Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The American Teacher (Documentary)

AMERICAN TEACHER is the feature-length documentary produced and directed by Academy Award--winning filmmaker Vanessa Roth; produced by Nínive Calegari, co-founder of the literacy non-profit 826 National, and best-selling author Dave Eggers; and narrated by Academy Award-winner Matt Damon. 

AMERICAN TEACHER chronicles the stories of four teachers - Erik Benner, Jonathan Dearman, Jamie Fidler, and Rhena Jasey - who live and work in disparate urban and rural areas of the country. By following these teachers as they reach different milestones in their careers, the film tells the deeper story of the teaching profession in America today. The film shows us the experience of these four young teachers as they recognize the importance of what they do, and how much they love what they do, but ask: can I afford to continue to teach?

Visit a series of movie clips on YouTube.

1. The American Teacher - Opening trailer:    Click here

2.  Everyone has had teachers -- but how much do you REALLY know about the profession? This piece may enlighten you.  Click here.

Schools We Can Envy

by  Diane Ravitch

Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?
by Pasi Sahlberg, with a foreword by Andy Hargreaves 
Teachers College Press, 167 pp., $34.95 (paper)                                                  

Tuomas Uusheimo

The Kirkkojärvi School in Espoo, Finland, which accommodates about 770 students aged seven to sixteen and also includes a preschool for six-year-olds; from the Museum of Finnish Architecture’s exhibition ‘The Best School in the World: Seven Finnish Examples from the 21st Century,’ which will be on view at the American Institute of Architects’ Center for Architecture in New York City this fall

In recent years, elected officials and policymakers such as former president George W. Bush, former schools chancellor Joel Klein in New York City, former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C., and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have agreed that there should be “no excuses” for schools with low test scores. The “no excuses” reformers maintain that all children can attain academic proficiency without regard to poverty, disability, or other conditions, and that someone must be held accountable if they do not. That someone is invariably their teachers.

Nothing is said about holding accountable the district leadership or the elected officials who determine such crucial issues as funding, class size, and resource allocation. The reformers say that our economy is in jeopardy, not because of growing poverty or income inequality or the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs, but because of bad teachers. These bad teachers must be found out and thrown out. Any laws, regulations, or contracts that protect these pedagogical malefactors must be eliminated so that they can be quickly removed without regard to experience, seniority, or due process.

The belief that schools alone can overcome the effects of poverty may be traced back many decades but its most recent manifestation was a short book published in 2000 by the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., titled No Excuses. In this book, Samuel Casey Carter identified twenty-one high-poverty schools with high test scores. Over the past decade, influential figures in public life have decreed that school reform is the key to fixing poverty. Bill Gates told the National Urban League, “Let’s end the myth that we have to solve poverty before we improve education. I say it’s more the other way around: improving education is the best way to solve poverty.” Gates never explains why a rich and powerful society like our own cannot address both poverty and school improvement at the same time.

For a while, the Gates Foundation thought that small high schools were the answer, but Gates now believes that teacher evaluation is the primary ingredient of school reform. The Gates Foundation has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars to school districts to develop new teacher evaluation systems. In 2009, the nation’s chief reformer, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, launched a $4.35 billion competitive program called Race to the Top, which required states to evaluate teachers by student test scores and to remove the limits on privately managed charter schools.

The main mechanism of school reform today is to identify teachers who can raise their students’ test scores every year. If the scores go up, reformers assume, then the students will enroll in college and poverty will eventually disappear. This will happen, the reformers believe, if there is a “great teacher” in every classroom and if more schools are handed over to private managers, even for-profit corporations.

The reformers don’t care that standardized tests are prone to measurement error, sampling error, and other statistical errors. They don’t seem to care that experts like Robert L. Linn at the University of Colorado, Linda Darling-Hammond at Stanford, and Helen F. Ladd at Duke, as well as a commission of the National Research Council, have warned about misuse of standardized tests to hold individual teachers accountable with rewards or sanctions. Nor do they see the absurdity of gauging the quality of a teacher by the results of a multiple-choice test given to students on one day of the year.

Testing can provide useful information, showing students and teachers what is and is not being learned, and scores can be used to diagnose learning problems.1 But bad things happen when tests become too consequential for students, teachers, and schools, such as narrowing the curriculum only to what is tested or cheating or lowering standards to inflate scores. In response to the federal and state pressure to raise test scores, school districts across the nation have been reducing the time available for the arts, physical education, history, civics, and other nontested subjects. This will not improve education and is certain to damage its quality.

No nation in the world has eliminated poverty by firing teachers or by handing its public schools over to private managers; nor does research support either strategy.2   But these inconvenient facts do not reduce the reformers’ zeal. The new breed of school reformers consists mainly of Wall Street hedge fund managers, foundation officials, corporate executives, entrepreneurs, and policymakers, but few experienced educators. The reformers’ detachment from the realities of schooling and their indifference to research allow them to ignore the important influence of families and poverty. The schools can achieve miracles, the reformers assert, by relying on competition, deregulation, and management by data—strategies similar to the ones that helped produce the economic crash of 2008. In view of the reformers’ penchant for these strategies, educators tend to call them “corporate reformers,” to distinguish them from those who understand the complexities of school improvement.

The corporate reformers’ well-funded public relations campaign has succeeded in persuading elected officials that American public education needs shock therapy. One is tempted to forget that the United States is the largest and one of the most successful economies in the world, and that some part of this success must be attributed to the institutions that educated 90 percent of the people in this nation.

Faced with the relentless campaign against teachers and public education, educators have sought a different narrative, one free of the stigmatization by test scores and punishment favored by the corporate reformers. They have found it in Finland. Even the corporate reformers admire Finland, apparently not recognizing that Finland disproves every part of their agenda.

It is not unusual for Americans to hold up another nation as a model for school reform. In the mid-nineteenth century, American education leaders hailed the Prussian system for its professionalism and structure. In the 1960s, Americans flocked to England to marvel at its progressive schools. In the 1980s, envious Americans attributed the Japanese economic success to its school system. Now the most favored nation is Finland, and for four good reasons.

First, Finland has one of the highest-performing school systems in the world, as measured by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which assesses reading, mathematical literacy, and scientific literacy of fifteen-year-old students in all thirty-four nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), including the United States. Unlike our domestic tests, there are no consequences attached to the tests administered by the PISA. No individual or school learns its score. No one is rewarded or punished because of these tests. No one can prepare for them, nor is there any incentive to cheat.

Second, from an American perspective, Finland is an alternative universe. It rejects all of the “reforms” currently popular in the United States, such as testing, charter schools, vouchers, merit pay, competition, and evaluating teachers in relation to the test scores of their students.

Third, among the OECD nations, Finnish schools have the least variation in quality, meaning that they come closest to achieving equality of educational opportunity—an American ideal.

Fourth, Finland borrowed many of its most valued ideas from the United States, such as equality of educational opportunity, individualized instruction, portfolio assessment, and cooperative learning. Most of its borrowing derives from the work of the philosopher John Dewey.

In Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?, Pasi Sahlberg explains how his nation’s schools became successful. A government official, researcher, and former mathematics and science teacher, Sahlberg attributes the improvement of Finnish schools to bold decisions made in the 1960s and 1970s. Finland’s story is important, he writes, because “it gives hope to those who are losing their faith in public education.”

Detractors say that Finland performs well academically because it is ethnically homogeneous, but Sahlberg responds that “the same holds true for Japan, Shanghai or Korea,” which are admired by corporate reformers for their emphasis on testing. To detractors who say that Finland, with its population of 5.5 million people, is too small to serve as a model, Sahlberg responds that “about 30 states of the United States have a population close to or less than Finland.”

Sahlberg speaks directly to the sense of crisis about educational achievement in the United States and many other nations. US policymakers have turned to market-based solutions such as “tougher competition, more data, abolishing teacher unions, opening more charter schools, or employing corporate-world management models.” By contrast, Finland has spent the past forty years developing a different education system, one that is focused on improving the teaching force, limiting student testing to a necessary minimum, placing responsibility and trust before accountability, and handing over school- and district-level leadership to education professionals.

To an American observer, the most remarkable fact about Finnish education is that students do not take any standardized tests until the end of high school. They do take tests, but the tests are drawn up by their own teachers, not by a multinational testing corporation. The Finnish nine-year comprehensive school is a “standardized testing-free zone,” where children are encouraged “to know, to create, and to sustain natural curiosity.”

I met Pasi Sahlberg in December 2010. I was one of a dozen educators invited to the home of the Finnish consul in New York City to learn about the Finnish education system on the day after the release of the latest international test results. Once again, Finland was in the top tier of nations, as it has been for the past decade. Sahlberg assured the guests that Finnish educators don’t care about standardized test scores and welcomed the international results only because they protected the schools against conservative demands for testing and accountability.

Finnish teachers, Sahlberg said, are well educated, well prepared, and highly respected. They are paid about the same as teachers in the United States in comparison to other college graduates, but Finnish teachers with fifteen years’ experience in the classroom are paid more than their American counterparts. I asked Sahlberg how it was possible to hold teachers or schools accountable when there were no standardized tests. He replied that Finnish educators speak not of accountability, but of responsibility. He said, “Our teachers are very responsible; they are professionals.” When asked what happens to incompetent teachers, Sahlberg insisted that they would never be appointed; once qualified teachers are appointed, it is very difficult to remove them. When asked how Finnish teachers would react if they were told they would be judged by their students’ test scores, he replied, “They would walk out and they wouldn’t return until the authorities stopped this crazy idea.”

Sahlberg invited me to Finland to tour several schools, which I eventually did in September 2011. With Sahlberg as my guide, I visited bright, cheerful schools where students engaged in music, dramatics, play, and academic studies, with fifteen-minute recesses between classes. I spoke at length with teachers and principals in spacious, comfortable lounges. Free from the testing obsession that now consumes so much of the day in American schools, the staff has time to plan and discuss the students and the program.

Arno de la Chapelle

The Sakarinmäki and Östersundom School in Helsinki, which accommodates about 350 Finnish- and Swedish-speaking students aged seven to sixteen and also houses a daycare center

Before I left Finland, Sahlberg gave me a book called The Best School in the World: Seven Finnish Examples from the 21st Century,3 about the architecture of Finnish schools. The book is based on an exhibition presented at the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2010. When we visited one of the featured schools, I thought, how delightful to discover a nation that cares passionately about the physical environment in which children learn and adults work.

To be sure, Finland is an unusual nation. Its schools are carefully designed to address the academic, social, emotional, and physical needs of children, beginning at an early age. Free preschool programs are not compulsory, but they enroll 98 percent of children. Compulsory education begins at the age of seven. Finnish educators take care not to hold students back or label them as “failing,” since such actions would cause student failure, lessen student motivation, and increase social inequality. After nine years of comprehensive schooling, during which there is no tracking by ability, Finnish students choose whether to enroll in an academic or a vocational high school. About 42 percent choose the latter. The graduation rate is 93 percent, compared to about 80 percent in the US.
Finland’s highly developed teacher preparation program is the centerpiece of its school reform strategy. 

Only eight universities are permitted to prepare teachers, and admission to these elite teacher education programs is highly competitive: only one of every ten applicants is accepted. There are no alternative ways to earn a teaching license. Those who are accepted have already taken required high school courses in physics, chemistry, philosophy, music, and at least two foreign languages. Future teachers have a strong academic education for three years, then enter a two-year master’s degree program. Subject-matter teachers earn their master’s degree from the university’s academic departments, not—in contrast to the US—the department of teacher education, or in special schools for teacher education. Every candidate prepares to teach all kinds of students, including students with disabilities and other special needs. Every teacher must complete an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in education.

Because entry into teaching is difficult and the training is rigorous, teaching is a respected and prestigious profession in Finland. So selective and demanding is the process that virtually every teacher is well prepared. Sahlberg writes that teachers enter the profession with a sense of moral mission and the only reasons they might leave would be “if they were to lose their professional autonomy” or if “a merit-based compensation policy [tied to test scores] were imposed.” Meanwhile, the United States is now doing to its teachers what Finnish teachers would find professionally reprehensible: judging their worth by the test scores of their students.

Finland’s national curriculum in the arts and sciences describes what is to be learned but is not prescriptive about the details of what to teach or how to teach it. The national curriculum requires the teaching of a mother tongue (Finnish or Swedish), mathematics, foreign languages, history, biology, environmental science, religion, ethics, geography, chemistry, physics, music, visual arts, crafts, physical education, health, and other studies.

Teachers have wide latitude at each school in deciding what to teach, how to teach, and how to gauge their pupils’ progress. Finnish educators agree that “every child has the right to get personalized support provided early on by trained professionals as part of normal schooling.” 
Sahlberg estimates that some 50 percent of students receive attention from specialists in the early years of schooling. Teachers and principals frequently collaborate to discuss the needs of the students and the school. As a result of these policies, Sahlberg writes,

Most visitors to Finland discover elegant school buildings filled with calm children and highly educated teachers. They also recognize the large amount of autonomy that schools enjoy: little interference by the central education administration in schools’ everyday lives, systematic methods for addressing problems in the lives of students, and targeted professional help for those in need.

The children of Finland enjoy certain important advantages over our own children. The nation has a strong social welfare safety net, for which it pays with high taxes. More than 20 percent of our children live in poverty, while fewer than 4 percent of Finnish children do. Many children in the United States do not have access to regular medical care, but all Finnish children receive comprehensive health services and a free lunch every day. Higher education is tuition-free.

Sahlberg recognizes that Finland stands outside what he refers to as the “Global Education Reform Movement,” to which he appends the apt acronym “GERM.” GERM, he notes, is a virus that has infected not only the United States, but the United Kingdom, Australia, and many other nations. 

President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law and President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program are examples of the global education reform movement. Both promote standardized testing as the most reliable measure of success for students, teachers, and schools; privatization in the form of schools being transferred to private management; standardization of curriculum; and test-based accountability such as merit pay for high scores, closing schools with low scores, and firing educators for low scores.

  • 1
    The best explanation of standardized testing is Daniel Koretz’s Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us (Harvard University Press, 2008). 
  • 2
    See Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education , edited by Michael Hout and Stuart W. Elliott (National Academies Press, 2011); Economic Policy Institute, “Problems with the Use of Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers,” August 29, 2010; and Center for Research on Education Outcomes, “Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States,” Stanford University, June 2009. 
  • 3
    With essays by Pasi Sahlberg and others (Helsinki: Art-Print Oy, 2011), published in conjunction with the exhibition “The Best School in the World,” hosted by the Museum of Finnish Architecture in Helsinki, June 8–September 25, 2011. The exhibition will open in October 2012 at the American Institute of Architects’ Center for Architecture in New York City. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Religion: A Cancer In Public Education

By Louis Thomas

Before anyone becomes emotional or defensive about the title, let me explain what I am discussing. This is not a criticism of anyone’s belief in God or any power greater than ourselves. It is not an attack on Christianity or Mormonism or any specific religion. Nor is this a discussion as to whether there is or is not a God.

Let’s be very clear, what I call religion in this context are certain practices of churches and their attempts to control public education in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Their aim is to control what children learn, what teachers teach and what the purposes of public education should be. They aim at total control of individual liberty.

What some churches do today is far removed from the teachings of great moral individuals like Abraham, Jesus, Mohammed, Gandhi, Switzer or King. Rather, they preach intolerance, scorn for those who believe differently than they do and rigid adherence to church power rather than to individual conscience. They preach hatred for their enemies, holiness of money and acceptance of racism. How often have you heard that Mormons are not Christians, that Jews are infidels, that Muslims are out to kill everyone or that the other religion is false and one’s God is better than the other person’s God.

Now let me discuss the central issue of this paper - religion as a cancer in pubic education. Religion, like cancer, attacks the various “organs” of public schools.

First is the attack on personal health. Religious extremists object to the teaching of sex education and any mention of contraceptive and the use of biological names of body parts. Knowledge of these topics, they claim, will lead to a greater number of young people to engage in sexual activity. The opposite is true. Knowledge prevents engagements in unhealthy sexual activities. It leads to a reduction of unwanted pregnancies. The healthy habits of young people improve greatly when they have knowledge of the dangers involved in pre-marital sex. The abstinence only sex education programs have been a miserable failure by any standard to measure their effectiveness. The health of our children is dependent on an understanding of how their bodies work - period.

Second there is the attack on science. Objections to the teaching of evolution, biology and anthropology are numerous and wide spread. The critics desire to submit creationism, intelligent design and original sin into the curriculum of the schools. All of these efforts are in contradiction to scientific knowledge and to the separation of church and state - as required by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Critics certainly have the right to believe items based on faith; but there is no justification for teaching faith-based beliefs in public education.

Third there is the attacks on history. Attempts to “prove” that this nation was founded on Christian principles is a strong desire of public education critics. They try to establish that our Founding Fathers were devoted Christians or holy men who lived pure lives. History, however, is clear. Most “Founders” rarely attended church, owned slaves, and wrote very little about religious topics. Jefferson denied the deity of Jesus, Washington rarely attended church and often criticized it. Of the “Founders” only John Adams was a practicing Christian who professed his strong religious beliefs. Most of these men who revolted against England were Deists who insisted on the separation of church and state.

We as a nation are blessed to have an Amendment in our Constitution that requires the separation of government activities from personal actions. As individuals we can express our religious beliefs at anytime in any place. But schools, as a government service, cannot , and shall not, be involved in religious actions or the promotion of religious beliefs. To do so is to feed the cancer that will destroy public education. That is something that a democratic nation cannot allow to occur. And we should all be diligent to prevent misguided individuals from infecting our public schools with religious causes.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Postings by Author (2/24/12)

Author Date The Horace Mann League Blog  (
Abrams, Samuel 12-Feb What the United States could learn from Finland about education reform.
Ayers, John 12-Jan A Discussion on Charter Schools
Bagin, Richard 11-Jun Disabling the Education-Bashing Bandwagon ... 
Baker & Weiner 11-Dec Productivity Research, U.S. Dept. of Ed., and High Quality Evidence
Barkan, JoAnne 11-Jul The Grand Coalition Against Teachers, 
Beaumonte, Phyllis  12-Feb Reject emphasis on charter schools unless safeguards in place
Beckford, Joe 12-Jan Chinese Students Wanting to Attend US Schools
Berliner, David 10-Dec Words of Wisdom: Research, Public Education, and Public Policy, 
Bessie, Adam 11-Jan Let's Not "Reform" Public Education,
Bill Ferriter, Bill 11-Nov Innovation Interview Questions, 
Bracey, Gerald 11-Apr The Truth and Consequences of NCLB,
Brady, Marion 11-Jan Has Public Education Peaked, 
Bruckner, Martha 11-Mar Privatization of the Public Schools: Pending Legislation, 
Chaltain, Sam 11-Aug How Many Sacred Cows Does It Take to Sustain A Movement? 
Chrispeels, Janet 11-Jul Collective Trust: Why Schools Can't Improve Without It,
Cole, Kaitlyn 12-Feb 10 Telling Studies Done on Longer School Days
Collins, Gail 11-May Reading, ’Riting and Revenues,
Cuban, Larry 11-Sep Serviceable Myths about the Dilemma-Laden Superintendency,
Darling-Hammond, Linda 11-May The Service of Democratic Education,
Darling-Hammond, Linda 11-Jan What High-Achieving Nations are Doing to Prepare Students,
Darling-Hammond, Linda 11-Apr Test or invest? How NCLB Treats Schools Serving Nation’s Neediest
Easton, Billy 11-Sep Cuomo Fails Public Schools, 
Edgoose, Julian 11-Oct Hope in the Unexpected: How Can Teachers Still Make a Difference?  
Education Week 12-Jan Report Awards Grades for Education Performance, Policy; Nation Earns a C
Egan, Kieran  10-Dec Conflicting Goals of Education: An Interview with 
Ewards, Mark 12-Feb Our Digital Conversion
Fang, Lee 11-Nov How Online Learning Companies Bought America's Schools,
Farhi, Paul 11-May Five myths about America’s schools, 
Farhi, Paul 11-Apr Five Myths About the Common Core State Standards,
Farhi, Paul 12-Jan Five myths about America’s schools
Fast Company Staff 11-Jan How would you spend $100 million on Education? 
Florence 11-Jun Another Look at the Mooresville Story – Connecting the Millennials, 
Fredricks, Jennifer 11-Jul Extracurricular Activities: An Essential Aspect of Education, 
Gardner, Walt 12-Feb Evaluate Teachers and Doctors the Same Way
Gelberg, Denise 11-Jun Our Ailing Economy and the Education Cure, 
Glass, Gene  11-Nov Fertilizer, Pills & Magnetic Strips Charter Schools: Making Public Schools Private
Granowsky, Alvin 11-Sep No Child Left Behind—A Tale of Unintended Consequences, 
Gregg & Gregg 11-Aug The Paradox of Education Reform, 
Hankins. Lamar 11-Sep Football for Jesus has Begun Again, 
Hardison, Cathleen 11-Feb No Child Left Behind: The Football Version, 
Hardy, Lawrence 11-Nov The Voucher Revival, 
Hardy, Lawrence 11-May Connected to the Future: Mooresville graded Schools, by 
Harvey, James 11-Nov Privatization: A Drain on Public Schools,
Harvey, James 11-Mar Should Public Schools Do More to Protect Themselves from Privatization? 
Heckman & Montera 11-Jan School Reform: The Flatworm in a Flat World, 
Hollingworth, Liz 11-Aug Unintended Educational and Social Consequences of the NCLB, 
Holman, Evelyn 11-Mar Privatization of Public Schools: Charters and Vouchers, 
Jennings, Jack 11-Nov Higher Wages Would Attract, Keep Better Teachers,
Jennings, Jack 11-Jul School Districts at Funding Cliff,
Jennings, Jack 12-Feb Reflections on a Half-Century of School Reform
Jessen & DiMartino 11-Dec Corporate Style Schooling: Marketing for Private Gain,  
Jilani, Zaid 11-Jul Meet the Billionaires Attempting to Takeover Public Educations, 
Johnson, Steven 11-Mar Where Good Ideas Come From, 
Jukes, Ian 10-Dec Digital Kids, 
Kohn, Alfie 11-May “Well, Duh!” -- Ten Obvious Truths That We Shouldn’t Be Ignoring
Kohn, Alfie 10-Dec The Deadly Effects of Tougher Standards in Education. 
Kristof, Nicholas 11-Oct Occupy the Classroom, 
Laitsch, Dan 11-Jun Taking Stock of Private School Vouchers, 
Lakoff, George 11-Feb What Conservatives Really Want, 
Lemann, Nicholas 11-Sep Schoolwork, 
Levin, Ben 11-Oct Research, Knowledge and the Teaching Profession, 
Lezotte & Snyder 11-Oct The Correlates of Effective Schools,
Lynch, Matthew 12-Jan Understanding Parental Involvement
Mack, Julie 11-Jun Is it fair to compare test scores between public and private schools? 
Maddow, Racheal 11-Apr Comparing Authoritarian or Libertarian Conservatism, 
Marchant, Gregory 11-Apr Myth-Based Education Policy,
Marder, Michael 11-May Poverty/Schools/Charters/and American Technical Dominance, 
Marx, Gary 11-Mar Privatization of Public Schools: Intentions and Consequences, 
Mathis, William 11-May Beware of Economists Bearing Education Reforms,
McDiarmid, Bill 11-Jun Are we creating dual school systems with charters, vouchers? 
McKay, Jack 11-Apr Playing Golf under Educational Accountability Rules, 
McKay, Jack 12-Jan "Ten Reasons Why Charter Schools Could Improve Education, but…."
Meier, Deborah 11-Dec Schooling for Ruling
Merrow, John 11-May The International Divide: School Reform, 
Merrow, John 12-Jan Education predictions for 2012
Michie, Gregory 11-Apr The Trouble with 'Innovation' in Schools,
Miller, Lisa 11-Nov Facts and Beliefs are Processed in Exactly the Same Way. 
Morrell & Noguera 11-Aug A Framework for Change: An Approach to School Reform, 
Moyers, Bill 11-Feb Facts Still Matter ... 
NCEE 11-May Ten Myths About Education in the U.S. - What It Will Take to Fix Schools, 
NYC Educator 11-Mar Next Season on Survivor, 
Payzant, Thomas 12-Feb The Problem With School Accountability Systems
Perry and McConney 12-Jan Does the SES of the School Matter?
Poole, Isaiah 11-Jan Starve Public Education: Top Ten Ways the Right Will Wreck Recovery, 
Quillen, Ian 10-Nov Mooresville, N.C., educators strategy to link technology to achievement, 
Ravitch Diane 11-Dec The Death and Life of the Great American School System
Ravitch, Diane 11-May How Much Influence Should Corporations Have on Education Policy?
Ravitch, Diane 11-Sep American Schools in Crisis,
Ravitch, Diane 11-Jun Waiting for a School Miracle, 
Ravitch, Diane 11-Jan On Charter Schools, Diane Ravitch Debates James Merrimam, 
Ravitch, Diane 11-Feb Charters, Vouchers, and Policy Makers, ) (HML Annual Meeting)
Ravitch, Diane 11-Feb Why America's teachers are Enraged,  (CNN Interview)
Ravitch, Diane 11-Dec Whose children have been left behind?
Ravitch, Diane 12-Jan Changing the Poisonous Narrative
Ravitch, Diane 12-Jan Diane Ravitch Shares Views on Education Reform Efforts
Ravitch, SiNW 11-Jan Cultural Shock, by Barry Lynn interviewing Diane Ravitch
Realink Films 12-Jan Race to Nowhere video clip
Reeves, Douglas 11-Dec Choosing Choice, 
Resmovits, Joy 12-Feb Charter School Segregation Target Of New Report
Riddle, Mel 11-May PISA: It's Poverty Not Stupid,
Robinson, Sir Ken 11-Mar Changing Education Paradigms, 
Rothkopf, Ernst 11-Jan Elephant Tale - The Search for Grand Magical Remedies, 
Sadovnik, A. 11-Apr Waiting for School Reform: Charter Schools as Latest Imperfect, 
Salovey & Solovey 10-Jan Does Your Personality Influence Who You Vote For? 
Schrag, Peter 11-Jun Vouchers: They're Baaaaaack! 
Schwartz, Allen 12-Feb Mooresville’s Shining Example (It’s Not Just About the Laptops)
Shatzty,Joel 11-Jan If Doctors Were Treated Like Teachers, 
Sirota, David 11-Dec What Real Education Reform Looks Like
Skellon, Nick  10-Nov Why Emotion Will Usually Outweigh Logic In The Audience's Brains.  
Slavin, Robert 12-Feb Kiss Your Textbook Goodbye
Soul, Stephanie 11-Dec Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools , 
Stellar, Art 11-Nov Welcome to the Jungle: The First 100 Days of a Superintendency,
Strauss, Valerie 11-Jul Stand for Children: A Hometown Perspective of its Evolution, 
Strauss,Valerie 11-Nov NAEP: A flawed benchmark producing the same old story, 
Strauss,Valerie 12-Jan A primer on corporate school reform
Sylvia, Crystal 11-Jul The Corporate Hijacking of Public Education,
Tabachnick, Rachel 11-Jul School Choice: Taxpayer-Funded Creationism, Bigotry, & Bias,
Tavernise, Sabrina 12-Feb Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say
Thomas, Don 11-Jul Advocacy Groups to Promote Privatization of Public Education,
Thomas, Don 11-Aug Effective Education for Diverse Student Populations, 
Turner, Randy 11-Oct No Child Left Behind Plan Doomed to Failure, 
Underwood, Julie 11-Jul Starving Public Schools, 
Vollmer, Jamie 11-Apr The Blueberry Ice Cream Story: A Businessman Learns a Lesson,
Vollmer, Jamie 12-Feb The Ever Increasing Burden on America’s Public Schools
Ward, Olivia 12-Jan ALEC - America’s Secret Political Power
Watkins, William 11-Dec The Assault on Public Education: Confronting the Politics of Corporate School Reform
Wills & Sandholtz 11-Jan Constrained Professionalism: Dilemmas of Accountability, 

The Children Must Play

What the United States could learn from Finland about education reform.

While observing recess outside the Kallahti Comprehensive School on the eastern edge of Helsinki on a chilly day in April 2009, I asked Principal Timo Heikkinen if students go out when it’s very cold. Heikkinen said they do. I then asked Heikkinen if they go out when it’s very, very cold. Heikkinen smiled and said, “If minus 15 [Celsius] and windy, maybe not, but otherwise, yes. The children can’t learn if they don’t play. The children must play.”

In comparison to the United States and many other industrialized nations, the Finns have implemented a radically different model of educational reform—based on a balanced curriculum and professionalization, not testing. Not only do Finnish educational authorities provide students with far more recess than their U.S. counterparts—75 minutes a day in Finnish elementary schools versus an average of 27 minutes in the U.S.—but they also mandate lots of arts and crafts, more learning by doing, rigorous standards for teacher certification, higher teacher pay, and attractive working conditions. This is a far cry from the U.S. concentration on testing in reading and math since the enactment of No Child Left Behind in 2002, which has led school districts across the country, according to a survey by the Center on Education Policy, to significantly narrow their curricula. And the Finns’ efforts are paying off: In December, the results from the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an exam in reading, math, and science given every three years since 2000 to approximately 5,000 15-year-olds per nation around the world, revealed that, for the fourth consecutive time, Finnish students posted stellar scores. The United States, meanwhile, lagged in the middle of the pack.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama outlined his plans for reforming U.S. public education, including distributing competitive grants, raising test scores, and holding teachers accountable for student achievement. But there is much Finland can teach America’s reformers, and the rest of the world, about what outside of testing and rigid modes of management and assessment can make a nation’s schools truly excellent.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama outlined his plans for reforming U.S. public education, including distributing competitive grants, raising test scores, and holding teachers accountable for student achievement. But there is much Finland can teach America’s reformers, and the rest of the world, about what outside of testing and rigid modes of management and assessment can make a nation’s schools truly excellent.

Finland’s schools weren’t always so successful. In the 1960s, they were middling at best. In 1971, a government commission concluded that, poor as the nation was in natural resources, it had to modernize its economy and could only do so by first improving its schools. To that end, the government agreed to reduce class size, boost teacher pay, and require that, by 1979, all teachers complete a rigorous master’s program.
Today, teaching is such a desirable profession that only one in ten applicants to the country’s eight master’s programs in education is accepted. In the United States, on the other hand, college graduates may become teachers without earning a master’s. What’s more, Finnish teachers earn very competitive salaries: High school teachers with 15 years of experience make 102 percent of what their fellow university graduates do. In the United States, by contrast, they earn just 65 percent.
Though, unlike U.S. education reformers, Finnish authorities haven’t outsourced school management to for-profit or non-profit organizations, implemented merit pay, or ranked teachers and schools according to test results, they’ve made excellent use of business strategies. They’ve won the war for talent by making teaching so appealing. In choosing principals, superintendents, and policymakers from inside the education world rather than looking outside it, Finnish authorities have likewise taken a page from the corporate playbook: Great organizations, as the business historian Alfred Chandler documented, cultivate talent from within. Of the many officials I interviewed at the Finnish Ministry of Education, the National Board of Education, the Education Evaluation Council, and the Helsinki Department of Education, all had been teachers for at least four years.
The Finnish approach to pedagogy is also distinct. In grades seven through nine, for instance, classes in science—the subject in which Finnish students have done especially well on PISA—are capped at 16 so students may do labs each lesson. And students in grades one through nine spend from four to eleven periods each week taking classes in art, music, cooking, carpentry, metalwork, and textiles. These classes provide natural venues for learning math and science, nurture critical cooperative skills, and implicitly cultivate respect for people who make their living working with their hands.

But perhaps most striking on the list of what makes Finland’s school system unique is that the country has deliberately rejected the prevailing standardization movement. While nations around the world introduced heavy standardized testing regimes in the 1990s, the Finnish National Board of Education concluded that such tests would consume too much instructional time, cost too much to construct, proctor, and grade, and generate undue stress. The Finnish answer to standardized tests has been to give exams to small but statistically significant samples of students and to trust teachers—so much so that the National Board of Education closed its inspectorate in 1991. Teachers in Finland design their own courses, using a national curriculum as a guide, not a blueprint, and spend about 80 percent as much time leading classes as their U.S. counterparts do, so that they have sufficient opportunity to plan lessons and collaborate with colleagues. The only point at which all Finnish students take standardized exams is as high school seniors if they wish to go to university.
Regard for students’ well-being is evident in more subtle ways, as well. Since 1985, students have not been tracked (or grouped by ability) until the tenth grade. Furthermore, since 1991, authorities have rejected the practice of holding back underachievers, concluding that the consequences of grade repetition were too stigmatizing to be effective and that students would be better off being tutored by learning specialists in areas of academic weakness.
The Finnish business community and conservative members of the country’s parliament criticized the end of tracking as a recipe for mass mediocrity—but they went silent following the publication of the 2000 PISA results. “PISA was a lucky gift for Finnish educators,” said Kari Louhivuori, the principal of the Kirkkojärvi Comprehensive School in Espoo, who began his career as a teacher in 1974. “We were under attack from traditional forces and needed outside validation of our new way.” (Some testing is thus ultimately necessary, Louhivuori conceded, if only to prove that regular testing is not.) What’s more, there is now strong proof of the economic benefits of the Finnish educational reformation, particularly in the country’s high-tech sector, which is distinguished by Nokia in telecommunications, Orion in medical diagnostics and pharmaceuticals, Polar in heart-rate monitors, Vaisala in meteorological measurement, and VTI in accelerometers. Flanking highways out of Helsinki are research centers for these companies, as well as ones for Ericsson, IBM, and SAP.
The reflexive critique of comparing the Finnish and U.S. educational systems is to say that Finland’s PISA results are consequences of the country being a much smaller, more homogeneous nation (5.3 million people, only 4 percent of whom are foreign-born). How could it possibly offer lessons to a country the size of the United States? The answer is next door. Norway is also small (4.8 million people) and nearly as homogeneous (10 percent foreign-born), but it is more akin to the United States than to Finland in its approach to education: Teachers don’t need master’s degrees; high school teachers with 15 years of experience earn only 70 percent of what fellow university graduates make; and in 2004,* authorities implemented a national system of standardized testing. The need for talent in the classroom is now so great that the Norwegian government is spending $3.3 million on an ad campaign to attract people to teaching and, last year, launched its own version of Teach for America in collaboration with Statoil—called Teach First Norway—to recruit teachers of math and science.
Moreover, much as in the United States, classes in Norway are typically too large and equipment too scarce to run science labs. A science teacher at a middle school in Oslo told me that labs are unfortunately the exception, not the rule, and that she couldn’t recall doing any labs as a student a decade ago. Unsurprisingly, much as in 2000, 2003, and 2006, Norway in 2009 posted mediocre PISA scores, indicating that it is not necessarily size and homogeneity but, rather, policy choices that lead to a country’s educational success.
The Finns have made clear that, in any country, no matter its size or composition, there is much wisdom to minimizing testing and instead investing in broader curricula, smaller classes, and better training, pay, and treatment of teachers. The United States should take heed.
*CORRECTION: This article originally stated that the testing regime was created in 2006. It was created in 2004.
Samuel E. Abrams is a visiting scholar at Teachers College, Columbia University, and he is writing a book on school reform.  

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Charter School Segregation Target Of New Report

by Joy Resmovitshomepage , February 23, 2012
Charter schools often promise to bring greater equity to education, but a new brief starts with the assumption that they fall short in delivery -- and provides recommendations to fix the alleged injustice.
"Charter schools tend to be more racially segregated than traditional public schools," said author and Penn State law professor Preston Green III, who sat on a board that considered charter-school applications in Pennsylvania. "What we tried to do is write ways to enable charter schools to promote desegregation rather exacerbate segregation."
The brief, "Chartering Equity: Using Charter School Legislation and Policy to Advance Educational Opportunity," from the University of Colorado's National Education Policy Center features recommendations from both Green and University of Wisconsin, Madison education professor Julie Mead on how states and school districts can ensure that charters are integrated and helpful to disadvantaged populations. It also includes statutes that states can use to help reach those goals.
Charter schools are publicly funded, but can be privately run, and often admit students via lottery. Charter schools advocates argue that educational opportunity should not depend on zip code, and that charter schools allow for educational innovation that eventually can trickle back into the traditional system.
Detractors, however, often assert that charters siphon resources from traditional public schools without equal compensation and that they don’t serve specific populations, such as special-education students, in proportion with their existence.
Either way, charter schools, championed by both the Obama administration and free-market entrepreneurs, are growing: This year, as they edge into their third decade of existence, charter schools serve a total of 5 percent of American public school students -- an increase of 200,000, or 13 percent, from the year before.
According to research released in 2010 by professor Gary Orfield of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, 70 percent of black charter school students attend a school where the bulk of their peers are also minorities -- compared to 40 percent in traditional public schools.

Orfield's brother, Myron Orfield, a professor at the University of Minnesota who directs theInstitute on Race & Poverty, studies charter segregation at a local level.
"I think that charters are an engine of racial segregation. They are more segregated than public schools and cause public schools to be more segregated than they otherwise would be," he said. According to a report he plans to release Friday, from 2010-2011 almost 90 percent of black charter-school students in the Twin Cities are in segregated schools -- a number that actually increased by 8 percentage points over the last decade.
A common problem, Green said, is that charter schools often do not comply with federal civil-rights statutes. According to Orfield, they are legally responsible to do so, but are rarely challenged. For example, previous Supreme Court cases found "single-race schools were intentional segregation," Orfield said. "But charter schools haven't been challenged in this way, because people don't have a picture of how big a part of urban education they are."
But Ursula Wright, interim president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, rejects the premise of the brief. "I believe that charter schools have had the type of success that we currently have, serving 2 million kids across the country with hundreds of thousands on waiting lists, because people do see that we offer in many instances a better alternative," she said. "I can't agree with their starting point. The demand speaks for itself."
She added that she's heard Orfield's studies aren't "gold standard."
The brief includes recommendations for charter authorizers -- groups that approve and deny applications to start charter schools -- as well as state legislatures and the federal government.
One suggestion is that charter school authorizers require that in addition to academic qualifications, charter-school applicants show how "the school will broaden, not replicate, existing opportunities for struggling populations." Applicants should provide evidence that their approaches address environmental factors such as local achievement gaps, the brief said, and charter authorizers should FACTOR? weigh "equal educational opportunity" concerns into renewal standards.
The brief's authors said they hoped its publication would influence the debate. Connecticut isdeciding whether to increase charter-school funding. Alabama and Mississippi are considering their first charter-school laws.
Mead and Green recommend that state legislatures explicitly state in their laws that charter schools aim to "enhance equitable educational outcomes for all students, particularly those who have historically struggled," and that "charter schools must comply with all federal laws."
They also proposed new federal regulations, to be considered in the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind: that federal charter-school funding be tied to advancing equal opportunity, and that states are required to collect data on recruitment, retention and discipline in charter schools.
But those recommendations, said Wright, might not be feasible. "To push a federal statute down assuming states are set up to get that level of data is a bit of an oversimplication," she said.

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