Principal “Reflections & Projections”
Are we better?
Education reform is in the news again! Reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is far overdue, according to most who consider themselves an expert. What is in need of reform is a hotly debated topic. Many would like to throw everything out and start over, while others want to change very little. In my thinking, let’s change what makes us better!
A recent posting written by education historian Diane Ravitch for the Education Week website uses the schools in Finland to help guide what she believes will improve education in the United States. To set the tone for you, for the past decade Finnish students have consistently been at or near the top of all the nations tested in reading, mathematics, and science. It is a common belief in Finland that their students can get a good education in virtually any school in their nation. I would be remiss to say that is the belief in this country! It may be in South Dakota? I will leave that up to you. Of course I am biased in that it is happening at Spearfish High School!!
Here are a couple facts about Finnish High Schools and their education system: Finnish students never take a standardized test until their last year of high school at which time they take a matriculation examination for college admission; teachers are asked to design their tests allowing those teachers to know that their students are doing what they need to do to be successful; there is a national curriculum with broad guidelines to assure that all students have a full education, but it is not prescriptive. In a nutshell, teachers have extensive responsibility for designing curriculum and the delivery methods to be used in their school. They have a large degree of autonomy, because they are professionals.
qualifies for teacher preparation programs. All Finnish teachers then spend five years in the program of study which includes research and practice. Then, all of the prospective teachers finish with a masters’ degree. In Finland all teachers are fully prepared for every situation they may encounter including students with disabilities, students with language difficulties, and students with other kinds of learning issues. They are then assigned classrooms which rarely have more than 20 students per class. In this country we are not quite there!
Even with all of that, this paragraph in the article caught my attention the most. Ravitch states – “Teachers and principals repeatedly told me that the secret of Finnish success is trust. Parents trust teachers because they are professionals. Teachers trust one another and collaborate to solve mutual problems because they are professionals. Teachers and principals trust one another because all the principals have been teachers and have deep experience. When I asked about teacher attrition, I was told that teachers seldom leave teaching; it’s a great job, and they are highly respected.” Wow, are we better? Can we be better? What is our level of trust in anything these days! Sadly, trust is lost in most every avenue in the United States right now.
There is some sentiment in the education reform circles to base pay on student test scores, as well as, teacher performance. My question would be this, how much collaboration would take place if one teacher is competing against another? I am not totally saying it won’t work, but would like to see a model assuring it will before buying into the concept. By using the Finland example, neither may be necessary. That model is based on this, treat children as a precious resource and honor the adults who make education their passion and their career, very simple. Again the question – Are we better? Keep in mind the well tested sayings; “he who stops being better stops being good” and “doing more of what doesn't work won't make it work any better.”
Until next time,