At a recent English as a Second Language professional development, a presenter who was telling us about why the common core had come into existence, once again brought up Finland. For those of you out of the loop, Finland has had an amazing record of scoring off the charts on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey that studies student achievement for 15 year-olds around the world. The researchers take the results and rank the countries accordingly. The US hasn’t been doing very well, so people have turned their attention to Finland in order to ramp up our own system. I’m generally quiet at these kinds of meetings, but when I heard this inane comparison for the billionth time, I snapped.
First of all, Finnish kids don’t start school until they’re 7, but there are federally funded, high quality pre-k from 5-7 for all students, which focuses on play, rather than rote memorization. Students receive 75 minutes of recess a day and have few if any standardized tests until they reach HS. Only 4.6% of people are new immigrants (while the US has 12.7% foreign born population.). And, learning a second or third language is something they strive for, rather than reject and consider a detriment.
The defining moment for Finnish education happened almost forty years ago when the country decided that in order to make a difference in education, they needed to close the economic gap and create true equality. Therefore, each school has free meals, easy access to health care, and psychological counseling. They also hire enough teachers to have individualized student guidance, and they hire extra teachers to help struggling students. I even read one story where the principal sat down with a struggling immigrant student and worked with him one-on-one for part of the day.
The common core is a curriculum similar to Finland’s. It has streamlined the standards teachers use in order to allow for depth, rather than superficial inquiry, and has allowed a type of spiraling of information from K-12. These standards are supposed to help us become like Finland.(Yet, from these standards, we’ll test our students in every single class over every single unit of study the district has created. Students will take around 32 standardized tests over the curriculum in one year.)
We can’t take one little piece of Finland’s puzzle, contort it into some Americanized ideal, and assume it will make a difference for our students. Using an adjusted curriculum that Finland uses—and not addressing the social issues they knew were causing the inequity in the first place—won’t make us Finland.
So please, don’t mention that Nordic country again unless you want to hire more teachers at my school, make it possible for the parents of my students to read fluently in English, provide quality pre-k to all my students, allow them the opportunity to see a counselor more than on an only-in-an-emergency basis, provide health care centers on site, celebrate their knowledge of a second or third language, and refuse to give them standardized tests until they’re in HS. If this is your plan, well, then we can talk about Finland all night long, and I probably won’t even snap.
What do you snap about?