New Thinking About Our Schools: It’s NOT Rocket Science!
By Shlomo Maital
A great many people the world over are troubled about what happens to our children and grandchildren in the school system. America’s No Child Left Behind Act (2000) has left most children behind, because America still scores poorly in international achievement tests, despite (because of?) billions spent on “Race to the Top”.
A simple principle says, if you want to improve, learn from others. Benchmark what others do, adapt it, and get better. But educational bureaucracies in most countries do not even know what global benchmarking is.
Take Finland, for example. Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish educator, has shared Finland’s experience with the world in his 2011 book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? It has been translated into many languages already, including Hebrew.
Here are the four key principles Finland used to create a world-class world-leading educational system, for all Finnish kids, not just a handful of privileged ones in Helsinki.
- Guarantee equal opportunities to good public education for all. In the U.S., that means that schools in rural Louisiana and Mississippi should be up to scratch, as much as ones in Princeton, NJ.
- Strengthen professionalism of, and trust in, teachers. This is related to pay levels, teachers’ colleges, and in general, how society values those who educate our children. In Finland, it’s really hard to get in to teaching programs, as hard as getting in to engineering.
- Get parents involved, educate everyone about education and the key processes, especially assessment (and note: assessment is NOT just tests).
- Facilitate competition and innovation among schools; network them, help them learn quickly from one another, let them try experiments and scale up ones that succeed.
These principles are easy to state, hard to implement. But take #4, for example. President Bush’s very first Act, in 2000, brought free-market competition models to American schools by tying state and federal funding for schools to test performance of kids. Many countries have copied this dumb idea.
There is another way to introduce competitive forces into education. Let schools experiment, and share the results. This is the REAL free-market model. To do this, you need to abandon the insane obsession with testing, hated by kids, parents and teachers alike, and let kids learn to love learning, let teachers love to teach, and evaluate by what children can do, rather than what they can memorize and regurgitate.
In Finland, it worked. How come? What can we learn from it? How many American educators have spent time in Finland, observing their schools, talking to their educators? And how long will it take, before educational professionals all realize that No Child Left Behind left a great many kids behind, far behind, and that it is time to dump the whole bad idea, not only in America but everywhere.