A goal to strive for


The American education system is a mess — thanks to the right wing cranks, we keep trying to apply free market principles to a process to which they don’t apply. Watching America deal with education is a lot like watching the old USSR trying to cope with competitive economies — that there’s a place for everything does not imply that one strategy is the solution for all problems.

What we ought to do is look at other countries around the world that have successful educational systems, and emulate them (isn’t that a good capitalist value? Steal the ideas that work?). I have a suggestion: Let’s steal Finland’s educational system.

The transformation of the Finns’ education system began some 40 years ago as the key propellent of the country’s economic recovery plan. Educators had little idea it was so successful until 2000, when the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues, revealed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in math. By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries (and a few cities) in science. In the 2009 PISA scores released last year, the nation came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide. “I’m still surprised,” said Arjariita Heikkinen, principal of a Helsinki comprehensive school. “I didn’t realize we were that good.”

In the United States, which has muddled along in the middle for the past decade, government officials have attempted to introduce marketplace competition into public schools. In recent years, a group of Wall Street financiers and philanthropists such as Bill Gates have put money behind private-sector ideas, such as vouchers, data-driven curriculum and charter schools, which have doubled in number in the past decade. President Obama, too, has apparently bet on compe­tition. His Race to the Top initiative invites states to compete for federal dollars using tests and other methods to measure teachers, a philosophy that would not fly in Finland. “I think, in fact, teachers would tear off their shirts,” said Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal with 24 years of teaching experience. “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.”

There’s a brief summary of how they did it. I think the first and most important step was making a decision that education was important.

In 1963, the Finnish Parlia-ment made the bold decision to choose public education as its best shot at economic recovery. “I call this the Big Dream of Finnish education,” said Sahlberg, whose upcoming book, Finnish Lessons, is scheduled for release in October. “It was simply the idea that every child would have a very good public school. If we want to be competitive, we need to educate everybody. It all came out of a need to survive.”

Practically speaking—and Finns are nothing if not practical—the decision meant that goal would not be allowed to dissipate into rhetoric. Lawmakers landed on a deceptively simple plan that formed the foundation for everything to come. Public schools would be organized into one system of comprehensive schools, or peruskoulu, for ages 7 through 16. Teachers from all over the nation contributed to a national curriculum that provided guidelines, not prescriptions. Besides Finnish and Swedish (the country’s second official language), children would learn a third language (English is a favorite) usually beginning at age 9. Resources were distributed equally. As the comprehensive schools improved, so did the upper secondary schools (grades 10 through 12). The second critical decision came in 1979, when reformers required that every teacher earn a fifth-year master’s degree in theory and practice at one of eight state universities—at state expense. From then on, teachers were effectively granted equal status with doctors and lawyers. Applicants began flooding teaching programs, not because the salaries were so high but because autonomy and respect made the job attractive. In 2010, some 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots, according to Sahlberg. By the mid-1980s, a final set of initiatives shook the classrooms free from the last vestiges of top-down regulation. Control over policies shifted to town councils. The national curriculum was distilled into broad guidelines. National math goals for grades one through nine, for example, were reduced to a neat ten pages. Sifting and sorting children into so-called ability groupings was eliminated. All children—clever or less so—were to be taught in the same classrooms, with lots of special teacher help available to make sure no child really would be left behind. The inspectorate closed its doors in the early ’90s, turning accountability and inspection over to teachers and principals. “We have our own motivation to succeed because we love the work,” said Louhivuori. “Our incentives come from inside.”

They put good teachers in charge of deciding how students should be taught? How radical.

(Also on Sb)

Comments

  1. Ben says

    But what would happen in the US if we put local councils in charge of what was taught? Schools in many parts of the country would turn into churches!

  2. Steve LaBonne says

    I think the first and most important step was making a decision that education was important.

    This is Amurka, land of the proudly ignorant, so good luck with that.

  3. ManOutOfTime says

    Great hockey players, Swedish as a second language, no-nonsense town councils running the show. There are parts of Minnesota where this model could work! Great post.

  4. Trase-Kor says

    Only problem I see with adopting this is that we still have teachers over here that think creationism should be taught in the classroom. To some extent, we would need to crack down on the teachers themselves to get this to work.

    Not that that would be a bad idea, of course.

  5. says

    I think the first and most important step was making a decision that education was important.

    I think the problem in the US isn’t necessarily just that education isn’t always valued as important – the problem is also what the education system in the US deems as important. Rote recitation of facts absent of context or the ability to think critically are sadly lacking as points of emphasis in our schools, hence the heavy focus on test scores. Heikkinen nails one of the biggest problems with the US education system: “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.” We’re focusing too much on telling kids WHAT to learn (and squabbling over idiocy like whether or not to “teach the controversy” about evolution or downgrading mentions of historical figures and events that don’t meet a “litmus test” for acceptability in the American Exceptionalism myth) and not teaching them HOW to think.

  6. Kryten says

    @Trase-Kor:

    I think the key is in the respect that Finnish teachers gained over the years. Once it became desirable to become a teacher, the number of applicants grew and it became possible to weed out the less competent teachers (read “creationists”).

  7. says

    I said, put GOOD teachers in charge. Not the kind of low-grade morons who believe in creationism.

    I completely agree – that shouldn’t even have to be said ideally, but unfortunately with the US system, fixing it has the additional problem of having to stamp out that kind of idiocy and it’s about as easy to kill as roaches because it just keeps coming back! Our problem isn’t just that we need to make education important again, it’s that we need to make sure that GOOD education is made the standard, and we have a huge problem with what officials in positions of power (people like Perry, Bachmann, et al) consider to be “good” education. If we had a dependable number of politicians/officials who would stand up to that crap, that would be one thing, but they’re still mostly waffling and pandering in order to not offend people’s religious sensibilities. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but the level of religion intermingling with public policy in the US makes things regarding education reform that much harder here – Finland has the enviable luxury of being a far more secular society.

  8. lordshipmayhem says

    Good teachers in charge? Not in Canada – the unions and provincial bureaucrats insist on age before beauty, and staff (the Ministry pencil-pushers) before line workers (the teachers).

    We now have to start cutting – the number of students is declining as the average age climbs. They’re cutting the newest teachers first, of course, regardless of skill.

  9. AussieMike says

    This is interesting. First I would gloat that Australia is up there.
    Second I am developing education software (professional development – online) for teachers and have been approached by a US firm peddling teacher monitoring software that rates them and videos their performance and compares them to other teachers etc all with job threatening results. It would never fly in this country (or Finland).
    John Hattie did some research into effective teaching and it all comes down to the best results are derived from the most effective teachers. Not the best system, rewards, threats, socio economic group or otherwise. Promoting an environment where teachers are provided the resources and training to be better at the social and people aspect is vital. Teaching them how to teach is imperative and looking to best practice like Finland is a good step.
    My new business (and I wont plug it on PZ’s site) is focused of professional development for teachers educating them on how to teach critical thinking and skeptical thinking in the classroom. I have been in touch with Michael Shermer regarding referencing his “Baloney detection kit video” based on Carl Sagan’s list.
    I think what is missing (especially in the US) is the critical and higher order thinking skills that provide robust skills in a world full of frauds be it political, religious, corporate or otherwise.

  10. Shinobi says

    “All children—clever or less so—were to be taught in the same classrooms, ” Ugh, as a formerly clever child.

    This is probably really good for the less clever students though, I think they do get written off and expectations for them are set much too low.

  11. says

    Assuming you have competent teachers and a mechanism for eliminating the incompetent, why not seniority for teachers? It’s ok for pilots, judges, legislators, doctors, truck drivers and many others.

  12. rwahrens says

    The first battle we have to win in this country is the cultural wars. Eliminate the ideals of using religion to pack the curriculum so real knowledge and critical thinking can be re-introduced back into American schools, and we can get back on the road to where we want this country to be, education-wise.

    As long as the theists are running the show in widely dispersed parts of the country, education will be secondary, if that high, because they know that a GOOD education system destroys their chances at building a nation of religious sheep!

    I hate to say such a blasphemous thing, but school curriculum should be nationally determined, not under exclusive local control.

  13. Alex, Tyrant of Skepsis says

    I still can’t get over the fact that US schools are financed by their immediate neighborhood’s tax dollars. I can see how that system would have arisen in the old west, but that would solve so many problems right away if done right.

    Fun fact: They modelled a lot of this after the educational system of the GDR.

    They had a pretty good educational system overall, as far as the learning part goes. The propaganda part I could do without, but it didn’t seem so essential for the school to work anyways.

  14. says

    You lost me at “resources were distributed equally.” Until property taxes are no longer linked to public schools, this’ll never work here…and that ain’t happening any time soon.

  15. unbound says

    The problem is how to figure out the good teachers from the bad in America.

    Who is really going to speak up against the supply-side economics taught today in a good number of schools? It has been debunked several times over, but there are many influential people that continue to push it.

    How do we separate the powerful who have a vested interested in ignorance from the knowledgeable who are trying to truly educate our kids?

    Remember that America is in the unusual position of being economically powerful, but highly religious. A dangerous combination that people from other countries worry about, and that the people of this country need to take into consideration when making sweeping changes. How would you respond, even having actual understanding of the issues, being on a school board for a large area when faced with hundreds or even thousands of parents screaming at you because of their ignorance?

    Has Finland ever had education fiascos like the Texas School Board, or the Kansas Board of Education, or Dover? And those were only the ones that made media attention.

    I appreciate the approach that Finland took, but until our political will moves back towards reality, I don’t see how we could make this work successfully in the US.

  16. says

    @#16: As long as the theists are running the show in widely dispersed parts of the country, education will be secondary, if that high, because they know that a GOOD education system destroys their chances at building a nation of religious sheep!

    Oh, they want a good and effective education system, all right. It’s just that in their definition, “good education” is synonymous with “religious indoctrination.”

  17. plutosdad says

    They put good teachers in charge of deciding how students should be taught? How radical.

    Who are the good teachers? Here it’s the people with seniority and union backing. No, neither the right nor the left wants this, the very idea takes power away from those who want to keep it.

    Some friends of friends and a friend of the family tried to not join the Chicago teacher’s union here, only to get nightly harassing phone messages and bullying by other teachers and administrators. The religious bullies aren’t the only ones that we need to take on. Perhaps the first step is we have to admit the teachers unions represent teachers, not students. It’s simply impossible to represent both.

    Also keep in mind Finland has less than 6 million people, that is the size of a metropolitan area here. So how would we use this around the country? On one hand we fear more central government control due to it’s one size does not fit all children, politicians will want measurable results, which means test scores. On the other hand, we fear more local control, due to the kids in rural areas who will get shafted by theists controlling their education.

  18. Alex, Tyrant of Skepsis says

    AussieMike,

    This Superintendent sounds so intelligent and dedicated to reason, it is confusing to me.

  19. John Robinson says

    In the UK, almost every decision on education for the last thirty years has been the exact reverse of the Finnish experience.

    More centralisation, a prescriptive national curriculum, more testing at more ages, more “choice” a euphemism for less opportunity if ever there was one, including more faith schools (the very opposite of educational).

    I used to be Chairman of Governors for a primary, our best head teacher saw the future and took early retirement, I witnessed the relentless demoralisation of decent teachers being told how to teach by government pamphlet, so sad, sSo wrong headed, all driven by people who saw education as a product.

    Education is not a good to be bought and sold, it is a good thing.

  20. Mark says

    The American education system is a mess — thanks to the right wing cranks, we keep trying to apply free market principles to a process to which they don’t apply.

    When did ‘right-wing cranks’ (which includes, apparently, President Obama and all Democrats who favor charter school programs) begin their attempt to apply free-market principles to American’s education system? It seems to me this has been a rather recent development; the government ran things without any ‘help’ from free market principles for decades. Should we ignore that?

    I said, put GOOD teachers in charge. Not the kind of low-grade morons who believe in creationism.

    How do you determine which teachers are good?

  21. says

    I like some of the ideas, here. But I think I would kick the tires here a few times, before buying.

    First of all, Finland is obviously quite different from the US demographically. Finland is homogenous culturally, small, with a Scandinavian culture. Those differences can’t be swept under the rug.

    Second, is the goal students who learn well in school, or who retain that learning as adults, and also a passion for studying more on their own? When I taught in Japan, I was not impressed with the Japanese education system, which gives kids a minimal basic knowledge, but burns most of them out by college, so they spend their free time reading comics and playing pool.

    How do Finns do as adults? Maybe better than the Japanese. But I don’t think school test scores should be the only thing to go by.

    Third, that survey I keep citing shows that adult Americans did better on one science test, at least, than anyone but Swedes, far better than most. And certainly our universities seem to be doing something right. So let’s give ourselves some credit.

    Finally, I’m a little leary of the idea of too much egalitarianism for students. Right now, my son is fighting his high school administration to create an AP Physics class for himself and two other students, self-study, with help from a teacher. A basic education for all the kids, great, as long as that doesn’t get in the way of kids who want to push the envelope, and develop their own interests.

    This stuff about religion ruining education in the US is, IMHO, almost all nonsense, though of course marginal cases can always be cited.

  22. JediBear says

    I don’t know, PZ. A lot of these ideas strike me as among the things *wrong* with US public education. That is, we already have these things to alarming degrees and they’re among the faults in an otherwise pretty solid system.

    For example, we don’t have a significant national curriculum. Educational standards are established at the state and local levels, and conservatives fight tooth and nail against any loss of this local control (and the secularization they fear it would bring.)

    Mandatory degrees have at times cost the people coming behind me the services of excellent teachers. One I met as he was going through the process of re-educating himself, having been laid off as the school’s sole instructor in Astronomy for the crime of not having achieved a Master’s Degree (note, it was not required that he have a degree in Astronomy, and the institution in question was hardly providing masters-level courses.)

    Worse, degrees in *education* have ensured that many of my teachers have been grossly ignorant in the area they were assigned to teach, because that degree was the only qualification sought.

    I have seen the effects of integrating children of the same age but different levels of achievement. It might work better with smaller class sizes, but the usual effect is that bright children become bored quickly, and may even lose interest.

    So if Finland has an advantage here, it’s only because they’ve poured resources into the system, thus making an industry that often barely limps along on the public dole into a boom industry with all the competitiveness that implies.

  23. says

    @AussieMike – thanks for that link, it’s a refreshing breath of air to read. I hope Superintendent Paine is able to keep it up.

  24. says

    When did ‘right-wing cranks’ (which includes, apparently, President Obama and all Democrats who favor charter school programs) begin their attempt to apply free-market principles to American’s education system?

    No Child Left Behind for starterse

  25. ss123 says

    Another “Europe is cool, America sucks” post.

    When I was a kid it used to be “Japan is cool, America sucks.”

  26. Canadian says

    Ss123 (#31)

    I think you are reading PZs blog entry through stange and biased lenses. What PZ is saying is that America’s school system need a serious overhaul as it has been neglecting young minds for too long.

    Many countries have good and solid education systems, but the ones that may work best for North America can be found in Europe (the Asian concept of education may not jive as well with North Americans).

    If you have better suggestions for a better America, please, provide your own homegrown ideas… we’re waiting.

  27. Brownian says

    Doesn’t ‘education’ imply that you weren’t spit here by God, already perfect, to show the Limeys and the Indians and the Soviets and the Mexicans and the Germans and the Spanish and the Japanese and the Koreans and the Iraqis and the Afganis and the Vietnamese what macho tough hombres you are?

    Education is unAmerican.

    No Child Left Behind for starterse

    Ideologically, it started long before that. Look at all the movies about teaching the unteachables that showed up in the 80s and 90s: Dangerous Minds, Lean on Me, Stand and Deliver, The George McKenna Story…in each case, unwanted kids are left to languish by an uncaring bureaucracy until rescued by a teacher/principal who follows her own rules (and heart) to buck the system, probably after throwing his badge at the chief of detectives because he was told he was getting ‘too close’ to the case. Hell, count the films on this list that have that exact plot. Even American media paints successful teachers as innovative entrepreneurial types.

    How do you even begin to reform a system when you believe that all you need is moxie, a dream, and an unwillingness to compromise and you can do anything?

  28. Brownian says

    Also, is this where we snarkily mock PZ for ending the title of this post on education with a preposition?

  29. says

    Another “Europe is cool, America sucks” post.

    When I was a kid it used to be “Japan is cool, America sucks.”

    Well there’s a rather generalized statement. Pointing out the flaws in the American education system, of which there are many, does not = “America sucks.” Critical thinking skills – please demonstrate that you have them.

  30. Carlie says

    How do you even begin to reform a system when you believe that all you need is moxie, a dream, and an unwillingness to compromise and you can do anything?

    And on top of that, you’re NOT a good teacher if you don’t pour your entire heart and soul into it, sacrificing all of your free time and neglecting your own family to take care of those kids at school (according to the movies)

  31. ss123 says

    @Canadian

    Just saying America’s education system has been compared with that of other countries for a long time. Usually America’s is viewed as bad.

    My first suggestion would be for kids to actually crack open a book.

    Second suggestion would be that parents make their kids read and help understand the cracked open book.

    Third suggestion would be for teachers and parents to help excite the kids about learning.

    Some kids wanna learn, some don’t. The trick is to get the kids that don’t to wanna.

  32. Carlie says

    My first suggestion would be for kids to actually crack open a book.

    Second suggestion would be that parents make their kids read and help understand the cracked open book.

    Those are…frighteningly simplistic.

  33. Brownian says

    My first suggestion would be for kids to actually crack open a book.

    I can absolutely guaranfuckingtee that that’s happening already. So, we’re well on our way!

    Second suggestion would be that parents make their kids read and help understand the cracked open book.

    Whilst sitting next to Rover before tuning the wireless to the Ol’ Timey Family Radio Hour and then it’s off to bed, no less.

    Third suggestion would be for teachers and parents to help excite the kids about learning.

    Since surely no-one’s ever thought of this before—ow! Fucking involuntary eye rolls!—you might want to be more specific as to how that’s achieved.

    Some kids wanna learn, some don’t. The trick is to get the kids that don’t to wanna.

    After you’re done fixing education, could you come around to the economy? I’d hazard a guess your solution might be something like “Some people have money, some don’t. The trick is to get the people that don’t to have some,” but I’ll bet it sounds simpler, more common sense, and more no-nonsense when you say it.

    You’re not an actual teacher from an 80s film, are you?

  34. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Some kids wanna learn, some don’t. The trick is to get the kids that don’t to wanna.

    Actually, the more correct statement is that some parents want their kids to learn, and others don’t give a flying fuck if the kid actually learns anything. Student learning is well correlated with parental expectations and involvement. And some parents are so uninvolved they can’t even feed their kids breakfast.

  35. fastlane says

    Nerd o’ Redhead nailed it. IIRC (and I often don’t!) parental involvement was the single largest correlating factor to a child’s education.

    Anyway, even if the US borrowed or stole this system, we’d find a way to fuck it up in short order.

    Our political system is not well geared towards long term solutions, and I don’t see the societal changes needed for this happening anytime soon.

  36. says

    Just saying America’s education system has been compared with that of other countries for a long time. Usually America’s is viewed as bad.

    This might be due to the fact that our education system has some very obvious problems and that despite our being one of the richest countries in the world, our students are falling closer to the middle in terms of academic performance in comparison to other countries.

    My first suggestion would be for kids to actually crack open a book.

    This assumes two things: 1) that kids in general aren’t disposed toward reading or learning in general and 2) that books are the only way for kids to gain knowledge. I’m an admitted bibliophile who used to be late to class after recess because I read so much that I missed the end of recess warning bells, but kids have more than just books available to them now when it comes to information. There’s just as much to be found in online resources or going out and learning about things by looking/observing/doing. More important than “cracking open a book” is teaching kids to love LEARNING and encourage them to not only want to find their own answers but how and where to look for them as well.

    Second suggestion would be that parents make their kids read and help understand the cracked open book.

    Because so many parents have the time to do so when they’re both working to keep their families afloat, often by working more than one job? Again, you’re making assumptions that the problem is just lazy parents – you’re not taking into account the fact that unless you’re from an upper class family that’s able to survive on a single source of income, you’re likely to come from a two-working-parent household, and not all of those parents are going to be working standard 9-5 jobs (which in and of themselves can be just as demanding).

    Third suggestion would be for teachers and parents to help excite the kids about learning.

    And just how do you suggest teachers and parents do this when the system is stacked against them, giving teachers far less than the support they need to do their jobs, and necessitating that often both parents need to work in order to support their families, leaving little time and energy for them to help their own kids? Adequate support and training for teachers are absolutely necessary for teachers to be able to give the amount of time and energy they need to “excite kids about learning.” How can teachers be expected to do their best in their job if they have no support from the school system itself? They don’t do their job in a vacuum and they’re not superhuman. The burnout rate for teachers in the US is alarmingly high as it is.

    Some kids wanna learn, some don’t. The trick is to get the kids that don’t to wanna.

    Right. Again, just how do you propose teachers and parents “get the kids that don’t wanna” to do at the very least appreciate learning if teachers don’t have the resources or support to create a healthy learning environment for their students and parents are often unable to provide a huge amount of time to assist their own kids because of the demands placed on them to provide for their families?

    Generalized statements and assumptions that ignore the complexities underlying the problems with the US education system by simplistically blaming those problems on “lazy students, teachers and parents” aren’t helping.

  37. Canadian says

    SS123 (#38)

    Don’t you think there is a reason why America’s education system has been compared to others for a long time? There are real reasons to worry that America has not sufficiently invested in the education of young minds.

    As for your suggestions:

    – Your first suggestion, that kids crack a book open, is throughly unhelpful. How is this to be done? There are things about which we need to think before kids even crack those books open and parts of the education system that should hold kids and parents accountable for not cracking those books open.

    Your second suggestion, that parents be involved, is a good complement to the first but still an unhelpful generality. How are the kids and parents held accountable for reaching learning goals? Are there matetials that can help parents better assist their children’s learning and are there measures that could be put in place have optional learning modules taught outside of school. In other words: please provide a mechanism and not a generality.

    Your third suggestion, that parents and teachers excite their kids about learning, is as general and unhelpful as the first two. How are they to do this? Please provide elaborate because these are ridicolously unaplicable generalities.

    And your last comment doesn’t really help either. Please explain the mechanism. How are we to get the interest of the kids who are averse to learning?

    Sadly, all you’re giving me is general statements on what should be done. Here’s the equivalent of what you’re doing:

    Canadian: How can I go around the world.
    Ss123: Well, you can start on your journey and move from one continent to another until you reach you starting location again.
    Canadian: But, based on my resources, do you have any idea of how I could stat with that endeavour?
    Ss123: well, my first suggestion is that you start moving eastward; my second suggestion is that you move fast…

    Unhelpful!

  38. says

    Some kids wanna learn, some don’t.

    There are so many problems with this blithe statement, but the biggest one is that it’s indicative of a defeatist attitude when it comes to education. The implied follow up to that statement is “If some kids don’t wanna learn, why bother?” Of course “the trick is to get those kids to wanna learn” but that can’t be done unless teachers have enough support to do so. And when teachers don’t have those resources or support, the kids that “don’t wanna” are going to get left behind.

    The limited resources that teachers have to work with have made the education system a triage, in which the students who are “easy” get the most attention and the students who are “difficult” often are written off as lost causes. Not to mention all the students in the middle who might excel in some areas but struggle in others. This isn’t necessarily due to laziness on the part of the teachers as much as it is due to the unfortunate reality of their situations in which they just don’t have the ability to address the needs of all their students, whether it’s from lack of training or lack of support from the school system itself.

  39. says

    Actually, the more correct statement is that some parents want their kids to learn, and others don’t give a flying fuck if the kid actually learns anything. Student learning is well correlated with parental expectations and involvement. And some parents are so uninvolved they can’t even feed their kids breakfast.

    There’s also the problem coming from the opposite side of that spectrum – parents who are so over-involved in their kids’ education that they make the process just as difficult for teachers and students. The ones who call teachers to complain that little Timmy only got a B on a project when he should have gotten an A (likely because they did most of the work rather than letting Timmy learn on his own); the ones who try to get books banned for “questionable content” or complain that the science teacher isn’t “teaching the controversy;” or even the ones who treat school as a life or death competition and put so much pressure on their kids to be “at the top of their game” that they end up killing their kids’ love for learning, turn school into something they learn how to “perform at” rather than acquire the real skills and knowledge they’ll need to survive as adults, or in worst case scenarios, become depressed and emotionally unstable.

  40. Swann says

    I’m a Finn, and while our educational system deserves most of the credit for the good PISA scores, there are some “extenuating circumstances” involved. Besides the already mentioned homogenous population, the Finnish language has an orthographical system that makes it relatively easy to learn to read and write. Unlike most languages, Finnish has an almost one-to-one correspondence between phonemes and graphemes. I learned to read when I was four, and it’s also overall very common to acquire literacy before school age. On top of better reading scores, easily acquired literacy also allows more time and effort be used in other subjects. It isn’t nearly the whole story of course, but I think this advantage is often undermined.

  41. ss123 says

    Of course I’m making generalized statements. I’m typing on a blog forum with a phone.

    When kids are excited about what they’re doing, thy try to do it as best they can. Peers and adults can help to push them to do even better.

  42. Loqi says

    No, Brownian, you’ve got it all wrong. The solution is to get the ones who don’t have money to want to have money. They’re just not excited enough about wealth, and that’s why they don’t have it.

  43. Wesa says

    One of the good things about our education system here in Finland is that it is (almost) free all the way up, including the universities. Therefore pretty much anyone – regardless of their social background – can study as far as they want/their skills allow.

    Still, the minister of education told just today, that the Finnish system isn’t equal enough and the government is striving to make it better (Google translation from Finnish to English):

    http://tinyurl.com/42c3jfs

  44. duncan says

    I’m a UK resident and believe that sounds like an excellent idea, apart from two things.

    1) Local authority control as opposed to a national curriculum. In all subjects – possibly with the exception of history – students in say Yorkshire should learn the same stuff as those in Cornwall. If the UK were to adopt such a system this wouldn’t be the case.

    The problem with the national curriculum is not IMO that it’s centralized, the problem is that it’s too easy. This lack of difficult content is the result of years of improving our metaphorical hoop jumping skills by lowering the hoop rather than exercising our legs.

    2) I’m really not sold on the idea of mixed ability classes. I was in top sets for science and mathematics and lower sets for English and Physical education. Being in top sets was good because we could learn at a fast pace. Being in bottom set PE was fantastic also. It was so much easier for thin weedy nerdy types like me to enjoy PE when I didn’t have to play football and rugby against the brick shithouses.
    Eventually being in 3rd set English helped out too, but that was mainly because of a good teacher, rather than being with mixed ability people.

  45. Dhorvath, OM says

    Shinobi,

    <blockquote?All children—clever or less so—were to be taught in the same classrooms,

    Ugh, as a formerly clever child.
    So you think it’s a bad idea? Care to expand?

  46. Dhorvath, OM says

    Err, a bit of an html fail there.

    Shinobi,

    All children—clever or less so—were to be taught in the same classrooms,

    Ugh, as a formerly clever child.

    So you think it’s a bad idea? Care to expand?

  47. Dhorvath, OM says

    Duncan,
    Even mixed grade levels can help, the more advanced students help to introduce the less to new concepts, and in doing so they both solidify their own mastery and develop useful social skills. It’s win/win.

  48. liebore says

    My first suggestion would be for kids to actually crack open a book.

    Second suggestion would be that parents make their kids read and help understand the cracked open book.

    Unfortunately, these are too simplistic. Both my wife and my sister teach in highly disadvantaged schools, and either one of them will tell you, when your parent(s) smoke crack, you get the shit beat out of you on a regular basis and you have no idea where your next meal is coming from, items like cracking open a book don’t enter into the equation. Granted, there are a lot of middle class families that could employ this tactic to great success, but they don’t represent America’s real problem with education.

    As a nation, we need to be willing to make the gut wrenching near-term sacrifices of ending needless wars, decreasing an overly bloated military budget and removing the safety net from underneath the wealthy so we can fund education.

    And on top of that, you’re NOT a good teacher if you don’t pour your entire heart and soul into it, sacrificing all of your free time and neglecting your own family to take care of those kids at school (according to the movies)

    Yup. My wife and sister each have in excess of 200 students they are responsible for. If they wanted to give each student 5 minutes of individualized attention each week it would takes an extra 16 hours. Add that on to 40 hours of contract time plus planning and grading and you’re already at 65+ hours per week. And that’s only for 5 fucking minutes a kid! Yet if their students are failing to perform, it’s somehow a problem with the lazy teachers.

  49. kristinc says

    Yes, it seems mixed ability/age levels *can* be a help rather than a hindrance. I was also a “clever” child, and the problem wasn’t that I had to share a classroom with the non-ubermensch but that I was expected to sit down, shut up and not let on that I was ahead of anyone else. The forced conformity is the crippling thing.

  50. keusnua says

    (Brownian in comment 34)
    Also, is this where we snarkily mock PZ for ending the title of this post on education with a preposition?

    No, we shall absolutely not do that. Because that is not even a rule of the English language. Should you wish to educate yourself on the topic, you may start here or here. Death to zombie rules!

    Though you do put ‘snarkily’ in your comment. Which perhaps means that you know that this is not a real rule. If so, I apologize. But this sort of thing is certainly no joking matter! Far to many do take zombie rules seriously.

  51. says

    Also, is this where we snarkily mock PZ for ending the title of this post on education with a preposition?

    “Errant nonsense, up with which I shall not put.”

    Seriously, this is another area where American exceptionalism will probably always rear its ugly head. Like with health care, the idea of adopting a proven successful solution from another country will rub a lot of people the wrong way–there will always be those who call for “uniquely American solutions,” which ends up being some kind of free market approach. For many, sticking with the proper ideology is far more important than measurable results.

  52. Francisco Bacopa says

    When I hear the word “competitiveness” that’s when I reach for my revolver.

    Seriously, overall quality of life and income level are pretty much determined by per capita productivity growth and, more importantly, per unit input productivity growth. Trade complicates the situation somewhat, and there may be winners and losers in certain industries, but in the big picture, growth per input=wealth. What somebody else is doing in some other country isn’t as relevant as you’d think

    Make people smarter and give them more options, growth happens. It would happen if there were zero competing countries, a bunch of competing countries that all sucked, or 50 competing countries that were all growing fast.

    BTW, quality of life is also influenced by things like income distribution, but that, like per input growth, is a matter of internal policy alone, and not some vague idea of “competitiveness”.

    Best smackdown of the idea of competitiveness is Paul Krugman’s Pop Internationalism. It’s a bit dated, but a very accessible presentation of trade policy from a macroeconomic standpoint.

    Making people smarter and more competent makes the economy better. It would make the economy better no matter what kind of “competition” is out there, and would do so even if there were no competition.

  53. SallyStrange says

    Actually, it’s more accurate to say that ALL children want to learn. We are, after all, learning apes. If anything can be said to be hardwired, surely the desire to gain knowledge and understanding of one’s environment must be one of those things. It’s just a question of making sure that the knowledge offered via traditional schooling seems useful and relevant to the kids.

  54. David Utidjian says

    Brownian @ 33: Oh my! That list includes Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed at number 16 as one of the “25 Best Movies About Education Ever Made.”

    Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed: Ben Stein’s look at Intelligent Design, and the lack of academic freedom to teach the concept in the classroom.

    Anyhow…
    Another item I sort of liked in the article is how they don’t over-stress classroom time but instead they let kids play more. If you remember or have kids of your own to watch you may notice that they learn really quickly and really well when interacting with each other… like on the playground. If it can be made in to a game they will do it and do it well. No I don’t mean a video game (though there are possibilities.)

    Way back in the sixth grade we had to read some story on sign language. In the back of the book was a chart with all the basic signs. I don’t remember the story at all. It was probably pretty boring. What I do remember is that within a week every single girl in the sixth grade was nattering away at each other in sign language. A few of the boys picked it up also. It got to the point that the school banned signing in the classroom because it was “disruptive.” (or some such.)

    Similar instances happen with songs, rhymes, word games.

  55. kristinc says

    David Utidjian: when I was in third grade some of the kids learned to crochet on a special crafts-instruction sort of day we had. They quickly taught the other kids and it spread like wildfire and became a fad. The teachers were soon banning yarn and hooks from the classrooms. As an adult, I weep for the lost chances to fire up kids about math and geometry.

  56. Felix says

    Incidentally, there’s an election coming up in my German city in two weeks. There’s a far right nationalist party whose campaign posters state: “Finland: best schools, 2% foreigners”.

    Apparently, according to right-wingers, the key to a good education is getting rid of the Ausländer.
    Trust me, no matter how many essays you write about how to make a good school system, slogans such as this one will be the only thing they will absorb.

  57. Dhorvath, OM says

    kristinc,

    Yes, it seems mixed ability/age levels *can* be a help rather than a hindrance. I was also a “clever” child, and the problem wasn’t that I had to share a classroom with the non-ubermensch but that I was expected to sit down, shut up and not let on that I was ahead of anyone else. The forced conformity is the crippling thing.

    That is not what I was talking about. I am sorry that you or anyone else has ever been forced to endure boredom due to excelling at a subject. However, when the third option is separation through acceleration I will vote for harnessing such excellence to make a more robust educational experience for people like you and those who haven’t the same reaction to learning.

  58. Pat SIlver says

    And here in the UK for the last 30 or so years we have been slavishly following the American model of competition.

  59. Veritas says

    One of the potential advantages to the mixed skill/age setup would be to give the more advanced students the opportunity to help tutor those falling behind. It may seem like it is holding them back at first, but explaining a concept to someone else who needs to be walked through it at a more basic level than you generally work with can really help to cement and integrate the ideas for yourself. I know for myself at least that the fastest way to find what I don’t fully grasp myself or what I’m net entirely confident of is to try to explain it to someone else.

    (This all of course assumes we live in a world where school age kids can be relied upon to not be utter jerks to one another, so it’s possible I’m imagining a magical fairy-land.)

  60. rgmani says

    Long time lurker and I usually don’t bother to post but I had to say something about this issue.

    “Put good teachers in charge”

    Wish it were as simple as that. How do you determine who are the good teachers?

    One way of doing that is for the principal to conduct observations. There are two problems with this. First of all it assumes that the principal is competent – which isn’t always the case. Even assuming that the principal is competent, we have the issue of whether or not he is allowed to conduct observations. A lot of teachers union contracts limit the principal to a fixed number of observations a year and teacher has to be informed in advance as to when these observations will take place. The principal cannot drop in unannounced. The classes cannot be taped. Any proposal to increase the number of observations is protested by the unions. The concern is that principals can use this system to play favorites and get rid of teachers they don’t like.

    Another way of determining teacher quality is the so-called “value-added” method. Test the students when they start the year and administer a test of similar difficulty at the end of the year and see how much improvement there was. There are admittedly several flaws with this approach starting with the fact that the tests themselves are often of dubious quality. Of course teachers unions protest this too and complain that this is forcing them to “teach to the test”.

    I fully admit there are flaws in these two approaches but in the absence of either of these two approaches, how do you determine who the good and bad teachers are? It isn’t as if the only bad teachers are the ones who teach pseudoscience in classrooms. There are plenty of teachers who simply don’t bother to teach. They just hang around, collect their paychecks and wait till the day they retire – secure in the knowledge that there’s no way in hell they can be fired.

    My daughter had one of these in middle school. This was a senior teacher who had been in the school many years. He typically spent the first 15 or so minutes of the class going over that day’s lesson in a perfunctory manner, then assigned classwork and homework to the students. He wouldn’t even bother explaining concepts that the students didn’t get. If anyone went to him with a doubt on the classwork or homework of the day, he’d just give them the answer rather that explaining the concept. Luckily for us he was the exception, not the rule – most of her other teachers were at least reasonable and a couple were truly excellent. Also, this is a high-performing school, mostly Asian, with extremely driven parents and kids. Any problems the students had with the material were resolved by talking to each other or to their parents (who are mostly well-educated professionals) – so this man did not do any lasting damage to any of the kids.

    What do you do with this sort of teacher? In inner city schools, from what I understand, there are many more of them. Which of them do you “put in charge”? Now, I’m not saying that all teachers are bad or that teachers unions are the only problem. The problem is that there is no way in the current system for talented people to rise to the top. So – you need to change the system from the outside – which is what all of these education reformers are trying to do. The other option is to try and create alternatives – hence the charter schools, voucher programs etc. If enough successful alternatives are created, that might put pressure on the current system to improve – in the same way that FedEx caused the Postal Service to improve.

    I have voted close to one hundred percent Democrat ever since I became a US citizen. However, in this instance, they are the problems and much as I hate to admit it, the Republicans have it right. We need education reform and the Republicans at least have some ideas whereas the Democrats only idea seems to be to keep the current system and throw more money at it. Luckily, some Democrats are seeing the need for education reform. I’d strongly urge anyone who is interested to watch the following video. The speaker, Whitney Tilson is a Democrat and his presentation very clearly illustrates exactly what is wrong with the education system today.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8v4ZVO3T_p0&feature=related

    – Raghu

  61. Silverlock says

    I’m a parent in a very large suburbs-of-Chicago school district. The elementary school that my daughters attend has done a good job in their first few years of school. However, every year it is struggling with a growing lack of resources. A reduced number of teachers has led to increasing class sizes without aides, mixed grade level classes (e.g. 1st/2nd or 2nd/3rd in a single class room), and classes taught primarily in Spanish because there are not enough teachers to have separate ESL and native-speaker classes.

    (I don’t know that these last two are necessarily bad things, but when combined with larger class sizes they intuitively seem to me to be more than one teacher can realistically handle without neglecting some students.)

    The real point of my post, however, is: how do we fix it? I read the article in the OP, I read the comments here, I agree that incentivizing effective teaching is very important. That’s not the whole answer. More money for education is needed. Perhaps some of it can come from cutting wasteful spending, but just like I don’t think we can cut our way of a recession I don’t think we can cut our way to educational excellence. I will pay more property taxes if it is the only way, but not everyone in the district can survive further property tax increases. The property tax funding system is broken, but it is held in place by other systems; how can we change that piece? It seems like we need a shakeup at all levels of government simultaneously.

    I’m not advocating revolution, despite how that last sentence sounded. :)

    But I’m not sure how to start. Electing local progressives (besides being nearly impossible in Chicago’s collar counties) is not enough. They can’t effect change without support from around the state and eventually around the country. Does anyone have additional – or better – ideas?

  62. NelC says

    David Marshall @27

    Finland is homogenous culturally,

    Hancock says

    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.

    Wolframalpha gives the Finns a majority of 93.4% Finns, which isn’t total homogeneity. The same source gives 79% ‘white’ in the US. I’m not convinced that the difference is enough of a difference to be significant. To borrow from Tolstoy, it seems to me that good students are all alike, whereas poor students are each poor in their own way. Cultural differences be only one meta-reason why a student is performing poorly, on examination the actual reason is likely to be something less ethnically-based and something that can be addressed by a motivated and well-trained teacher, it seems to me.

  63. Brownian says

    Of course I’m making generalized statements. I’m typing on a blog forum with a phone.

    You should hang up until you’ve got the time to explicate further. If you haven’t got time to talk, you haven’t got time to talk. Call back when you do.

    Though you do put ‘snarkily’ in your comment. Which perhaps means that you know that this is not a real rule. If so, I apologize. But this sort of thing is certainly no joking matter! Far to many do take zombie rules seriously.

    I didn’t know that wasn’t an actual rule, so thanks, but I do side with you on the general idea of death to zombie rules. (I did have a hefty innoculation of linguistic anthropology way back in my university days—it might have been my major if I weren’t so adverse to specialisation—so I’m a descriptivist rather than prescriptivist. (And probably a lot more relativistic than most here, but I mask it well with nihilism.) But people who use Greengrocers’ apostrophes can fuck right off.

    Brownian @ 33: Oh my! That list includes Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed at number 16 as one of the “25 Best Movies About Education Ever Made.”

    Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed: Ben Stein’s look at Intelligent Design, and the lack of academic freedom to teach the concept in the classroom.

    Anyhow…

    Er, no comment. [Tugs on collar, Rodney Dangerfield-style.]

    And here in the UK for the last 30 or so years we have been slavishly following the American model of competition.

    S’funny: in Alberta, we follow their model of exceptionalism. As in “Though we’re a bunch of moron farmers and ranchers, God inspired us to invent oil and we did it, a fact that Trudeau’s minions and eastern liberals don’t want you to know.”

  64. Brownian says

    @NelC:

    David Marshall styles himself an historian, a claim he states outright.

    There’s a reason that he only implies that he’s a good one.

  65. ayla says

    Pointing out one more flaw in the American system: putting more emphasis on test scores will, inevitably, lead to more cheating on test scores. And not just by students.

    I went to a pretty average American high school in a small, mostly white, relatively prosperous town– I say “relatively” because said small town is in Michigan. Anyway, about ten years ago now, a year after I graduated, two of my best friends who were seniors at the time took the required standardized test, the MEAP. (Michigan Educational Assessment Program. And yes, we all went around saying “Meap meap!” a lot.) The MEAP is your basic standardized test, evaluating (IIRC) reading comprehension, English composition, science reasoning, and math. And, importantly, MEAP scores are tied to state funding for schools, as well as college scholarships.

    Both of my friends were fairly average students who had failed to finish all the questions in one of the timed sections of the test. A week or so later, the (new-ish) principal pulled them into the school conference room, along with a couple other students. The principal handed them back their tests and said “We wanted to make sure that you guys just had the opportunity you needed to do the best you can on this test.” He then left the room. My friends opened their tests to find several answers erased… and an answer key. They both said “I can’t do this!” and left the room. The principal commended them on their principles.

    They told this story to a teacher they trusted, who was shocked and outraged. As far as I know, though, it never went further than that. I was off at college at the time, and I didn’t find out about this for a few years, but I’m pretty sure there were no negative repercussions. I’d like to believe that this was an idea brought in by the new principal and not one that had been going on for years, but still, every time I visit my folks and read in the newspaper “Local high school scores top in MEAP test!” I feel pretty damn cynical about it.

    So yes. Tl;dr, TEST SCORES ARE NOT A GOOD MEASURE OF ACADEMIC SUCCESS.

  66. Ville Vicious says

    I’m a Finn studying to be a teacher (Maths and Physics for grades 7-12) and I’m interested in education politics so the history and current state of the Finnish school system is something I’m fairly familiar with.

    1) Those whining about teachers unions being a major problem with getting good teachers. Finnish teachers are 95+% unionised from the kindergarten up.

    2) On the admin side the schools run on a pretty pretty light staff, Usually only the principal and a secretary do full time admin stuff, the vice principal is usually a senior teacher who does 50% admin 50’5 teaching. The principals are almost all former teachers. The school board has their own civil servants but they don’t deal with day-to-day school life. Also many decisions are made in (bi-)weekly staff meetings where the whole teaching staff is present.

    3) The giving the power to the local municipalities in the late 1980s caused some problems (mostly in incompatible grading) and the curriculum of the 2003 (National curricula get re-made in about once a decade) returned to a more centralized form. Most important listed a learning-outcome descriptions for “good” knowledge in the subject at the key points of the school path. The centralization might increase even further in the upcoming curriculum.

  67. NA says

    About classrooms with a variety of students with a variety of “levels”: as a teacher, I will say that having uniformly excellent students does nothing to improve my teaching skills, though when it happens it is admittedly a great pleasure. When I figure out how to effectively address a given student’s difficulty, it often gives me insight on how to better address all of the students. Even the advanced students sometimes need concepts and skills presented in multiple ways, which is not the same as giving up on certain concepts and skills.

  68. AlexD says

    “Thanks to the right wing cranks, we keep trying to apply free market principles to a process to which they don’t apply.”

    Really? It’s been 40 years of government monopoly. I don’t know if free market innovations are a good idea or not, but it seems pretty silly to argue that the current system is somehow an indictment of free market principles applied to education. There is nothing free market at all about the public education system. If anything it’s a failure of government. And, have a look at “educating spending” since 1970 and then try to say that it is a question of money or priorities.

  69. Mikko H says

    A Finn here. A few points.

    – Much is made about the PISA results, but I urge everyone to look at the distribution of the points. The differences at the top are not that great, and some individual states in the US do nearly as well as Finland. Minnesota might very well be one of them. The average for the entire US is brought down by areas that have large-scale societal problems and failing schools. The good Finnish result is essentially achieved by managing to avoid the problems, not by producing lots of overachievers.

    – Someone claimed that Finland got to where it is by pouring money into the school system. This is strictly not true. The overall costs are much less per student than they are in the US and have always been. The bureaucracy is much lighter, I believe.

    – There is a huge difference between the appreciation of teaching as a profession between the US and Finland. Here, teaching is very much considered to be a good, very respectable job and reasonably well paid, even if no-one is getting rich by working as a teacher. The teacher training programs at universities are genuinely not easy to get into.

    – Finnish teachers have a very strong union, as have all the other professions in the public sector. The union does guard “benefits gained” (a rough translation of the established Finnish expression) very, very carefully, but Finland definitely does not have insanity like the New York ‘rubber room’ taking place. Policies about curricula are not really strongly influenced by the union as such, as far as I know, but likely the same people develop the curricula in their day jobs and hold good positions in the union. It’s a small nation.

    – Someone already pointed out the fact that the Finnish language has a nearly 1:1 relation between phonemes and graphemes (sounds and written letters). On top of that, television shows are subtitled, not overdubbed. There are a lot of subtitled American, British, German and Swedish programs on television, so essentially watching TV includes a large component of reading. I saw a study somewhere that a lot of Finnish kids end up reading more text on the TV screen than anywhere else. On top of learning to read, the kids obviously pick up a lot of English in the process, since so much of the pop culture is Anglo-American and you can hear the English-language original while reading the translation.

    – Yes, the Finnish system is not very good with talented kids and they do get bored and underperform (I was one of them). A lot of teachers bemoan the loss of the ability groups that happened in the 80s, but it has been such a long time already that a lot of the teachers who used to have them in the upper secondary lever (grades 7-9) are retired. At grades 10-12 there are two different levels for math and physics, and there’s quite a difference between the two.

    – There is constant moaning in the public debate about the home upbringing of kids these days (yes, the same complaint as Aristotle had). The proportion of kids who have attention problems and need more personal support has increased dramatically, just like everywhere else. This gets blamed on misguided parenting that fails to set boundaries for kids, or, I guess, absentee parents who work too hard. Basically all the problems that you hear about in the US, up to and including massive school shootings, are happening in Finland, too, but to a much lesser degree.

    – The story about the class having 50 percent of students of foreign descent is an extreme example from a specific district of Helsinki. These places exist in a few of the larger cities, but overall, Finland is very, very Finnish.

  70. Juice says

    In FInland it’s harder to become a teacher than to become a medical doctor.

    Also, parents have school choice.

  71. says

    Really? It’s been 40 years of government monopoly.

    Except for private schools, which are allowed to eschew the kids they think will fail and focus only on the ones they believe have a chance of success (or are rich enough that it’s worth taking their failure for the financial boon)

    But other than a unfair competition from the private sector it’s a 100% government monopoly

  72. says

    Do you suppose that our educational problems have anything to do with our general contempt for learning? If you listen closely to the people who make the most noise about our failing schools, you’ll often discover that they value education only to the degree that they believe it will lead to personal or national wealth creation. Since their value system holds non-monetary accomplishments in contempt, they can’t be expected to respect the idiots who, for some inexplicable reason, are more interested in teaching than a high income. Moreover, since they already look at schools as unpleasant necessities, it’s hardly any wonder they ceaselessly work to make them even more unpleasant, for example by reducing the curriculum to endless cram sessions for standardized tests.

    Want good schools? Become more like the peoples who really care for such things, the Jews, the Chinese, the Scandinavians. When “teacher” has some of the same resonance as “rabbi” or “sensei,” you’ll see results.

  73. Nigel says

    The Finns have a reformed spelling system; they start school at 7 and a typical school child of that age can read any word in the dictionary accurately (tho possibly not understand what that word means) as they have been taught on their mother’s knees. This is because the reforms to their spelling system makes the code user-friendly and the illiteracy rate is about 5%. They have a difficult grammar but that is a hurdle that they can negotiate because of the head start they have in the orthography. Our language is highly irregular in its written form: it takes 3 times longer to acquire because of its complexity and even then a fifth of 11 year-olds fail their literacy mile-stones. A similar percentage of our working population have a reading age of 13 year-olds. We also incarcerate a high percentage of our populations and illiteracy is rife in prisons. This is true throughout the English speaking world irrespective of teaching methods. While it is not surprising to hear of a Finnish teenage working on their 4th language, that is almost unheard of here. If we want social justice through inclusion and mobility we will need to make repairs to our spelling system.

  74. Veritas says

    - Someone claimed that Finland got to where it is by pouring money into the school system. This is strictly not true. The overall costs are much less per student than they are in the US and have always been. The bureaucracy is much lighter, I believe.

    ^This. Much has been made of the skyrocketing cost of US education compared to essentially flat outcomes (I know it’s more complicated than this but that isn’t the point), but what isn’t mentioned is how little of this actually makes it into a classroom. In my experience, a lot of the inflated cost per student in the US seems to be due to bizarre mandates and excessive overhead, rather than bloated teacher compensation and free laptops for everyone.

    Getting our cost per head down to more reasonable levels seems like a worthy goal. Reducing the number of, and compensation for, teachers, while maintaining a large (and often much better paid) administrative staff, seems… not good.

  75. Phoenician in a time of Romans (Piator) says

    I don’t understand – where’s the profit to be made in the Finnish education system?

  76. Brownian says

    I don’t understand – where’s the profit to be made in the Finnish education system?

    Ah. Your nom d’écran misleads. You are a Ferengi in a place of Romulans.

  77. Veritas says

    Re: #87

    Dear Sarah Palin and your ignorant ilk,

    On behalf of autistics such as myself, who understand the value of research involving fruit flies as it relates to the advancement of science and human understanding, I would like to offer a most sincere and heartfelt “Fuck you!”

    Best wishes,
    Veritas, a productive member of society despite the horrors of my “disease” unlike certain republican nutters.

  78. Mikko H says

    Nigel:

    The Finns have a reformed spelling system; they start school at 7 and a typical school child of that age can read any word in the dictionary accurately

    This is a bit of an exaggeration. Not even nearly all kids know how to read when they start school. Practically all do after the first grade.

    It’s true that spelling Finnish is very easy. I only realized in my late teens what the American spelling contests were, and the whole concept seemed just plain silly to me. It was difficult to grasp the idea that spelling should be such a challenge.

    English is taught in Finnish schools by reading and writing first and foremost, so the kids are more likely to know the spelling than the pronunciation of an English word (the pronunciation is a challenge for a native Finnish speaker anyway).

    While it is not surprising to hear of a Finnish teenage working on their 4th language

    Yes, but this is partly a peculiarity of the Finnish language politics and something of a problem as far as apportioning of time goes. The other domestic language is compulsory in the Finnish system, which means that the language of the 5 % Swedish-speaking minority gets force-fed to the 95 % Finnish-speaking majority. A good proportion of the Finnish speakers never use Swedish after leaving school, and arguably the time spent on Swedish could have been used better. However, the Swedish language is something of a political holy cow in Finland and it has proved impossible to get rid of the compulsory teaching of it. Finland was a part of the Kingdom of Sweden up to 1809, and Swedish remained the language of administration and higher education for decades after that. Today the enforced Swedish is supposed to allow the Finns not only to appreciate their history, but to talk to the Scandinavians, including the Danes and Norwegians, but in practice everyone switches to English anyway.

    The other difference to the English-speaking countries is that Finnish is spoken by six million people in the world at the most, and they mostly live in one rather provincial corner of the planet. The importance of foreign languages is blindingly obvious to any school kid with half a brain.

    I’m a native Finnish-speaker who went to school in the 80s and 90s. I started English in grade 3, Swedish in grade 7 and elected to take German in grade 8. A few kids in my school added a fourth language in grade 10, typically French, or German if they’d started French earlier. There was probably a small class for Russian (in a school with 800 pupils).

  79. Ramases says

    There is certainly much to learn from Finland, but it has several advantages that have not been mentioned in the introductory post.

    * Finland has far lower levels of poverty compared to the US
    * Finland has virtually no private school system. The daughters and sons of millionaires sit next to those of truck drivers. There is relative equity in education
    * Schools are funded nationally, with all schools getting the same. In the US schools are funded locally, with those in wealthier areas getting far more than those in poor ones, thus exacerbating educational and social inequity
    * Teacher are provided with a high degree of professional autonomy and their

    It is also interesting that some of the right wing myths about education have also been voiced here:

    Lordshipmayhem (10) and plutosdad (22)

    Sorry, but you are both completely wrong. There is no evidence at all that teacher unions or other element that strengthen the voice of teachers in the education system do harm – quite the opposite, the countries that do well in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), such as Finland, Canada and to some extent Australia, are those with strong teacher unions and strong professional autonomy for teachers. Equally, the states in the US which do worst are the (largely Southern) states with weak union, while those who do comparatively well are those with the stronger unions. The evidence suggests that stronger teacher professional voices, including unions, improve the quality of education, not otherwise as the right wingers would have us think.

    A clear sign that an education system is in decline is when authorities and the media start blaming teachers and their organisations or start clamouring for teachers to be sacked. This is passing the buck by the authorities to avoid the real reasons for educational failure.

    In a recent international meeting between education ministers the minister for Singapore (which also does very well in PISA) was asked by a US journalist what they did about “bad” teachers, and how they weeded them out. The minister replied that they had no such plans and thought such an approach wrong. The solution he said was to respect teachers and work with them and their organisations to improve teacher capacity overall and support them, respecting their professional judgements as teachers.

    plutosdad (22)

    So, your friends don’t want to join the union? Tell them to go take a hike. Not only are they endangering the working conditions of their colleagues, but undermining the quality of education provided to students.

    Here in Australia we do relatively well in PISA, but although we still do much better than the US we have shown some decline over the last decade. This is due to two reasons:
    • The increase in private schooling and educational segregation based on wealth
    • The introduction by governments (state and federal) of backward “back to basics” educational policies, particularly simplistic testing regimes.

    Testing regimes were introduced by most state governments in the late 1990s. This was followed in 2008 by the introduction of the backward NAPLAN national testing regime along with the even more backward My School website which posts school “performance” on NAPLAN online. Rather than using their professional judgements in the interests of their students, teachers feel increasingly constrained to “teach to the test” to get results in NAPLAN. This means more rote learning, less attention to higher order thinking skills, less creative teaching and encouragement of student autonomy and critical thinking.

    Unfortunately things seem doomed to get worse, largely due to the educational “reforms” introduced by Julia Gillard. It is amazing we are actually emulating the worst educational practice from the US and the UK (which do much worse than us in PISA) rather than the best.

  80. Ramases says

    AussieMike (12)

    I find your post interesting, but am surprised that you are quoting Hattie as an authority.

    John Hattie is popular with politicians as he tells them what they want to hear, but he is largely considered a joke amongst educational academics.

    Do you really take Hattie’s meta analysis seriously?

  81. wormman says

    Aussie Mike (#12) – the unfortunate thing about Hattie’s work is that he argues against the use of inquiry-based learning, which is the best way to develop those critical thinking skills you are trying to impart to teachers. He is being used to justify a return to data-based pedagogy, not to mention his “good teachers are the only thing that matters” is the major plank in the government’s attempt to bring in performance-based pay for teachers and other elements which have failed so dismally in the US system.

  82. bromion says

    Note that this Finnish process took a long time. They didn’t relinquish all control to the local councils until 20 years after the plan went into effect. In that time, presumably, they BUILT a society that valued education. They gave stature to teachers and required them to be highly educated. They doled out money to school in an even way. The focused on early education. By the time the local councils took control of the schools, there was likely little worry that they would ruin them with quackery.

    This plan doesn’t translate perfectly to the American system for a number of reasons pointed out already. But the key part — valuing education and building a society that does over the long term — is something we should strive for. Instead, we’ve given up, and our society would rather blame teachers and students than parents, government, and society at large for our failing educational system.

  83. David Marjanović, OM says

    Fun fact: They modelled a lot of this after the educational system of the GDR.

    Heh. If you take the Marxism-Leninism classes out of the GDR education system, that’s what happens? :-D

    Actually, I’ve been told they were totally lost when they got western textbooks (for history and the like) and found that those textbooks didn’t spoon-feed them one correct answer to every question.

    First of all, Finland is obviously quite different from the US demographically. Finland is homogenous culturally, small, with a Scandinavian culture. Those differences can’t be swept under the rug.

    *burp* Special attention for immigrant kids, with language courses if necessary.

    @AussieMike – thanks for that link, it’s a refreshing breath of air to read. I hope Superintendent Paine is able to keep it up.

    Seconded!!!

    Also, is this where we snarkily mock PZ for ending the title of this post on education with a preposition?

    Shut up. It’s English, not Latin or German.

    One of the potential advantages to the mixed skill/age setup would be to give the more advanced students the opportunity to help tutor those falling behind. It may seem like it is holding them back at first, but explaining a concept to someone else who needs to be walked through it at a more basic level than you generally work with can really help to cement and integrate the ideas for yourself. I know for myself at least that the fastest way to find what I don’t fully grasp myself or what I’m net entirely confident of is to try to explain it to someone else.

    *jumping up and down* QFT! QFT! QFFT!!!

    (This all of course assumes we live in a world where school age kids can be relied upon to not be utter jerks to one another, so it’s possible I’m imagining a magical fairy-land.)

    In my experience, nerds aren’t bullies.

    (I don’t know that these last two are necessarily bad things, but when combined with larger class sizes they intuitively seem to me to be more than one teacher can realistically handle without neglecting some students.)

    Large classes are evil.

    Banning… crafts????

    I had craft lessons in primary school. I was taught to crochet and to knit. It’s all in the national curriculum of Austria.

    They have a difficult grammar but that is a hurdle that they can negotiate because of the head start they have in the orthography.

    Dude… they don’t need to negotiate it. At the age of 7, they can already speak their native language.

    Did anyone ever teach you when to say “I read” and when “I’m reading”? I was taught that for years, because German completely lacks anything like “I’m reading”. You weren’t; you picked it up when you learned to speak.

    the value of research involving fruit flies as it relates to the advancement of science and human understanding

    That wasn’t about those fruit flies. It was about fruit flies that endanger fruit harvests in California.

    It was directly about the economy. Palin is even sillier than you think! :-)

    It’s true that spelling Finnish is very easy. I only realized in my late teens what the American spelling contests were, and the whole concept seemed just plain silly to me. It was difficult to grasp the idea that spelling should be such a challenge.

    When I found out (later) what a spelling bee is, I wasn’t shocked. We don’t have any over here, but German spelling does have plenty of irregularities and other complexities, and I had of course noticed what a mess the English spelling system is. But I was shocked when I had spent a few years on the Internet and found out that grown people – even ones with top education who commented on linguist blogs and spoke several languages – used spellcheck programs.

    Finland was a part of the Kingdom of Sweden up to 1809, and Swedish remained the language of administration and higher education for decades after that.

    Importantly, Finland didn’t become independent in 1809. It was turned over to Russia. The czar evidently found it easiest to leave everything as it was and merely add “Grand Prince of Finland” to his list of titles.

    There is certainly much to learn from Finland, but it has several advantages that have not been mentioned in the introductory post.

    * Finland has far lower levels of poverty compared to the US

    To some degree, I’m sure that circular. Only educated people have a chance to get anything other than a McJob, and only uneducated people (and millionaires) vote Republican.

    * Teacher are provided with a high degree of professional autonomy and their

    Yes?

    So, your friends don’t want to join the union? Tell them to go take a hike. Not only are they endangering the working conditions of their colleagues, but undermining the quality of education provided to students.

    Bingo.

    along with the even more backward My School website which posts school “performance” on NAPLAN online.

    Making schools compete with each other is among the stupidest ideas I’ve ever encountered. The reason schools exist isn’t to raise the top, it’s to raise the bottom.

  84. kristinc says

    Banning… crafts????

    Silly Caine. School isn’t about learning to do useful things. It’s about learning to score high on tests!

  85. wormman says

    I was about to bemoan the anti-union sentiment in the postings, but Ramases said it so much better than me. I can’t really comment much on US teacher unions, but let me give you the skinny from inside an Australian one.

    You can benefit both kids and teachers – most of the things that are shown to be in the teachers’ best interests have a follow on effect to better outcomes with the students, like reduced class sizes (one of Hattie’s favourite things to pick on, but only because he cherry picks his research from studies used to justify market-driven educational reforms). Teacher unions in Australia campaign for sensible curriculum choices, properly qualified teachers (not the “8 week wonders” which is the latest recycled brain fart to bubble to the surface of the government’s mind) and appropriate standards for teachers to aspire to. Here in Queenslandland, the QTU was instrumental in developing the standards for teachers and ensuring that they reflected what teachers actually did in the classroom, rather than some market-based performance philosophy (all of which is destined to be lost when they introduce the national standards).

    Far from being defenders of the indefensible, it’s been my experience that teacher unions have been defenders of high standards in teaching. My greatest problem in working with my teaching colleagues has been coping with my employer’s policy of putting anyone with a space in their timetable and a pulse in front of a classroom regardless of their readiness to teach that subject. This isn’t the union’s doing, however it is union members who have to come to the aid of these people thrown in beyond their depth, and it has been the unions that have campaigned for properly qualified teachers in specialty subjects.

    As for it being impossible to sack union teachers, I have been a union rep who has supported four members through to the end of their teaching career. All we can do is insist that natural justice and proper procedure is followed, which is far different from keeping incompetents in the classroom. It is the government’s own HR policies which have put the procedures in place and we only insist that they follow their own policies. Does anyone really want to see a situation where teachers can be summarily sacked (except in cases of gross negligence or impropriety) without being given the opportunity to improve their practice to remedy the situation? I have never seen a staff go out in support of an incompetent teacher, and there comes a time when someone is going through the process where you just have to tell them that they’re not cut out for the job.

    Ramases described our inexorable move towards data-driven educational practice. I’d like to add the observation that Gillard has just one more Howard government policy to implement (local hiring and firing by principals) before she will have enacted all of that government’s educational agenda. It boggles the mind that Australia, which always outperformed the US in international comparisons of student ability, is bending over backward to implement all of the failed US educational policies.

  86. Mikko H says

    bromion:

    By the time the local councils took control of the schools, there was likely little worry that they would ruin them with quackery.

    That probably makes it look more planned than it actually was. The school reform in the 60s and 70s really was initially modeled on the system of the communist East Germany (without the overt propaganda). By the 1980s, times had changed quite a bit and a lot of the East German ideas had been dropped. I don’t think that the decentralization was in the original plan.

    Also, the extent to which Finland is a consensus society may be difficult to understand from a US standpoint. I don’t think a local descent into quackery would have been much more of a risk in the early 1970s than it was in the 1980s. Finland is a small nation, and the Ministry of Education or the national teachers’ union is not that far from anywhere. As for religion, well over 90 % of the people belonged to the Evangelical Lutheran state church at the time. The risk of a takeover by a local sect was practically nil. The only thing even remotely capable of such a thing would have been the Laestadian revival movement in some places, but even those people mostly belonged to the Lutheran church and would have likely followed the Lutheran doctrine on education.

    In a broader perspective, the school reform was a continuation of the massive post-WWII reconstruction and industrialization that transformed the country. There was definitely a strong sense of ‘Project Finland’ (even if the political divisions were sharp). I don’t think a religious crackpot school in some small municipality was ever in the cards.

  87. Brownian says

    Also, is this where we snarkily mock PZ for ending the title of this post on education with a preposition?

    No, we shall absolutely not do that.

    “Errant nonsense, up with which I shall not put.”

    Shut up. It’s English, not Latin or German.

    Only if you’re ridiculously fond of Dryden.

    So the answer is no, then?

    Shame, Brownian. I expected better.

    Your right. I’m sorry for playing grammar hardass and derailing this thread farther. I hope you’ll forgive such lapse’s. In the future its tempting, but I’ll reserve those sorts of comments for blogs like Language Log, since they belong their.

  88. Veritas says

    Re: #96

    That wasn’t about those fruit flies. It was about fruit flies that endanger fruit harvests in California.

    It was directly about the economy. Palin is even sillier than you think! :-)

    *blink* *blink* *blink*
    I’m sorry, I think I just broke my face with my palm.

    ————

    Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait… wait. I get it now:
    A)Obama would approve of eating fruit.
    B)California is a bastion of godless liberal commie gayz.
    C)Fruit flies attack fruit in California.
    Therefore:
    D)Fruit flies are great warriors for truth, justice, and “traditional” marriage, and those evil scientists must just hate Christians.

  89. TimKO,,.,, says

    Everytime you use a foreign success as a suggested model, Republicans (and some Dems) immediately kneejerk with “well that won’t work in the US”. W H Y ? ? Is it simple innate Xenophobia? Myopia? Or, as with climate change, the bizarre idea that all situaions are uniquely American; that all other countries are backwards/non-laissez faire/undeveloped etc.? (And if you’ve ever been in a Swiss school, French hospital etc you know how ignorant that attitude is). It’s only been a little over a century since half of Americans spoke with a foreign accent.

  90. HeavyG says

    OFF TOPIC

    I know you can’t please all the people all the time but…

    I really hate the “Read More” “feature” of the new blog here.

    Give me the article all at once. I can take it!

  91. AussieMike says

    @Ramases and @wormman (your remarks below)
    I am happy to be corrected on Hattie. I don’t claim to be an expert on his research so perhaps I was too quick to quote him. I also understand there is research done into his research to offer counter claims but that was driven to some degree because politicians were using his analysis as a plank not to reduce class sizes among other things.
    I do remember Hattie mentioning that his meta analysis was not based on reduced class sizes so a reduction in size with modifications to the teaching practice to take advantage of that can still produce effective results. It just wasn’t tested. The biggest issue with any research is that politicians cherry pick to justify there motives and erred policies.

    So largely I think I would agree with you both that effective teaching looks like.
    1. Well resourced schools
    2. Well resourced teachers
    3. Well educated teachers with ample access to further study and training
    4. A supportive, encouraging industry based system from which to work
    5. No politics except to ensure the policies are there to keep govt out
    6 Constant internal and industry reviews into best practice
    7. Letting the teachers drive progress which gives them ownership of their industry not politicians
    8. Ultimately creating an industry that is child/education centred, managed by teachers, supported by parents and encourages and nurtures those involved.

    Ramases says:
    AussieMike (12)
    I find your post interesting, but am surprised that you are quoting Hattie as an authority.
    John Hattie is popular with politicians as he tells them what they want to hear, but he is largely considered a joke amongst educational academics.
    Do you really take Hattie’s meta analysis seriously?

    wormman says:
    Aussie Mike (#12) – the unfortunate thing about Hattie’s work is that he argues against the use of inquiry-based learning, which is the best way to develop those critical thinking skills you are trying to impart to teachers. He is being used to justify a return to data-based pedagogy, not to mention his “good teachers are the only thing that matters” is the major plank in the government’s attempt to bring in performance-based pay for teachers and other elements which have failed so dismally in the US system.

  92. Kevin says

    So, my 17-year-old niece started out in one of Bill Gates’ school initiatives. Fine and dandy, until the funding dried up after one one. Then, she got put into a different program that basically offered the same thing (a high school and Associate’s degree in four years of education — the kid works like a dog).

    That program got canceled, too.

    She’s now on her third program — third set of teachers, administrators, rules, campuses, commute, and all the rest.

    I give her a lot of credit for not just throwing her hands up in the air and saying “fuck it” after the second program was shit-canned. She’s got enough credits to graduate high school already (just starting her “senior” year). I’m not sure I would have continued down her path — and I was one of those good students everyone covets. Darwin help the mediocre students.

  93. imthegenieicandoanything says

    Those who make the decisions here, usually with the backing of a clear majority of voters, won’t care less about education (until it affects their quality of life after it’s too late), they are interested in proving they are right. And no matter how bad the results, their response is the same as that of “Republicans” on the national stage on cutting taxes or harsher sentencing, to do the same thing even more.

    Twain said, or was re-magined to say, something about the stupidity of your local school board, didn’t he? It perhaps is the clearest example of why democracy isn’t the least-worst of systems. But mass education simply isn’t the same as most everything else.

  94. Zinc Avenger says

    @ TimKO,,.,, 104:

    Also, a lot of potential solutions to national problems are shot down by publicly calling them “European-style”, thus making sure no US politician who ever wants to be re-elected will ever mention them again.

  95. Absurdity says

    We already have localized school control. School boards! The problem which is probably more unique in the US than in Finland is the separation of the wealth from the poor and the social issues that forever follow the poor in America. In Finland I would suspect being a more socialist nation the people are more equal than in the poor areas of America where respect of authority has been made a mockery of in order to survive.

  96. wormman says

    Aussie Mike Suggested :

    > 1. Well resourced schools
    > 2. Well resourced teachers
    > 3. Well educated teachers with ample access to further
    study and training

    I’m with you on those

    > 4. A supportive, encouraging industry based system from
    > which to work

    That would depend on what you mean by “industry”. If you mean the “education industry” then I agree. If you’re talking about letting the needs of private enterprise drive educational policy we may disagree.

    > 5. No politics except to ensure the policies are there to
    keep govt out

    I’m more comfortable with government sticking their nose into my classroom than local pressure groups or business interests, but this might be because no local MP has organised a walk out from my classes because I was teaching cosmology

    > 6 Constant internal and industry reviews into best practice

    I good idea in theory, so long as we can define what constitutes “best practice” separate to something more relevant to teaching than “what results the kids get on standardised testing”

    > 7. Letting the teachers drive progress which gives them
    ownership of their industry not politicians

    This would involve dealing with the organisations which represent the vast majority of the teaching profession. In Queensland, that would be the QTU (97% membership coverage). The Queensland government has figured this out, unlike the Feds.

    > 8. Ultimately creating an industry that is child/education
    centred, managed by teachers, supported by parents and
    encourages and nurtures those involved.

    At least we can dream

  97. kantalope says

    Yay to Ramases and Wormman for sticking up for unions. I have never understood why a group that advocates for better treatment of teachers is harmful. Do you hope that without unions pay will decrease? Do you think fewer benefits will increase the quality of teachers? Maybe restricting unpaid overtime is the way to improve teacher retention? I just don’t get it; it just seems like a weird argument.

    As for vouchers – it is just a trick. The originators of that particular idea and all its derivatives were, without exception, anti-public (and usually racist too) education cranks. It is just a way to weaken public education until they can drown it in a bathtub later.

    That education as business model just won’t work. Look at all the high quality coming out of the private adult (diploma mill) education system. I have not seen the latest graduate program reviews but I doubt my local Phoenix college is listed near the top. Now you want to allow private grammar school institutions to cherry pick the best students and then defund the schools that get the rest. These separate but equal school plans have been tried before but a more progressive America found them lacking, I doubt the present supreme court would see them as somehow unequal now.

    (that last paragraph needs some work but apple pie is calling me.)

  98. Greg Van Hee says

    Finland has a teacher’s union that would make ours look anemic. The only way a teacher can get fired there is if he/she is a sexual predator or terrible alcoholic. The other world-wide educational systems that do very well such as South Korea are heavily unionized, too. The union red herring here is promoted by ultra-conservatives who are far more interested in keeping wages low and benefits non-existent than they are in improving education.

    The critical part of the puzzle that the article somewhat ignores is the matrix which gives rise and stimulus to effective teaching and education. Imagine excellent teachers achieving at least a social status somewhat equal to other highly valued professions. Imagine a society that gives that respect and support to those who educate their young with the expectation that they, the teachers, are adults who will live up to that respect and the abiding highest expectations that accompany it. In those cultures teachers are constantly bulwarked in their efforts by the whole rest of the cultural matrix and education becomes something far more than just a business into which some of our politicians would like to turn it. Instead, here we make the job a wearisome task subjected to some of the most moronic political whims and winds imaginable.

    None, not one, of the best school systems throughout the world would touch a mandate as prone to create mediocrity and a hate both for teaching and learning that NCLB assuredly does. It seems the only way some here in America believe education can be improved is to create an environment of fear and coercion within every public school. That approach doesn’t work to motivate kids and it won’t for teachers either. Places such as Finland understand that the more you both support schools (not just financially) and respect them enough to do the best they can for them and their kids, the better the results. We’re too busy mindlessly squabbling over petty political issues to allow such wisdom.

  99. Axolotl says

    PZ-
    Are you serious? Do you actually believe that other countries can do anything better than here in the good ol’ US of A? And especially … FINLAND!! I mean, isn’t that in Europe somewhere… close to France???!!!! What are you thinking????!!!!!!

    If anyone in Amerika wants a good edumacation, they can start their own business, get rich, and go to Oral Roberts U, Bob Jones U, Liberty U, or some other fine US edumacation institution that has a Bible-based curriculium … er … currliculim … er … learnin!!!

    Love it or Leave it … !!!!!

  100. says

    Incidentally, there’s an election coming up in my German city in two weeks. There’s a far right nationalist party whose campaign posters state: “Finland: best schools, 2% foreigners”.

    Apparently, according to right-wingers, the key to a good education is getting rid of the Ausländer.
    Trust me, no matter how many essays you write about how to make a good school system, slogans such as this one will be the only thing they will absorb.

    Parody! Replacement! Defacement!

    “Finland: best schools, least far right nationalists.”

  101. says

    Brilliant freaking post, Greg Van Hee, on the whole. This especially:

    Imagine excellent teachers achieving at least a social status somewhat equal to other highly valued professions. Imagine a society that gives that respect and support to those who educate their young with the expectation that they, the teachers, are adults who will live up to that respect and the abiding highest expectations that accompany it.

    Yes. Teachers should be thought of the way we think of the top tier of jobs in this country. Saying, “I am a teacher” should command the kind of immediate respect as saying “I’m an MD.” Parents should be proud that their children are marrying teachers. They should be the kind of people whom we are in awe of, and whose lives we envy, and wish to emulate. When you hear “I’m a teacher” in conversation, your reaction shouldn’t be a tinge of pity and “oh, I don’t know how you do that, you altruistic soul, you!” It should be one of awe. There should be jokes & sayings about teaching that rival the ones on brain surgery & rocket science.

    Teachers should be trained like doctors, paid like lawyers, and vetted like astronauts. Right now they’re paid like janitors and treated worse; blamed for the inadequacies of an underfunded, over interfered with system that has been dogged by people who want to destroy it since its inception.

    Others who have said school needs to be depoliticized are absolutely right. We cannot pretend for a moment that the two sides have “different but equal” views on what to do about it when, if it comes down to budget cuts, one side goes to cut education first every fucking time like the Republicans do now. We’re talking billions upon billions of cuts in state education budgets nationwide over the past few years since the recession hit, in a system that is already struggling! And then these stupid, insidious, ignorant scumbags have the gall to claim that public education is a conceptual failure, and proceed with pushing vouchers once again. It may be true, that in the right circumstances vouchers will help specific children in the short run, but it amounts to selling off our future to the lowest bidder in the long run.

    Not good enough. Not nearly good enough.

  102. Orion says

    “The school where Louhivuori teaches served 240 first through ninth graders last year; and 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.”

    ^ For those saying that cultural and ethnic homogeneity will kill this system.

    The real test will be if the Finns can maintain a system that works against anti-immigrant, racist and immigrant minority pressure.

  103. madtom1999 says

    Steal? You don’t steal lessons from your teachers do you?
    Call it learning – call it anything but damned pinko commie sharing or stealing.
    I doubt there’s any ‘stealing’ to do anyway. There will be ideas that have been around for centuries that are tried and tested but failed to monetise enough for some greedy bastard somewhere that just need to be re-instated.
    If you are a teacher of some form I’d recommend you put the ‘paperwork’ of your lessons into html format and share them with the world using creative commons share-alike copyright license.
    Ideally lessons could be scientifically categorised for their effectiveness but given maths for 18 years olds in UK is at the level it was for 16 year olds in the early 1970’s I don’t hold out much hope..

  104. defides says

    Isn’t it all to do with the fact that the more interested a country is in personal liberty, the more everyone thinks that their opinion – about education, in this case – is just as important as anyone else’s; including teachers and education professionals. While countries are thinking in collective terms – that is, what is good for the country may be at least as or possibly more important that what is good for me – then they are happy to leave education in the hands of the professionals.

    Once you get people who get elected onto school boards and interfere with the running of schools only for so long as their kids are there, and then disappear, you have a recipe for disaster.

    That happened over here. For some reason, it was decided that the way to deal with faults and failings in the school system was to get parents involved, and take power away from Local Education Authorities, who knew what they were doing. This of course gave parents just enough influence to disrupt the whole thing, without any knowledge or responsibility to go with the power.

  105. Mikko H says

    go to Oral Roberts U

    Every time I see that name I want to found Anal Roberts and Vaginal Roberts universities.

  106. AussieMike says

    @wormman
    Yes I do mean the education industry. I am also from QLD and while not a teacher myself I partner with a small team of former teachers who run a well received professional developmet practise looking at the higher order thinking skills. They agree that corporatisation and data driven performance tactics are useless.

  107. Richard H says

    FWIW (not a lot), “Errant nonsense, up with which I shall not put.” isn’t really an example of a stranded preposition to begin with. It’s a mangling of the inseparable phrasal verb “put-up-with”.

  108. Acipenser says

    Steal the education system? You can’t really steal it, since we still get to keep it. (Though that point may or may not be disputed by the music and software industries.)

    Call it homage and you’re welcome to copy it, though.

    A detail: someone said that all schools get paid the same. Close, but not quite true: for example in Helsinki (the capital) there is a system of positive discrimination funding which gives extra funds to schools who have a greater population of challenging students.

    A comment: Someone asked how to get good quality teachers. Train them well to a master’s degree level in education, and require such training from all those hoping to teach. Funnily, the only level of education where a teacher isn’t required to have studies in education in Finland is the university level. I guess they trust the students at that level to make sure they learn.

  109. Scott says

    In Ohio in 1990, the state supreme court said that the state’s funding system was unconstitutional and ordered the legislature to fix it. 21 years later, nothing has been done, and the disparities between districts are mind-blowing. Individual states could adopt the Finnish system.

  110. Mark says

    We cannot pretend for a moment that the two sides have “different but equal” views on what to do about it when, if it comes down to budget cuts, one side goes to cut education first every fucking time like the Republicans do now. We’re talking billions upon billions of cuts in state education budgets nationwide over the past few years since the recession hit, in a system that is already struggling! And then these stupid, insidious, ignorant scumbags have the gall to claim that public education is a conceptual failure, and proceed with pushing vouchers once again.

    If Republicans’ policy is to ‘cut education first every fucking time’ they haven’t been doing a very good job of it. Per pupil/year spending has more than doubled since 1970, and I don’t think Democrats have retained control of government during that time. Besides, here in Illinois it isn’t the Republicans looking to cut school funding, it’s Democrats–and this despite more than doubling state income tax withholding this year.

    Another poster suggested since many schools derive funding locally, spending isn’t equitable across districts, and that this disparity in spending accounts for the disparities in student performance. I can’t speak for other parts of the country, but here in Illinois where I live that isn’t the case at all. The state’s best performing elementary school (based on ISAT reading and math scores) is Bartelso (district 57), which spends less than $7,000 per student annually. Compare that to East St Louis (district 189) which spends nearly $11,000 per student and ranks 704th out of 834 districts. Indeed, if money were the answer how does one explain the disparity between Bartelso’s #1 ranking in IL school districts while spending under $7,000 per pupil/year with Niles Township (district 2) which spends nearly $28,000 per pupil/year–roughly four times Bartelso–yet ranks #249 of 834?

    Perhaps it has something to do with Administration. The top 100 school administrators in IL represent a nearly $1 billion liability for taxpayers. Note the Niles township’s Administrator’s salary and projected retirement.

    BTW, Skokie, IL (Niles Township school district)–near the Chicago area–is in an election district represented by Democrats while Bartelso is represented by Republican.

    This makes clear to me the problem with education in American can’t be defined by partisanship, nor is it a lack of money for schools. It seems to me government decisions regarding school funding and administration are largely driven by political concerns rather than practical ones. Given that, doesn’t it make sense to give government LESS control over such decisions?

  111. rgmani says

    The other world-wide educational systems that do very well such as South Korea are heavily unionized, too.

    As best as I can tell South Korea is not heavily unionized. As per the Wikipedia article on the Korean Teachers Union …

    The organization has 77,000 members (down from 94,000) among the 360,000 public and private school teachers in the country.

    That essentially means that less than a quarter of teachers in the country are unionized and, from what I understand, the union is not very powerful. South Korea also tests like crazy. This makes it very different from Finland – yet its students do just about as well as those from Finland.

    I think the lessons we are trying to take from articles such as these are way too simplistic. Just because Finland does great does not mean that teachers unions are great and that testing is bad. Just because South Korea does great does not mean that unions can be done away with and that testing is great.

    Each country has its unique set of problems that cannot be solved by stealing a solution that worked for some other country. We cannot solve our education issues by stealing Finland’s or anyone else’s education system. We have to find a solution ourselves that works for us. Unfortunately, we don’t seem close to finding one yet.

    Raghu

  112. kantalope says

    Argh- I am so tired of this meme: “Per pupil/year spending has more than doubled since 1970″ and it keeps coming up. Must be in a FauxNews talking points document somewhere and keeps getting passed around.
    If you only doubled spending since 1970, because of inflation, you would only be buying 2/5 as much learnin. If you want a meaningful doubling of expenditures you will need to double spending from around the mid 80’s – anything else and you are treading water or moving backwards. (This is kind of a handy website for doing calculations: http://www.measuringworth.com/ppowerus/ or http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm)

  113. rgmani says

    Argh- I am so tired of this meme: “Per pupil/year spending has more than doubled since 1970″ and it keeps coming up. Must be in a FauxNews talking points document somewhere and keeps getting passed around.
    If you only doubled spending since 1970, because of inflation, you would only be buying 2/5 as much learnin.

    Well, from what I understand, inflation-adjusted per pupil spending has doubled but a lot of this increase has gone into special education and other areas that were in truly abysmal shape in the past – and these areas have gotten better. So the amount of extra money going to the typical student has not increased quite so much. Still, there has been an increase which is seen in the reduction in average class size.

    Raghu

  114. anteprepro says

    Mark, regarding school funding and test scores, here are three relevant links:

    http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20110603/ARTICLES/110609817
    This one agrees with you (the next two don’t): “County schools chief Steve Herrington said he agrees with findings by the investigative journalism organization California Watch, based on statistics from more than 900 school districts statewide, that there is scant correlation between per-pupil spending and test scores.

    Money plays a major role in academic achievement at California public schools, Herrington and other educators said, but it’s household income rather than school district revenue that boosts test scores.”

    http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=1428
    “Student achievement is linked to school funding levels. While some researchers in the 1980s and 1990s suggested that school funding levels and student achievement are largely unrelated, more recent studies have contradicted this claim. A comprehensive review of over 60 statistical analyses that examine the link between school inputs, such as funding levels and student poverty rates, and school outcomes, such as test scores and graduation rates, indicates that school funding and student performance are strongly related.” (Relevant citation is Rob Greenwald, Larry V. Hedges, Richard D. Laine, “The Effect of School Resources on Student Achievement,” Review of Educational Research, 1996.)

    http://www.grin.com/en/doc/233205/the-buck-stops-here-a-correlation-coefficient-study-of-standardized-test
    “The purpose of the study was to determine if a relationship exited between standardized test scores and per pupil revenue at the district level. The study focused on 47 different school districts in Minnesota…. The results of this study pointed to statistically significant correlation coefficients with respect to the variables”

    So, there is some data out there both supporting the idea that test scores and funding are related and unrelated. Though, the stats cited in the first article are second-hand, with no mention of the actual relevant study given, so I feel that, given these “first three articles I found on Google” sample, the case FOR such a relationship is better than the case against.

    Addendum: I found the relevant data on California Watch, and it was just data (no stats given). But I did the correlation for the data and it was -0.09, given in Excel, for funding vs. test scores. So their data set checks out, at least, and I must admit that the issue is far less clear than I would have imagined.

  115. tourette says

    There is a corollary.

    http://www.finlandforthought.net/2007/06/21/jantes-law/

    The system was a 70’s import from the DDR.

    “The differences between weakest and strongest students are the smallest in the world… “Equality is the most important word in Finnish education…”

    Statistics obviously isn’t Olli’s forte… the root cause is that the most talented are left behind. I went thru the system myself at its most dumbed-down, absolute-equality-for-all phase in the 80’s, and let me tell you, here is why Finland as a whole is doomed to utter mediocrity.

    The lowest common denominator isn’t really that common.

    Sure, the overall picture is very good. True 100% literacy, high average results on many fronts. But there is a place for competition as well, for some. This part fails and will continue to do so, because the majority can’t handle the fact that it’d be good to entice some to go the extra mile, to benefit everyone in the end.

    To update Churchill: the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of mediocrity.

    Everything about the Finnish society is geared towards this twisted equality: progressive taxation, open hostility towards entrepreneurship, sweeping political correctness. All incentive is designed to motivate you to drop the ball at the 80th percentile and call it a day.

    Finland is staunchly refusing any meaningful cuts to its absurdly heavy public spending, which is leading to unbearable debt. In a Jantean logic, they keep arguing the order in which the taxation should be further tightened. Only Sweden and Denmark tax their residents heavier IIRC.

    To directly quote Thatcher: “Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people’s money.”

    All of this IMHO hails back to the Jante Law which permeates my former homeland. This is why I’m not considering repatriation any time soon, if ever.

  116. Thomathy, now gayer and atheister says

    Swann @ #47, I believe you are overestimating the ease of literacy. The orthography of Finnish isn’t unique in matching the phonetics of the language. Most romance languages, German and several Slav languages to name some, also have fairly well matched orthography and phonetics.

    There may be a corelation, but there isn’t an indication that having a phonetic orthography is causative in this case. Almost universally, the ability to read is aqcuired at about the same age, independant of the orthography of the language.

    Look at Japan, for instance, where there is a very high degree of literacy, yet Japanese orthography is made up of three different systems, kanji, katakana and hiragana, and while the latter two represent phonemes, they don’t represent aspects of pitch that are integral to the language. Also, I should point out that native English speakers have a very high rate of childhood literacy. And that’s English which is so far from having a phonetic orthography that the alphabet is almost oxymoronic and which also has an incredibly large variety of phonemes, even among native speaker who live less than 1Km from each other.

    I can appreciate that the Finnish educational system might benefit from some extraneous circumstances, but Finnish itself probably isn’t one of them.

  117. Thomathy, now gayer and atheister says

    Hmm …that’s written poorly.

    I mean to have written:

    And that’s English which is so far from having a phonetic orthography that the alphabet is almost oxymoronic and which also has an incredibly large and diverse variety of phonemes, even between native speakers who live less than 1Km from each other. (Case in point: differences between speakers from Windsor, ON and speakers from Detroit, MI -separated by a narrow river, some of these speakers can’t even comprehend each other, thought they’re all speaking ostensibly the same language.)

  118. Linnea the lurker says

    “The differences between weakest and strongest students are the smallest in the world… “Equality is the most important word in Finnish education…”

    Statistics obviously isn’t Olli’s forte… the root cause is that the most talented are left behind. I went thru the system myself at its most dumbed-down, absolute-equality-for-all phase in the 80′s, and let me tell you, here is why Finland as a whole is doomed to utter mediocrity.

    Let me get this straight, tourette:

    The average achievement of Finnish students is among the highest in the world.

    And the differences between the strongest and and weakest students are the smallest.

    And you’re that saying this equals “mediocrity”? That it would be better to have more students doing poorly, if that also meant having a few students doing very well?

    What do you suppose the purpose of an education system is?

  119. tourette says

    Linnea:

    “… the differences between the strongest and and weakest students are the smallest.

    And you’re that saying this equals “mediocrity”? ”

    No, I’m not. I’m saying that the talented end of the bell curve is paying the price, and ultimately always winds up paying in that society.

    “That it would be better to have more students doing poorly, if that also meant having a few students doing very well?”

    I would partially call that a strawman and partially non sequitur, not sure. You see, I was never taught the basics of solid argumentation in debate in that school system, so I’ve had to pick it up along the way.

    “What do you suppose the purpose of an education system is?”

    I suppose it would be to help everyone be the very best they can be.

    The Finnish system is doing quite admirably in picking up the trail end of the normal distribution – but failing badly in realising the full potential in the above average area.

    And my main point is that going above average is shunned in that society. Did you read up on the Jante Law? It is no joke, trust me.

  120. tourette says

    Perhaps a better take on this: “The average achievement of Finnish students is among the highest in the world.

    And the differences between the strongest and and weakest students are the smallest.” would be that the average is driven up by two factors.

    1: bringing up the low end of the bell curve, which is a good thing for everybody in itself.
    2: bringing down the top end of the bell curve, which is a bad thing for everybody.

    Why does this happen? I see two things.

    1: priorization of helping the weak first, which is a good thing.
    2: Jante Law, which leads to never really getting to the arduous task of pushing the top end, and is an evil thing.

    All of this has led the Finnish society to underachieve as a whole. Albeit in a peaceful, docile way.

  121. Mikko H says

    Linnea the lurker:

    What do you suppose the purpose of an education system is?

    I’m not tourette, but in a sentence: the purpose is to uphold the status quo of the society. To put it bluntly, to learn to jump when the bell rings and to ask for permission to go to the loo. This is quite plain to see if you read about the history of modern mass schooling. Everybody gets a similar schooling (note that this is a different thing from ‘education’) so they can be good worker bees that don’t get too many unsuitable ideas in their heads. The more talented or privileged individuals get selected in one way or another for a long schooling so they can renew the elite and keep up the higher level functions of the society. And for the record, Finland was just ranked as the world’s most stable society.

  122. says

    tourette, I think you misunderstand the nature of the educational system. The goal of a system should be to ensure that as many people as possible get a good education. When I was growing up as a child in the Australian education system, I had the same complaint as you – that it was going too slow and it was holding me back. Yet the goal of the system is to ensure an educated population, it’s a good thing that the classes were going as fast as most people could handle them, and that those who it was going too fast for got extra attention.

    No, I’m not. I’m saying that the talented end of the bell curve is paying the price, and ultimately always winds up paying in that society.

    Sorry, but this is absolute bullshit. The talented end of the bell curve will remain talented – talented people tend to have that quality, and I’m surprised you think that being spoon-fed by teachers is the essential ingredient for talented people. What happened to self-development, and the role of parents?

    Atlas Shrugged is a work of fiction, for the record.

  123. pat tolle says

    It was said that Finland decided as a society that education was important.One of the most significant decisions that could be reached followed closely IMO by the one regarding just what constitutes a “good” education and a “well-educated”individual”.Neither of which has been done in this country and I see no real improvement until such time as those things are debated and decisions reached.Having those targets also make curriculum and teacher training questions a little easier to answer.

  124. Valine says

    I cannot agree with the mixed ability classes. I was in a mixed age class (4th/5th grades mixed) and as a fourth grader it was a nice change. If, however, I had been placed in effectively the same circumstances the next year, I would have been miserable. Every course I have ever taken where I was forced to learn with less capable students has resulted in good students being slowed down, with maybe a small improvement in the learning of bad students.

    I think Nerd of Redhead is correct, though. Parents have the most power over their child’s education, mainly by reading to them early and often, and trying to excite them about history, science, math, etc. And there isn’t much one can do about the lackluster parenting that causes problems for teachers.

    As for teaching, taking a grassroots, locally oriented, bottom up approach can only work if the grassroots haven’t already been poisoned by decades of misinformation and partisanship. Teachers being in charge of the curriculum is a great idea if the teachers are already well qualified. I didn’t attend a school where this was the case, though, and I don’t think it would have worked there. If someone had told me that teaching standards were being designed by locals from my town, I would have run away from school.

    There isn’t anything wrong with a centralized educational system, as long as it isn’t tampered with by idiots trying to score political points with their barely sentient base.

  125. Linnea the lurker says

    The Finnish system is doing quite admirably in picking up the trail end of the normal distribution – but failing badly in realising the full potential in the above average area.

    And the evidence for this is . . . ?

    At least with regard to whatever it is that the PISA test measures, Finns are, on average, doing better than other countries. So obviously the system boosts the low-achievers more than it pulls down the high-achievers (if in fact it does pull the high-achievers down at all; you have asserted this but not demonstrated it).

  126. Teshi says

    I am a teacher.

    1.

    Correct. While setting is great for the top students, it is crap for the lower ones. Norway, from the comments above, does mixed ability over setting and gets a boost from there. Canada does mixed ability until high school where classes are partly chosen, partly assigned. The result is higher low-achievers. The UK, where I presently teach, sets everyone from quite early on, especially in English and Mathematics. The result is very bright top students and very (in some cases astonishingly) poor lower ones. This is bad for a society where the amount of jobs that only require low education levels (that is, actual ability not qualifications) are dwindling.

    Private education where it is dominant are a form of setting: wealthy parents who on average have often put more thought into their children’s education (given they often have a better one themselves), are taken out of the schools, resulting in a lower selected group.

    This does not mean there is no place for private education, only that it shouldn’t be the best option by a mile, but that is a statement and not a solution.

    2. Some people have suggested a national curriculum. I think this is largely unnecessary. In a small country, like Norway, a national curriculum emcompasses a state-sized number of people.

    I’ve taught in a private elementary school with a school-specific curriculum that worked towards a standard expected by next schools (e.g. secondary private schools). Provided the state insists curriculum be secular, environmentally friendly, nationally applicable and culturally responsive, and provided the state or nation sets relatively uniform goals for English, maths and science of graduates of certain levels of schooling, there’s no reason why states or even councils shouldn’t themselves provide the details.

    What children learn, provided it is sensible and not crazy, is much less important than that they learn how to learn. For example, one elementary classroom, run by someone who loves insects, could spend a whole year learning everything about insects covering other subjects in the process and it wouldn’t impact their future work-successs against one that spent a year studying the War of Independance in depth. Obviously, this is provided basic understanding of all subjects is conveyed through the teaching, and applies much more to elementary curricula than high school level curricula where, for example, learning about specific scientific concepts is crucial for university or college or workplace success.

    3. Look after teachers and make it a decent, well-paid job. Ensure new teachers enter the system regularly. Way up there someone mentioned how Canada is struggling under lingering aged teachers who stretch their retirement and after having retired return to do supply work. Not all of these teachers are poor but teaching is pretty hard gig and it does take its toll after a while. Young teachers are sprightly(er) and idealistic, and they often don’t have to go home to look after a family at the end of the day.

    Ensure teachers do not have to work ridiculous hours. Again, someone mentioned above how ‘good’ teachers are expected to work into the night because if they care for their students that’s all they care about. Often, this is because assessment practices have become complex and bureaucratic. I spoke to one British teacher whose school went into ‘Special Measures’ which is panic-stations for an unnsuccessful school. Basically, more accountability was insitituted requiring each lesson was written out clearly and submitted beforehand, which is hours of work.

    Perhaps this increases the structured nature of the classes and ensures that each lesson is clearly defined, but it is not the be-all end-all of teaching and tires teachers out when they need to be at the top of their game.

    Teachers need to be compensated fairly the work they do: they need to be paid well, given good working conditions and provided with support. Support can be enough teachers or teaching assistants in the budget, strong administration, excellent access to resources, reduced bureaucracy, access to legal counsel, and enough preparation time.

    This last thing is crucial. If an elementary teacher is going to prepare sensible lessons, he or she needs time in his or her working day to prepare them. He or she also needs time to assess work completed during the week. As gym, music, art and other speciality teachers are budgeted out, the time and brainpower demands on an elementary teacher skyrocket. Imagine, non-teachers, providing a meaningful curriculum in something you know very little about and last studied when you yourself were a child. The expectations on teachers to produce lessons on every subject under the sun is quite unrealistic and I think considerably lowers the quality of education available in these often beloved subjects.

    I say this as some who has quite a broad experience in subjects (such as a musical and artistic background on top of a good understanding of English, mathematics, science, history etc.): I still lack ability when teaching gym. How is this fair to any potential children I teach for that subject?

    4. Save the children before they come to school and shortly thereafter. Children best learn to read, learn to like to read, with their parents. There parents read them stories and then teach them how to recognise words and read stories of their own. Children who start school without knowing already at least how a written sentence sounds are at a distinct disadvantage that will likely haunt them for the rest of their life.

    Note how this isn’t “how a story progresses” (although that will help as well) or “how to read novels”, but how a written sentence is constructed. It’s different from how we speak.

    It is not important when children start school, but it is important that children start to learn the moment they are born. Most of this will come from the parents. If the parents aren’t able to provide this (for any reason) the child will enter school behind.

    You know those parents who take their little children around without talking to them, then shout at them when they do something wrong. A teacher has to deal with that child whose experience of communication is not only limited but rests on disobedience. This is not necessarily malice. Most of the time it is ignorance. if a teacher works with a parent to improve a child’s communication skills once they reach school it is obviously a pattern that is set.

    One child like this is a huge drain on a teacher’s mental and physical resources and time. It is unbelievably important to an education system that parents are educated about raising children as much as possible during those early months and years because while it will not save every child it will at least ensure that parents are aware, specifically, of exactly how to help their child.

    Education doesn’t start on the first day of kindergarten. The vast majority of education has already occurred once a hapless, 24-year-old or 68-year-old teacher smiles at a new flock of children on the first day of kindergarten.

    They know that the child they’re smiling at might know how to read, might know how to dress themselves and know what a sentence is like and how a story goes. They might know that milk comes from cows and clouds are made of water that falls as rain. They might know that talking is better than fighting and sharing together is better than survival alone.

    But they might not know any of those things. The child came in the door on their back foot. Money, time and effort needs to go into early years education and remedial socialization and reading by a December kindergarten assessment. This means having more adults or teenagers in the classroom reading with and talking with children one-on-one, taking them on a field trips to farms and firestations– doing parent things.

  127. says

    The Finnish spelling system is so easy that children learn to read before starting school.
    (The language itself has its difficulties, admittedly.)
    If we took the unnecessary difficulties out of our spelling, then we would not have such a huge burden of school failure and adult poor literacy in spite of such huge expenditure on education.

    Yes, other things matter too, but spelling is one thing we could easily repair without major alteration to the appearance of print.

    See 2011, ‘Recent developments which affect spelling. On the possibility of removing the unnecessary difficulties in English spelling, while leaving the basic appearance of English print intact.’ English Today, 107, vol 27, No 3. Sept 2011, pp 62-67

  128. Mike says

    It isn’t mentioned anywhere in the article and it is hard to tell exactly what they are using but what little description of the methods they use we did get it sounds a lot like Waldorf.

  129. Nick Danger says

    Brownian: “I’m sorry for playing grammar hardass”

    No, Brownian, you were playing grammar ignoramus.

  130. Nick Danger says

    “I still lack ability when teaching gym.”

    Let me instruct you: Say, “Here is a ball. Play.”

    Now you have the ability.