“The Students, They Honor My Work,” Lessons from a Highly Effective School System, Those Finns Can Do More Than Play Hockey.


The last year or so we’ve heard the Ed Koch query, “How Am I Doing?” asked and answered. The DOE Communications Office has spun out power point after power point, seemingly endless press releases and Joel has created his own policy arm, the Education Equality Project. The Project folk are currently convening a conference with speakers ranging for Joe Biden to Arne Duncan to Eli Broad, and, of course, Joel Klein and the locals. 
Responding: the UFT blog, eduwonkette, Diane Ravich, Leonie Haimson and a host of ed advocates, all looking at the same data sets and drawing sharply differing conclusions.
81% of schools received grades of “A” or “B” on School Progress Reports, scores on NYS ELA/Math scores have risen moderately in some grades, graduation rates, especially in small high schools are rising. However almost 30% of NYC schools are either SINI, CA or SRAP, meaning they have not met NCLB accountability standards. A November, 2008 Department presentation to the State lauds increases in graduation rates, however, it also shows that only 54.8% of 8th graders with scores of 3.0 (proficient) graduate high school in four years.
The transition in passing scores from “55” to “65” on NYS Regents exams may presage declining graduation rates, and, CUNY reminds us that the advanced diploma (eight instead of five Regent exams, a second science and a second math course/Regents and a foreign language Regents, and grades of at least 75 on ELA/Math Regents) is required for success in a four year CUNY school.
At the national level, comparing New York City with other cities across the country, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows flat scores.
Let’s look beyond the NAEP scores, how are we doing in comparison with other nations?
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a system of international assessments that focus on 15-year-olds’ capabilities in reading literacy, mathematics literacy, and science literacy. PISA also includes measures of general or cross-curricular competencies such as learning strategies. PISA emphasizes functional skills that students have acquired as they near the end of mandatory schooling.
The program assesses students every three years, the next period will be fall, 2009. In 2006, the United States did poorly, finishing well down the list.

Here is an overview of the 20 places with the highest scores in 2006:

  Mathematics Science Reading
1.  Taiwan  Finland  South Korea
2.  Finland  Hong Kong  Finland
3.  Hong Kong  Canada  Hong Kong
4.  South Korea  Taiwan  Canada
5.  Netherlands  Estonia  New Zealand
6.  Switzerland  Japan  Ireland
7.  Canada  New Zealand  Australia
8.  Macau  Australia  Liechtenstein
9.  Liechtenstein  Netherlands  Poland
10.  Japan  Liechtenstein  Sweden
11.  New Zealand  South Korea  Netherlands
12.  Belgium  Slovenia  Belgium
13.  Australia  Germany  Macau
14.  Estonia  United Kingdom  Switzerland
15.  Denmark  Czech Republic  Japan
16.  Czech Republic  Switzerland  Taiwan
17.  Iceland  Macau  United Kingdom
18.  Austria  Austria  Germany
19.  Slovenia  Belgium  Denmark
20.  Germany  Ireland  Slovenia
Having trouble finding that US flag? We fall in 20-25 ranking in each of the areas. Not too impressive!!
Notice that Finland finishes at the top of the list … a simple inquiry: Would it be worthwhile to take a closer look at the Finnish education system? and, the Christian Science Monitor  does just that.
While no single element stands out, a Finnish Board of Education members avers,
One essential element … is the high caliber of Finland’s teaching corps, education leaders say. “We trust our teachers … That is very important, and it’s not easy to realize in all countries — the culture of trust we have in Finland.”
While Finnish teachers have “moderate” salaries, only 10 to 15 percent of applicants make it into university teacher-education programs.
The National Governor’s Association, President Obama, Linda Darling-Hammond, all agree … “…high quality teachers are important in improving student achievement.”
In Finland “The only subjects of study more popular than teaching are law and medicine.” One reason, according to a Finnish professor “…is that it has been popular for so long here that’s it’s difficult to explain why … one reason … is that it has been for many a person a way to climb the social ladder …” Only 20% of teachers are men, and, not surprisingly, Math teachers are scarce.
There is a national framework, teachers write curriculum at each school, with extra pay.
The national board does not administer high stakes accountability tests. Rather, it samples students’ skills periodically and gives feedback to schools (not to the public) so they can see how they compare with the national average.
From the point of view of Finnish teachers in one school Finland is not utopia
But the egalitarian approach and autonomy have downsides, too, …. This has been particularly true as the numbers of special-education students and immigrants have increased. (About 30 percent of the students at this school come from immigrant families.) “We have some support, but I think it’s not enough,” she says. “We can discuss with each other [somewhat], but we have lots of problems, and we have to deal with them ourselves. Some of the teachers are very much alone.”

More collaborative planning time is one priority of the national teachers union, which has nearly 120,000 members. Teachers get about three hours a week of paid planning time, and in this school, just one hour is required to be done with other teachers. The principal wishes the budget would allow for more. This is a desire shared by many US teachers, who typically get three to five hours a week for mostly individual planning time.

Asked why she loves teaching, one teacher replied, “The students, they honor my work.”


One response to ““The Students, They Honor My Work,” Lessons from a Highly Effective School System, Those Finns Can Do More Than Play Hockey.

  1. The measure of a child’s academic progress should not be based on standardized tests alone. We all say that, yet the writer relies on similar tools to evaluate the progress of American schools in the world arena. The right wing has framed the rhetoric about school improvement and by using that frame there is no other conclusion we can reach than “our schools are failing” and we must do something drastic about to reshape American education. I have my doubts about those conclusions and pose another view at http://crowmanblues.blogspot.com/2009/04/re-framing-public-school-debate.html

    Perhaps, math, science and reading are not the values we find important in our society? Can we argue that American public schools are more concerned with social justice? If that’s the case, then, how are they doing against the rest of the world?


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