    In the end, what matters most is taking care of all children. No matter what the economic circumstances of the parents.  Healthcare is ensured.
    And many of those tiny countries figured that one out.  BTW, there are racial tensions and such just about everywhere.  Belgium has been experiencing waves of immigration from Morocco, Turkey etc.... they are also constantly in a kerfuffle between the Dutch and French side. They still rank 10th.

    Here in Canada, we are also seeing trial balloons around privatized healthcare and education.  The think tanks are working behind the scenes introducing papers and studies in the corporate media.  Scary stuff. (although I imagine that will be discounted here too. rolls eyes)

    Others are doing it better. Education is a marvelous place to start.

    Fuddle Duddle--- Pierre Trudeau.... Canadian politics at......A Creative Revolution

    by pale cold on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 12:06:24 PM PST

  •  amen to that! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eeff, pale cold, kyril

    Having schools funded largely by property taxes is going to lead to some pretty insane differences. And of course, then you have private schools, which offer a whole other level of separation.

    •  I understand that the "private schools" (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kyril, historys mysteries

      spoken of in the story and comments are the ones that rich people send their kids to, that will either guarantee an education that will prepare them for the most prestigious private university or will get them a free ride as a "legacy". But it must be said that on the average, private schools are no better than public ones.

      For all the exclusive private schools that charge as much as Harvard, there are many more unaccredited religious-based schools that prepare kids for little more than being members of their own religion.

  •  Guess What --- We NEED Star Performers (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elfling
    Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.

    It is important for an educational system to allow very bright children to achieve their potential. Little Steve Jobs' shouldn't be held back in the name of social inequality.

    •  big Steve Jobs opted out of the US system n/t (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      taonow, Anna M

      -7.75, -6.05 And these wars; they can't be won Does anyone know or care how they begun?-Matt Bellamy

      by nicolemm on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 01:07:16 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The American model hurts gifted kids too (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pale cold

      Ask college professors.

      "Let’s just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let’s be Marines." - Sgt. Maj Michael Barrett on DADT repeal

      by kyril on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 02:25:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  What about the other kids? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      historys mysteries

      Not everyone is meant to go to college and become a doctor or lawyer.  Society also needs plumbers, mechanics, firemen, electricians, truck drivers etc.   What about their education?  

      The American system is obsessed with test scores and competition - primarily for the "goal" of going to college.  What happens to the other children?  Don't they deserve a good education too - no matter what job is in their future?  Where's the teaching about morality, ethics, common sense, philosophy and other "untestable" subjects.  Discussions about life and a child's future in real world.  Education should not be a "winner-take-all" goal post system.   Life is not a football game.

      •  No sale.... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        elfling

        Without Gifted & Talented programs, we under-serve smart kids, just as we under-serve autistic and handicapped children if we don't have programs for them.

        What would you do with a kid reading 3 years above grade-level? Make him/her slow down --- so we can discuss your philosophical points more thoroughly? Does that sound fair to you?

        The school should not be the limiting factor in a child's education --- his/her ability should be.

        •  I don't mean that every kid should be put (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kyril

          at the same level - if they excel at something then they should be in an "accelerated" course.  But there is a lot of "intangible" education missing in a system that is driven by test scores and college entrance exams.  

          I remember a few years ago seeing some of the kids (now in their mid-50s)  that I graduated from high school with.  The "prettiest" cheerleader in school is now a real estate agent with a BA in liberal arts.  The "best singers" (both girl and boy) went to New York - the girl ended up as a waitress and the boy died from AIDS (that was a shock).   A reclusive shy girl I knew (with mediocre grades) is now a nurse.  Most of the "popular" kids are not so popular and some of the "problem kids" turned out to be great.

          My point is that when all kids leave school, the grades they got are meaningless - if they don't know how to apply them to their lives.

          •  Off Topic, but... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Anna M, kyril

            You should have known that being the "best singer" is almost a guarantee of poverty. As a sax player, I know that the number of band jobs (live music) has only decreased since my first one in 1970.

            My dad told me if I wanted to be a full-time musician he would cut off one of my digits. Now, he wasn't serious, but I heard what he was saying....(I became an engineer)...

        •  Surely you are aware (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kyril, historys mysteries, elfling

          that in many school systems now, the emphasis on test-taking and the budget crunch have resulted in the elimination of gifted & talented programs. We are moving away from that even now.

  •  Thanks for posting this article (8+ / 0-)

    It was good to see the Finnish education official point out the obvious, and completely unsurprising that Americans ignore it. If a society really wanted to change for the better, it will happen. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in the United States who don't really want to change. I am reading a lot of pathetic excuses as to why the Finnish way of doing education shouldn't or couldn't be adapted to the U.S.: we have too much diversity, we're too big, equal funding didn't work elsewhere, blah, blah, blah. I'm frankly tired of excuses.

    Americans' real problems are plain stubbornness, complacency and myopia. B-S American exceptionalism has taken the place of reason, has taken the place of humility, has taken the place of acknowledging that "yeah, maybe other countries do do things better than we do." That's what happens when a society has been on top for so long and is presently going into a decline. This country, built upon the ugly institution of slavery, was never equal from the start, and has always had laws to keep certain groups on the bottom. You could say inequality is as American as apple pie, despite all the lofty rhetoric to the contrary. That's why we're so enamored of competition, because if there are winners and losers, one can always say he or she is "better" than someone else. Americans LOVE that. It's the ugly side of who we are. There are simply too many interests in America that profit from an uneducated and undereducated populace, too many interests that benefit from a hierarchy based on class, racial and gender inequality. In other words, we don't improve our education system because perhaps we really don't want to. Otherwise, Americans would be actually LISTENING to Mr. Sahlberg's main point.

    "Behind every great fortune is a great crime." - Honore de Balzac

    by mooremusings on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 12:53:28 PM PST

  •  After reading several stories (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Linda Wood, elfling

    about the Finnish education system, I have still not figured how the teaching profession there has attained the prestige it has. It seems to have nothing to do with its salaries, which are not high. Just how have they managed to create a situation in which their best students compete hard to enter the profession?

    I'm sure of one thing - it has to involve a measure of authority and autonomy in the classroom. We all value our sense of autonomy at work - the ability to exercise our own judgment and creativity. The best and brightest will never choose careers where they are scripted and micromanaged and given no authority to make decisions. They may forgo money, but they won't forgo those things.

    We decided to move the center farther to the right by starting the whole debate from a far-right position to begin with. - Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay

    by denise b on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 03:33:23 PM PST

    •  Authority (0+ / 0-)

      earned through respect.

    •  denise b, again, your questions (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kyril, mooremusings, denise b

      are so to the point. The report at this link goes into very extensive detail about just what you're asking and studies Finland, Singapore, Shanghai, and Japan in particular.

      The section on teacher preparation and working standards is one of the longest in this report on international public education. It backs up what you are saying about respect for the profession, but these teachers earn it. They are highly educated both in the field they're teaching and in educational theory and practice. And they practice. They learn from seasoned teachers once they're in the schools.

      I can hear the outrage from teachers and defenders of U.S. public schools rise immediately after reading my remark, "these teachers earn it," as if American teachers don't earn respect and financial support. Of course they do. But since the Reagan Revolution, emphasis on teacher preparation has declined in this country, and it doesn't matter how inspirational, how well educated, how experienced or how hard-working a teacher is, if their students cannot read or do basic math because they have not been instructed in the primary grades, teachers are going to have an endless struggle on their hands.

      >http://www.ncee.org/...

      ... Whereas the Finns take five years or more to educate a teacher and divide that time almost equally between content training and pedagogical training, the Chinese, as we just saw, devote 90 percent of the available time during pre-service training to deep mastery of the subject the prospective teacher is preparing to teach...

      I want to emphasize again, these countries work with a GIVEN: children are to be provided with a high standard of skills in reading and math in the earliest grades so that they can benefit from that inspirational and dedicated teaching. Why would you not do that? Well, in this country there is a motive to prevent the acquisition of educational progress by the work force. The last thing our country's power structure wants is for us to become another Scandinavia.

  •  In Finland, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Linda Wood, historys mysteries, kyril
    applicants for admission to teachers college who are accepted must survive a two-stage review.

    The first stage is a document review. To make it through this stage, they must:
     1) score very high on the national college entrance exams,
     2) have a high grade point average on their high school diploma and
     3) have a strong record of out-of-school accomplishments while in high school.

    In the second phase they must:
     4) complete a written exam on assigned books in pedagogy,
     5) interact with others in situations designed to enable a skilled observer to assess their social interaction and
    communication skills, and
     6) survive interviews in which they are asked, among other things, to explain why they have decided to become teachers.

    They are admitted to a teacher education program only after they have passed all of these screens.

    Only one out of ten applicants for entry into Finnish teachers colleges are admitted.

    http://www.ncee.org/...

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