Finns: Equality works

“We Created a School System Based on Equality,” Finnish education and science minister Krista Kiuru tells The Atlantic.

Finnish children start school at age 7, notes Christine Gross-Loh. “They have more recess, shorter school hours than many U.S. children do (nearly 300 fewer hours per year in elementary school), and the lightest homework load of any industrialized nation.”

Yet over the past decade Finland has consistently performed among the top nations on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test given to 15-year olds in 65 nations and territories around the world.

Finnish schools “have small class sizes and everyone is put in the same class, but we support struggling students more than others,” says Kiuru.

Students participate in “handcrafts, cooking, creative pursuits, and sports,” she says. “Academics isn’t all kids need.”

We like to think that school is also important for developing a good self-image, a strong sensitivity to other people’s feelings … and understanding it matters to take care of others. 

. . . Teachers have a lot of autonomy. They are highly educated–they all have master’s degrees and becoming a teacher is highly competitive. We believe we have to have highly educated teachers, because then we can trust our teachers and know they are doing good work. They do have to follow the national curriculum, although we do have local curriculums as well. But we think that we’ve been able to create good results due to our national, universal curriculum.

We don’t test our teachers or ask them to prove their knowledge. But it’s true that we do invest in a lot of additional teacher training even after they become teachers.

Students don’t take national exams.

“In Finland we are starting to have some issues … in some suburban schools with more immigrants or higher unemployment,” says Kiuru. “We support those schools by investing more in them.”

At age 16, half of Finnish students choose technical-vocational training and the other half choose an academic track.

Americans want small classes, more tech

Smaller classes and more technology  would help schools the most, say adults surveyed for School Choice Signals, a new Friedman Foundation report. Merit pay and longer school days would be the least effective of seven reforms, the survey takers said.

Private and public parents

Ed reformer Michelle Rhee, who described herself as a “public school parent,” is also a private school parent:  One of her two daughters, who live with her ex-husband in Tennessee, goes to private school. (When Rhee ran Washington D.C. schools, she sent her daughters to public school in the city.)

Anti-reformer Diane Ravitch criticized Rhee for not admitting that one of her kids goes to private school till she was outed, apparently by the American Federation of Teachers.

In New York City, Leonie Haimson, founder of  the NYC Public School Parents blog and Class Size Matters and a Ravitch ally, also turns out to be a private school parent, Gotham Schools revealed.

A fierce critic of education reformers, charter schools, testing and Mayor Bloomberg, Haimson chose private school for her daughter and son for the small classes she wants for all students, she wrote on the NYC Public School Parents blog.

Haimson criticized “Rhee and President Barack Obama for sending their children to private schools with small class sizes while not pushing for the same priorities for public schools,” notes the Wall Street Journal.

“Leonie has to do what is best for her kids,” said Joe Williams, who as head of advocacy group Democrats for Education Reform has often clashed with Ms. Haimson. “The only problem is that she keeps choosing to defend the same awful schools she would never allow her kids to attend.”

At Dropout Nation, RiShawn Biddle backs school choice for all parents, from   Haimson to low-income parents. Those who can’t afford private school tuition rely on “school choice — from charters to vouchers to tax credit programs to Parent Trigger laws to online learning options”  to free their children from dropout factories, writes Biddle.

If public figures choose private school for their own kids are they obliged to support school choice? If they oppose public school reforms, are they obliged to send their kids to public schools?

Public trusts teachers, but not their unions

Americans trust teachers, but not their unions, concludes the annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll.

More than 70 percent of respondents have confidence in public school teachers; 69 percent give local teachers an A or B. However, nearly half say teachers’ unions hurt public education.

Three out of four said they’d encourage a bright student to become a teacher; 67 percent would like their own child to choose a public-school teaching career.

Americans increasingly support school choice, but only one of three favors vouchers, the poll reported.

Consistent with past findings, Americans believe teacher salaries should be based on multiple factors, including advanced degrees, experience, and the principal’s evaluations of the teacher. Students’ scores on standardized tests were rated as least important. Similarly, Americans believe that school districts should use multiple factors to determine which teachers should be laid off first, rather than basing it primarily on seniority (last hired, first fired).

College prepares graduates for the workforce, respondents said, but not all believe a college degree is sufficient for readiness.

Even more so than in the past, Americans give high marks to local schools, low marks to the nation’s schools, notes Rick Hess.

I’ll start by noting that I’m not a huge fan of the American public right now. After all, we’re the twits who demand lots of services but don’t want to pay for them. And then we get angry when our leaders can’t square this circle. We insist that they take painful steps to rein in spending, and then complain when they try to do it. In short, we’ve shown all the character and discipline of an irate preschooler.

While Americans strongly prefer small classes, 80 percent “believe that high school classes with more students and a better teacher would result in higher student achievement than would smaller classes with less effective teachers,” Hess notes.