Thursday, September 18, 2014

Is Education In Finland All That and a Bag of Chips?

Finland's is often held up as an exemplar of an exceptional school system because its students do so well on international tests.  One author says, not so fast:
Two out of every three schoolchildren in Finland are being let down by an outdated system and uninspiring teaching.

That is one of the claims made in a provocative new book by primary-school teacher Maarit Korhonen, which challenges the widely-held belief that the Finnish education system is among the best in the world.

In Herää, koulu! (“Wake up, school”), Korhonen argues that Finland’s consistently high performance in international PISA rankings, a test of problem-solving skills among 15-year-olds, has led to complacency among Finland’s educational establishment, and has blinded teachers and decision-makers to the reality of teaching today.

“What we are studying, it’s so old fashioned,” Korhonen says. “We have the same chapters in the science book that I used to have in the '60s. Same subjects in the same order. Nobody changes anything, but something has to change.”
Thrown-away children

After 30 years in the classroom, Korhonen’s central argument is that education is “throwing away” the roughly two-thirds of schoolchildren who are not academically minded, or who do not learn from sitting down and reading a book, or who do not perform well in exams.

As a result, she claims, thousands of pupils are led to believe that they are not good at learning, putting them at risk of becoming marginalised and encountering serious problems later in life.


allen (in Michigan) said...

Korhonen seems a bit light on exactly how that "throwing away" occurs if not via high stakes testing. Not that I particularly doubt she's right since Finland's future carpenters, electricians and plumbers aren't springing out of the ground fully-formed like characters out of mythology.

Still, if the kids who are Finland's future blue collar workers are bounced off the college track by high stakes testing then how is the trick being managed? Are Finland's fifteen year-olds so civic minded that they don't have to be shoved out the schoolhouse door to make sure there's enough room for their more scholastically-minded peers? Seems unlikely so what's the explanation? It's not in the article and it is a pretty obvious question.

There's this sentence "thousands of pupils are led to believe that they are not good at learning" which suggests that it is policy to gently, but firmly, steer those kids not adjudged to be college material off the college track in which case Finland does have high stakes testing, they've just chosen to be dishonest about it.

neko said...

They don't have the high drop out rate that we have in the US -- all of their students Finnish.

PeggyU said...

Neko, You sinki in Hell for that.

maxutils said...

allen ... I don't know, but two things: it could be testing, but it could also involve teacher recommendations; and I believe that int he Scandinavian countries, college is provided for by government ... thereby giving government both an incentive and a right to screen people out who don't qualify ... but no matter what, it does skew the results. Definitely a biased set of data. The same thing happens in the U.S. though ... sure, private schools typically outperform public: it's because they get to kick out anyone they want, including children with learning disorders, and they have a self-selected group of people whose parents care enough to pay double, or more, for their kids' educations ...

allen (in Michigan) said...

Call it whatever you want, teacher recommendation or high stakes testing, the result's the same and so, ignoring the details, are the means - someone/something with zero interest in individuals is deciding who becomes a brain surgeon and who becomes a fork lift driver.

Also, I'm not buying your excuse for why "private schools typically outperform public". If you've got some data to back up your contention then let's see it.

I'd also point out that private schools have a pretty strong incentive not to kick out problematic students, an incentive that doesn't apply to public schools, i.e. when the kid's gone the money stops. A school that discards all but the top ten percent of kids had better be able to survive on the revenue that ten percent brings in because that's all they're going to get. But if a school district can get those junior John Dillingers into school for just one day...

I see the mirror image of your observation as the true problem; school district have so little incentive to kick out pretty horrendous kids that those kids materially contribute to the poor showing of many municipal school districts.

Who do those disruptive kids trouble? Not the school board or the district superintendent. To a lesser degree, not the principal. The problem falls almost entirely on the teacher and why should the teacher's problems be a concern for the principal, the superintendent or the school board? It isn't as long as they can ignore the problem. On the basis of my observation the school can become unfit for livestock let alone human beings before the school board runs out of the ability to ignore the problem.

maxutils said...

Well ... first ... public schools CAN'T kick students out for nonperformance or learning disabilities -- we take all comers. You can only expel a student from a public school for egregious criminal or dangerous, or prolonged bad behavior ... and then, they get shipped off to another public school
As to private schools? I don't have data. But it is a fairly obvious fact that people who go to them have parents who are paying tuition on top of the tax they pay to support their kids going to a public school they could have been going to at no additional cost. I don't need statistics to back that up.
and again, no statistics, but I've long held that the most important part of the education process is the parent...I think most teachers are at least pretty good at what they do ... but without the parent being concerned, you can have the greatest teacher in the world, but the student is apt not to learn as much as they could. By paying extra for education? Those parents are demonstrating they care --otherwise they wouldn't do it. so, they are likely to be a group of students who are more prone to success.
Lastly, my last teaching job was at avery good public high school right down the road from a very expensive private Catholic school. So frequently, I would take in students who had been at that school who for whatever reason (financial, behavioral, academic) and they would frequently enter my math class with an A or B ...and be completely unable to do anything. Their grades, with almost no exception would plummet. If you pay for school ... you expect to get good grades back ... and at least this private school seems to be okay with that. And winning football games.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Oh max, who are you trying to kid? Of course public schools can kick students out for nonperformance, learning disabilities or pretty much anything else. The law may say one thing but the law doesn't enforce itself. If a kid's a big enough pain in the butt then the district will simply assign him to an inconvenient school and not chase him when he stops showing up.

And of course parents are important but the public education system largely renders parents impotent depriving parents of their authority to oversee their child's education. Part of the draw of private schools is that parents are in a significantly stronger position to advocate for their children since it's the parents writing the checks.

It's the that exercise of authority that's important and that differentiates a private, and a charter school, from the district schools. As I've pointed out before districts can afford, or at least could afford to be indifferent to parental concerns but by their nature private, and charter, schools can't afford to be so blasé about parental concerns.

One upset parent might not shut a private or charter school but ten parents represents a significant chunk of cash so private and charter schools are strongly motivated to be a bit more circumspect about parental sentiment then are school districts.

With regard to your experiences with refugees from that Catholic school, try not to contradict yourself in a single post.