Privatizing isn’t the answer, rote tests are irrelevant, and competition doesn’t help win. Those are a few of the lessons Finland learned that made its schools world leaders in education. So why would we consider letting Atlanta force privatized charter schools on us?
Anu Partanen wrote for the Atlantic 29 December 2011, What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success
“Oh,” he mentioned at one point, “and there are no private schools in Finland.”
Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education’s Center for International Mobility and author of the new book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland, said that offhand while talking at a private school in New York. Nobody seemed to pay much attention. Maybe we should.
He also noted Finland has no standardized tests until the equivalent of high school graduation, and they don’t have any particular system for accountability for teachers or administrators.
“Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”
So why do teachers and administrators in Finland so successfully take that responsibility?
For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master’s degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal’s responsibility to notice and deal with it.
Not only is there no word for accountability in Finnish, but Finns also don’t much care for competition.
“Real winners do not compete.”
So what did they do?
Decades ago, when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity.
Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.
In the Finnish view, as Sahlberg describes it, this means that schools should be healthy, safe environments for children. This starts with the basics. Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance.
Everyone knows the root cause of poor school performance around here: poverty. As Valdosta School Superintendent Cason said in March:
They come to school hungry; they come to school homeless.
Maybe we should try some of what Finland did: feed the students, provide them physical and mental health care and guidance, while paying educators enough for them to take the responsibility we can give them to get on with education.
When Finnish policymakers decided to reform the country’s education system in the 1970s, they did so because they realized that to be competitive, Finland couldn’t rely on manufacturing or its scant natural resources and instead had to invest in a knowledge-based economy.
Improving our public schools and helping our students learn in them can help with that.
Atlanta-imposed charter schools that would spend more money per pupil by taking it away from public schools and are backed by corporate profit pressure panel ALEC are not a solution. You can vote no on that in November.