Finnish teachers feel ‘rushed’ in U.S. schools

Photo: Rex Arbogast/AP

When Finnish teachers work in U.S. schools, they complain of being tired, rushed and mistrusted, writes Timothy D. Walker in The Atlantic.

Satu Muja teaches six classes a day of English as a Second Language at a Maryland high school. She has one 45-minute “planning period.”

My classes are at three different proficiency levels, and I have four minutes between classes to prepare for the next class. At the same time, I am expected to stand in the hallways to monitor students as [they] transfer from class to class, and to check my email for last-minute updates and changes because of ongoing testing or other events.

I feel rushed, nothing gets done properly; there is very little joy, and no time for reflection or creative thinking (in order to create meaningful activities for students).

Kristiina Chartouni, who teaches foreign languages at a high school, feels “under a microscope.”

Finnish teachers have the freedom “to use their skills, wisdom and shared knowledge for the good of their students’ learning,”writes Pasi Sahlberg, author of Finnish Lessons 2.0, in What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools?Without that autonomy, Finnish teachers wouldn’t be effective, he concludes.

Countries that give teachers more autonomy have invested heavily in “changing the pool from which they are selecting their teachers” and educating and supporting teachers, responds Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy. “If you don’t do all those things, and all you do is give more autonomy to teachers, watch out.”

On The 74, Matt Barnum debunks the “cult of Finland.”

Simply picking and choosing “best practices” in Finland may lead to confirmation bias — the tendency to highlight policies folks are already predisposed to support.

study by Britain’s Centre for Policy Studies concludes Finland’s test scores began rising when the system was centralized, “well before” schools gained a high level of autonomy, Barnum notes.

Finland is a relatively homogeneous country with a population roughly the size of Minnesota’s. Even if policymakers could determine what factors have led to Finland’s success, there’s no reason to think that its education policies could be easily exported to and effectively implemented in the United States.

Finns trust teachers and principals (and the police), said Sahlberg in  a 2013 speech at Harvard.
Americans don’t trust local schools to serve all students well, writes Barnum. “Why might a bevy of civil rights groups demand strong federal oversight and vigorous use of tests to monitor the performance of schools? . . . There is rightful skepticism of simply trusting states and districts to do the right thing for poor students of color — and there remain many examples to validate this concern.”
Finland’s test scores are slipping — especially for boys — on international exams.

Alabama: We inflated graduation rates

Alabama’s graduation rate – lauded as third best in the nation a few months ago – is inflated, the Alabama State Department of Education has announced.

Alabama's rise in graduation rates really was too good to be true.

Alabama’s rise in graduation rates was too good to be true.

In October, the White House released graduation rate numbers showing Alabama with the third-highest graduation rates – 89.3 percent – in the country, reports Leada Gore on AL.com. Only Iowa and New Jersey did better.

“The numbers reflected a graduation rate increase of 17 percent from 2011 to 2015, more than quadrupling the national average of 4.2 percent,” writes Gore.

At the time, the state Department of Education said the improvement was due to local schools keeping students engaged “through a large variety of challenging and innovative academic and extracurricular programs. Students who are engaged, feel cared for and connected, will leave our schools successfully prepared for college and career, ready for the real world.”

But the huge increase trigger a review by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General.

“The graduation rate was misstated,” Alabama Superintendent of Education Michael Sentance now admits.

Two factors inflated the numbers, writes Gore.

Students with special needs who received the Alabama Occupational Diploma were counted in the state’s graduation rate despite the diploma not meeting academic requirements.

. . . The other problem is more pervasive. Some local school systems misstated student records and awarded class credits “that were not honestly earned,” the ASDE said. The IG’s inspection found several school districts were awarding diplomas despite students not completing the required work.

Credit recovery strikes again.

Exploring is our tradition

Disney’s Moana, set in Polynesia, is a “delightful” move that addresses “some of the central tensions of advanced modern life,” writes Greg Forster on Jay Greene’s blog.

Moana is raised in a closed, tradition-bound society but longs to explore and discover, which she can only do by leaving her island behind. We, living in an open, scientific society, long for stable sources of identity, meaning and purpose, which is why we like to watch movies that take place in ancient times and places, when people knew who they were.

Moana discovers that her tradition includes exploration. Her ancestors built the boats.

“We are explorers reading every sign,” sing her ancestors, but also: “We tell the stories of our elders in a neverending chain!”

“We set a course to find a brand new island everywhere we roam” but “when it’s time to find home, we know the way!”

“We know where we are, we know who we are!”

Moana’s traditionalist father “thinks safety is to be found by retreat into a closed system of tradition,” writes Forster. “But traditions themselves speak against this; they point outside themselves to the higher things that traditions exist to serve.”

The movie is doing well at the box office.

Most ‘English Learners’ are U.S. born

Most English Learner students were born in the U.S., reports the Migration Policy Institute.

Eighty-two percent of pre-K to fifth grade ELs and 65 percent of those in middle and high school were born in the U.S., the Census Data analysis shows.

Students who speak “social English” fluently often remain as English Learners because they don’t test as proficient in “academic English.”

We’re running low on 18-year-olds

The U.S. is running low on adolescents: The number of young people graduating from high school will plateau or fall in coming years, according to the new Knocking at the College Door report.

The racial/ethnic mix of public high school graduates will shift: The number of Hispanic graduates is expected to increase by 50 percent and and Asian/Pacific Islander grads by 30 percent through 2025, while fewer whites and blacks will be going through school.

More graduates are expected to come from lower-income families.

Colleges and universities, already under pressure to raise graduation rates, will have to compete for fewer students from needier backgrounds, writes Hechinger’s Mikhail Zinshteyn.

According to one respected tally, just under 55 percent of students who entered college in 2010 had earned degrees after six years – an increase of two percentage points since 2009.

For higher education institutions to continue at that pace or boost it, they’ll need to find new ways of educating a student body increasingly composed of people who are the first in their family to enter college.

With fewer 18-year-olds whose parents can pay for a private residential college, I predict many second- and third-tier colleges will fold. They’re very expensive, they don’t graduate a high percentage of their students and young people are becoming wary of college debt.

Grad rates rise, achievement falls


Anthony Sobowale failed high school chemistry, then passed after three days of “online credit recovery.” Now he’s struggling with organic chem at Georgia State. Photo: Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Online credit recovery courses are raising graduation rates and failing students, writes Jeremy Noonan, a science teacher who runs Citizens for Excellence in Public Schools.

In October, President Obama announced that the national high school graduation rate had reached an all-time high in 2015. Yet that same year, the percentage of high school seniors ready for college-level reading and math declined to 37 percent. In other words, as graduation rates rise, other metrics of student achievement are falling, raising questions about how schools are getting more students to graduate.

In most school districts, students who’ve failed courses can make up the credits quickly via online credit-recover (OCR) courses, writes Noonan. “Passage rates don’t match achievement data.”

In Georgia, 90 percent of OCR students earned credit, but only 10 percent tested as proficient on state exams, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Noonan worked for a Douglas County, Georgia school district that raised its graduation rate — but not student achievement. As an OCR classroom manager, he was told to ensure that students earned at least 80 percent on multiple-choice quizzes and tests by giving them as many tries as they needed. The questions and answer choices were repeated, in the same order.

In addition, teachers provided “answer checks,” writes Noonan.

When students finished the first attempt on a quiz or test, they call upon the teacher for a “check.” He or she pulls up the student’s answers, reviews them, and informs the student which questions are incorrect. The student then changes his or her answers before submitting the assessment for a grade.

Most students didn’t pay attention to the lessons, writes Noonan. They knew they could guess their way to a passing score.

As Douglas County’s graduation rate rose, so did the percentage of graduates who required college remediation.

Singapore up, Finland down

Singapore’s students are the best in the world in math, science and reading, proclaims Quartz, which has been crunching the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) numbers. “Finland has fallen from its perch (though it remains a very high performer).

Singapore students earn very high scores on international tests in math, science and reading.

Singapore students earn very high scores on international tests in math, science and reading.

You can compare U.S. results to other countries here.

Massachusetts and North Carolina students were tested separately.

In science, Massachusetts teens scored far above the U.S. and international average in science, and also were above average in reading and math.

The U.S. isn’t going to turn into Singapore, but perhaps more states could emulate Massachusetts.

Canada also does well on PISA, while spending less on education than the U.S.

U.S. math scores are falling

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-10-25-17-am2+2=??? Don’t ask an American 15-year-old. The U.S. ranks near the bottom in math compared to 35 industrialized nations, according to the latest PISA results.

U.S. scores fell in math and remained about the same in reading and science, near the international average.

PISA is given to 15-year-olds in 72 countries.

Higher performing nations teach fewer math topics in greater depth, Andreas Schleicher, who runs the test, told journalists. Students master a topic and then move on, rather than cycling back to the same concept each year, he said.

PISA results matter, writes Robert Rothman. “PISA is designed to measure how well students can apply what they have learned to real-world problems.” In a follow-up study, Canadian students’ results correlated with their success in college and the job market.

The usual excuses don’t apply, he argues. U.S. students aren’t more likely to live in poverty than children in other OECD countries. U.S. 15-year-olds are slightly less likely to be enrolled in school.

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-10-25-39-amHong Kong has lots of poverty — and high scores for all students. Estonia also is an equity champion.

The U.S. improved on measures of equity, notes Amanda Ripley in the New York Times. “In 2006, socioeconomic status had explained 17 percent of the variance in Americans’ science scores; in 2015, it explained only 11 percent, which is slightly better than average for the developed world.”

PISA scores don’t correlate with education spending, Ripley observes. The U.S. spends more than most OECD countries for average or below-average performance. Malta spends about the same — and outperforms the U.S.

Luxembourg is the biggest spender, with mediocre results, followed by Switzerland, which has high scores. Taiwan, which spends less than average, and Singapore, which spends more, have similar, very high math scores.

Ripley summarizes what matters:

Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective; directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.

“I’m confident the Common Core is going to have a long-term impact,” Schleicher said. “Patience may be the biggest challenge.”

Why teach in Oklahoma?


Shawn Sheehan won “teacher of the year” honors in Oklahoma, but earns less than novice teachers in many other states. Photo: Oklahoma Department of Education

Shawn Sheehan, Oklahoma’s teacher of the year, has six years of experience as a high school math teacher and a master’s degree, writes Matt Barnum on The 74. Sheehan earns $35,419 year, or just over $38,000, including benefits.

Teacher pay is very low in the Sooner state, reports Barnum.

The average starting salary in the state is just over $31,000, among the lowest in the country. A Tulsa teacher with a master’s degree and 13 years’ experience still makes under $40,000; a teacher with a doctorate, National Board Certification, and 33 years’ experience makes just less than $60,000.

Teachers can move to any of the states surrounding Oklahoma and expect a significant pay raise — and many do just that.

South Dakota and Mississippi, which pay even less, are raising teacher pay.  Yet, 59 percent of Oklahoma voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have raised the sales tax to boost teacher pay by $5,000 a year.

Oklahoma is turning to uncertified teachers to cope with a teacher shortage.

‘Know the signs’ — or stigmatize loners?

I’ve seen a lot of praise for this ad, which was produced by Sandy Hook Promise to promote its “Know the Signs” program.

The group, which was founded by some family members of the Sandy Hook victims, wants to show “how to recognize an individual exhibiting at-risk behaviors” before they hurt anyone, reports Ed Week.

Watch the warning signs in the video. Do we want kids like this to be reported as possible killers? What percentage of adolescents are loners, occasionally picked on, sometimes hostile?