Recipe for disaster in public schools

Imagine this for a public education system:

-Delayed start in education (7 years old)

-A shorter school year

-Little or no standardized testing

-A new focus on the highest, not the lowest achievers

-Elementary and middle schoolers educated together

-Valuing teachers as professionals, not obstacles

-A tradition of avoiding political meddling

A disaster, right?  This whole system is antithetical to Obama, Deval, and their private sector friends.  It’s also widely regarded as the strongest national public ed. system on the planet.  It’s Suomi…aka Finland.

I recommend this BBC article to summarize the key points of the Finnish success story for outsiders.

A few pull-quotes to get you started:

Finland’s schools score consistently at the top of world rankings, yet the pupils have the fewest number of class hours in the developed world…in previous PISA tests Finland also came out top.

Pupils are all kept in the same classroom, regardless of their ability in that particular subject…

“we have started a pilot project about how to support those pupils who are very gifted in certain areas.”…

Finnish children spend the fewest number of hours in the classroom in the developed world….pupils don’t have to change schools at age 13…

Children in Finland only start main school at age seven. The idea is that before then they learn best when they’re playing and by the time they finally get to school they are keen to start learning…

Teachers are highly valued and teaching standards are high.

Standardized tests? No national regime.

Indeed, I read a bemused commentary by a Finnish teacher about her students’ adjustment to the parade of international observers in her classroom.

I’m not trying to be unfair, here.  It’s clear that there are many aspects of Finland that are irreplicable in our country.  Finland is a rather homogeneous country, and struggles with a diversity achievement gap.  Every system I’ve ever studied outside of Lake Wobegon deals with an achievement gap, no matter how hard the hustlers pretend this is an American problem.  Finland has a strong tradition of literacy and education at home, different than the right’s promotion of ignorance.  It also doesn’t blow a huge part of its budget on military (we’ve spent more federal dollars on “liberating” Afghanistan than on public education lately).  

I’m not saying that all America has to do is import Finland’s system wholesale.  That wouldn’t work.  What I am saying, and will say repeatedly, is that when a bunch of private-school hothouse flowers are formulating public ed policy, they’d be served to examine what is actually happening on this planet, and not rely on their gut instinct and their rich friends to tell them what to do.

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  1. Thanks for this! I sent it to my entire high school

    over lunch.  I've heard from nearly a dozen faculty in response.  Suffice to say, envy is the word that comes to mind.

    Some random thoughts:  

    I suspect that an American delegation has not visited these schools.  What could the Fins have to teach us?  Gaaa1.

    What I am saying, and will say repeatedly, is that when a bunch of private-school hothouse flowers are formulating public ed policy, they'd be served to examine what is actually happening on this planet, and not rely on their gut instinct and their rich friends to tell them what to do.

    Truer words.  

    In the first video, the relaxed relationships between the students and the teachers is telling.  First-name basis?  In your stocking feet?  Three teachers in a room?  Competitive heterogeneous grouping?  School cultures here can vary so widely--in my high school we're a nickname faculty with a few first-name basis types.  Drives the old guard crazy.  I know of other schools that stand on traditional address and call that "respect."   The difference, though, in the level of intimacy and investment for students who can establish a relationship with a teacher in this manner pays off in spades.  A kid can call me by my full name and disrespect me more than the shortened versions I usually hear.  

    And the other issue:  trust.  Each school is its own entity.  In my perfect world, school committees are eliminated. Principals are empowered and are accountable.  As a school committee member, I can honestly say school committees can be a major hindrance in moving schools forward, perhaps second only to the politicization of education at the state and federal level.  This speaks, of course, to the children-as-chattel mentality that pervades American attitudes about parenting.  


  2. my response to this was similar to sabutai's, tho less clever...

    What I said in another online forum:

    I realize the homogeneous Finnish society is very different from our own, but the way this article describes Finnish schools and the reasons for their success makes them sound like the polar opposite of what our political leaders are pushing for here:

    * Finnish teachers are highly respected; U.S. teachers are blamed and trashed * Finnish children spend the fewest number of hours in the classroom in the developed world; U.S. policymakers push for longer school days and longer school years * Finnish schools are relaxed and autonomous, free from political interference; U.S. schools are under incredible stress to produce "higher achievement" measured by test scores and increasingly controlled by state and federal mandates * Finland believes in emphasizing play and delaying the start of "rigorous" academics; the push in the U.S. is to force the introduction of rigorous academics earlier and earlier, depriving the youngest children of the opportunity to learn through play and exploration * Finnish schools strive to keep learners at different levels together; U.S. schools use a lot of tracking

    I'd be willing to try any one of those approaches here instead of what we're being told we must do in order to race to the trough.

    • I would give my eye teeth

      to teach in an environment (and nation) like that of Finland.  While I'm first and foremost a Norgephile among those who know me, I do admire the entirety of the Scandinavian mindset, which is pragmatic, reasoned, and immensely thoughtful.   Their standard of living is the highest in the world--for a reason.

      That said, the homogeneous society thing makes me increasingly uncomfortable.  I've been having some conversations about this with a retired principal from an urban Massachusetts high school (one of the first African-American principals in the state) who absolutely bristles at the suggestion that social/familial issues should have any impact on what happens in a classroom or our expectations as educators.  We argued strenuously about the Central Falls situation in Rhode Island because he believes that the 100 percent free & reduced lunch characterization was (is) a crutch and that the teachers there had not learned to adjust their practice, and, consequently, maybe,  should be fired.    I fought him tooth and nail for some time, but as I think about what I do every day, I am growing to believe that he might be right.  There's a part of me that doesn't want to let go of the kid's baggage because that feels caring and realistic and nurturing to me.  But is that really the right thing to do? (Cue Sandel and the personal inventory of experience.)   I have always adjusted my practice for the class that sits in front of me, and I believe, in my cases, that I have not compromised rigor or expectations--and I have taught some challenging disadvantaged kids.   In practice, it seems to me, that we're allowing socioeconomics to intrude when we should be holding a tougher line.  But what does that look like?     And I say that as someone who fed hungry kids out of a file cabinet and provided clothing to middle-school boys who had outgrown everything they owned.  

      So, I guess that's a roundabout way of saying I'm not sure that homogeneity, in any fashion, should matter.   Those kids may all be fair, blue-eyed, and blonde, but they are not all lucky enough to have above-average intelligence.  Still they are doing things we're not doing and they are not, as the BBC so pointedly suggests, leaving kids behind.    

      • More about Finland and its family friendly policies generally

        Finland is also far more family friendly.  For example, parents are paid an allowance for each child to take stress off the family, from birth to age 17 such that any parent who wishes to do so can be a full time parent.

        Its public education system was to an extent impacted by the large number of Waldorf schools, some even being public imbued with the teachings and research of Rudolf Steiner.

        On the other hand, the United States is one of the least child friendly and family friendly countries in existence.  

      • I'm confused about your retired principal friend....

        Is his view that teachers should maintain rigid, uniform standards no matter what the particular challenges of the kids in front of them, or is he critical of the Central Falls teachers because they did not "adjust their practice"? Doesn't adjusting practice mean taking into account the needs of a child who is traumatized from witnessing a violent crime or wheezing with asthma, both things more prevalent among children in poverty?

        It seems to me that citing the poverty status of students could be used as an excuse for having expectations that are too low or for not trying to teach. Nevertheless, good teaching seems to entail knowing students as individuals and understanding how to elicit that individual's best work. That's what I've noticed happening with my children's best teachers.

        And as you correctly point out, there's no such thing as a completely homogeneous society, so maybe there's more we can take from the Finnish example than we first thought.  

        • Responsiveness versus laziness.

          Is his view that teachers should maintain rigid, uniform standards no matter what the particular challenges of the kids in front of them, or is he critical of the Central Falls teachers because they did not "adjust their practice"?

          Actually rigidity and uniformity have little to do with it, I think.  What he's suggesting is that while that child is in front of you, your job is to make clear your expectations that the child will learn in the x amount of hours s/he is in your charge.  The curriculum is the curriculum, so rigidity and uniformity, I think, are irrelevant.  I can deliver the curriculum differently on a daily basis, depending on who's in front of me,  and then do something completely different next year if I decide something didn't work or isn't right for a particular class.  Is my class primarily boys who hate to read?  Is it an honors group comprised most of girls?     I make choices based on who they are, but the end result is that they have mastered the curriculum.  

          His problem, too,  with the Central Falls situation is that he perceives the faculty to be intractably rigid, to use that word again.  The fact that their students habitually failed to make progress in any meaningful sense suggested to him that their instructional techniques, from top to bottom,  were both outdated and ineffective.  He also believes the administration of the buildings themselves and the district should also be canned.  Their inability to facilitate change in the instructional milieu is hugely problematic.  

          Doesn't adjusting practice mean taking into account the needs of a child who is traumatized from witnessing a violent crime or wheezing with asthma, both things more prevalent among children in poverty?

          When a child sits in my class, my job is to create an environment that provides a respite for that child to leave that stuff, as much as is possible, behind and concentrate on me and what we're doing.  That expectation is made to students--and has been, for me, from my days teaching at both medium and maximum security prisons here in the Commonwealth, in a small community middle school in which fully 25% of the students had open DESE files, to the entirely average town I teach high school in now.  I'm aware of these issues, but my responsibility is to acknowledge, and in some cases validate, and then move that student along.  If teachers didn't do that, very few students, irrespective of their socioeconomics, would make little headway if their home lives are unstable or abusive.   For example, our grading practice where I currently teach values mastery over mathematical average.  If I have students who won't do homework, perhaps because of a stressful home situation or their lack of engagement in general,  the onus is on me to find a way to compensate for that.   Standard-based grading has merit, and to the extent that we have faculty and administration that support that notion, I am flexible regarding the amount of homework I assign--if at all--and how I value that work.  

          It seems to me that citing the poverty status of students could be used as an excuse for having expectations that are too low or for not trying to teach. Nevertheless, good teaching seems to entail knowing students as individuals and understanding how to elicit that individual's best work. That's what I've noticed happening with my children's best teachers.

          Agreed.  And that best work requires that students attend, engage, and even escape the stress of their private lives during their school time.   Talented teachers can make that happen.  


        • How would he know

          if they adjusted their practice? Here is a scary thought:  Given the demographics, the economics, the social realities and their impact on the school, Central Falls might have been functioning optimally.  Similarly, in spite of their college acceptance rate, their MCAS success rate, and every other data-driven measure of "success", the highest scoring school in Massachusetts may be functioning abysmally. You only know by observing the practice...not from dicrete data points, such as the CF graduation rate.  

  3. Don't Forget: MA Schools Public Best in US, Nearly Best in World

    Based on test results, MA public schools produce, far-and-away, the best results in the US:

    e.g., from

    Bay State students lead nation on NAEP

    Once again, Massachusetts public school students have outscored their counterparts in every other state on a series of exams often referred to as "The Nation's Report Card."

    And very nearly the best in the world:

    e.g., from

    Bright sign for tech in Mass. Science, math pupils near top internationally

    Massachusetts students significantly outperformed their peers nationwide on a prestigious math and science exam, putting the state on an elite international tier, according to results released yesterday.

    In many cases, the state's impressive showing on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (conducted by Boston College) puts Massachusetts in the same league with Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore - academic heavyweights that have long made US policy-makers fearful of losing an economic competitive edge.

    If Arne Duncan and his boss were interested in things like "evidence" and "reality", they'd be studying what makes our commonwealth's results so astonishingly good, rather than concocting bizarre schemes to bust teachers unions.  

    • Few points

      While I would agree that standardized testing regimens can negatively affect schooling I would also completely argue against grouping students of mixed ability. It was tried at CRLS in the late 90s and early 2000s and I was a victim of that social experiment my first two years which were a complete educational waste of time for me. It was only the last two years where I could take AP and Honors classes that it truly got better. Luckily we have added Honors classes for all grades and lo and behold upper and middle class parents are sending their kids back to my public high school!

      Also the ISP program was a great middle school program in Cambridge, I doubt I'd have become as good of a writer or critical thinker if I had never gone through it.

      Frankly one of the reasons so many students in Cambridge come to high school at different levels is because we don't have good middle school programs that can transition them into high school and each elementary school has a completely different learning style and yet we are shocked when our high school kids are not on the same page.

      • Also

        The not educating kids until their 7 works in a country where parent involvement is probably incredibly high, implementing that in inner city schools, especially the ones I work in on the South Side of Chicago would be a complete and utter disaster.  

        • And suburban two income families couldn't do it either

          The push for earlier head start day care and longer school years comes from suburban working moms, doesn't it?

          • unaccountable schools

            I think people just went for this stuff because the schools were so unaccountable. Because reformers couldn't get through quality assessments, they went with quantity.

            The last month of school for my kids is total free-form... if they're not going on a field trip to Fenway Park they're in a class half-full sweeping up. It could easily be cut back.

            As for the testing, it's not my favorite, but it did show that plenty of near-suburbs like Medford that were supposed to be great schools actually were underfunded and crappy. It was embarrassing to local school boards who didn't want to do their jobs.  

            • Testing a mized bag

              I completely support the idea of testing just to assess where our kids are, but making it a graduation requirement turns our schools into year round testing centers with hours wasted on practicing to take the test as opposed to learning real concepts. Whatever the MCAS board deems unworthy to be included on its test will not show up. Now the Cambridge attitude of pretending the MCAS doesn't exist was also counter-productive and luckily was finished, as long as our kids are expected to test out to graduate then prepare them. Not preparing them would be the greater crime.  

      • Middle Schools

        Are an important area for improvement in Cambridge.  The current K-8 approach leaves many students with varying degrees of education, achievement and, too often, maturity as they enter high school at grade 9.

        There is no one factor to explain the differences as there are many that vary by elementary (K-8) school including:

        1) Class size.  Eighth grade class (all eighth grade students in a school) sizes last year ranged from a high in the low 70's to 13.  It is hard to see where going from a class size of 13 to over 400 in your grade at the high school is not a shock to the system.  Too many of these students are unprepared for the changes that await them at the High School.  I will say that the process this year where the ninth grade is effectively off campus by themselves has made marked improvement in the transition of the ninth grade to the high school environment (per teachers and parents) and warrants additional study.

        2) Cohort skills and teacher focus.  This can be called the luck of the draw.  If you get lucky and have a great group of kids that love to learn and teachers that respond to that then you move forward faster.  If the class has disruptive influences then you may move slower.

        3) Home resources.  This is becoming a big deal in Cambridge.  Now the Council is not talking about resources in the school, but also resources in the home.  The talk is in terms of computer access, etc.  I would take it a step further.  Computers, etc. can be accessed at the library or other sites throughout the City.  The resource I prefer to look to is parental involvement.  This entails ensuring that your son or daughter is doing their homework and is spending time on their studies and not tweeting, texting or blogging.  The resources I would focus on before computers in the homes would be access by parents to liaisons that could help point students to tutors when the parent(s) need help with the homework themselves.  Not meant to disparage the parents, subjects change frequently and what they knew as math going through school may be very different today.  We need a method to provide help to the parents and the students so they can work together on their educational goals.  But without parents providing oversight of their childrens' focus on studies all the money in the world will not solve the issue of focus.

        Cambridge spends approx $26,000 per student so it is not the money, it is not the lack of willing volunteers as there are many, it is working to develop and approach that incorporates the parents and encourages all students regardless of ability to achieve the best that they can.  Let the test scores fall where they may, but I will continue to believe that if teachers teach to push the students to achieve their best and parents support the teachers in this process then tests will become but a measure of success.

        All that is missing is getting the parents back on the side of the teachers and not the students as it is hard for teachers to do their best when they are worried about lawsuits or complaints from students and teachers.  To sound a little old, when I was in school the teacher was right, no questions asked.  That has been lost somewhere and I feel we would all be better off if we could return to some of that respect for the teacher and the work that they do.

        • Completely agree

          I wrote a letter to the Chronicle awhile back stressing the need for a robust middle school program. I am convinced that if we use 4th and 5th grade MCAS data to figure our who the under-performing kids are we can bring them back to speed by the 9th grade. Instead of just ignoring the data like we do now and leaving a lot of students behind.  

  4. but look how you get fed money for schools in the USA

    You get federal money for your district by focussing on the lowest achieving students and schools. For instance here in Boston the superintendent proposed to close 10+ underperforming schools, build 10+ new schools in the same areas, and put the same students back in the new schools.

    In this way the city gains buildings and building contracts with money taxed by the feds. However in the end it's all just shuffling students around.

  5. Gut reactions

    I'll start with the disclaimer that I couldn't get either of the linked articles to load properly, so I haven't had a chance to read them.

    Finland must have something else going for it.  It must be the one exception to other developed nations which I'm pretty sure all have longer school days and school years than we do.  I'd love to just be able to trust that learning is going on and nix the standardized testing, but I support such testing because the results without have been disasterous without.  I very much favor grouping by ability level both as a student and as a teacher.

    • It's quite true...

      As I said, what works in Helsinki won't work in Holbrook...and Rovaniemi is no Roxbury.  But the fact that this works somewhere argues against its dismissal based on gut feeling.  

      There are issues with grouping by ability, not least of all that "Ability" is a very fuzzy concept (math ability?  language ability?  what then for science?) and that students' demonstrated abilities can change rapidly, more quickly than most education systems can react.

      As for "I'm pretty sure all have longer school days and school years than we do", this is one of those myths the privatizers try to keep going.  In terms of hours on learning (keeping in mind the 20-minute lunch that schools offer, the lack of siestas, and gradual strangling of art/music/fun from school) you get:

      870 hours of instruction per year in Russia 950 in England 970 in Canada 1,057 in Japan 1,061 in the US 1,067 in South Korea

      (Source: TIMMS testing, 2003)

      Though many systems have more school days per year than the US, none use the time as brutally efficiently as America.

      sabutai   @   Tue 4 Dec 7:00 PM
      • a better source than mine!

      • It won't work in Wellesley either

        Are you purposefully diverting attention from the guilty party here?  The reason it won't work here is because of rich white modern two-income families who want longer school days because they don't want to be stay at home moms.  The trend to have children school-homed is not urban, it's suburban, and low income families are actually more likely and more amenable to have at least one parent home to raise the children than are ideologically and materialistically motivated middle-income families.

      • same teacher == greater efficiency...

        As for "I'm pretty sure all have longer school days and school years than we do", this is one of those myths the privatizers try to keep going.  In terms of hours on learning (keeping in mind the 20-minute lunch that schools offer, the lack of siestas, and gradual strangling of art/music/fun from school) you get:

        870 hours of instruction per year in Russia 950 in England 970 in Canada 1,057 in Japan 1,061 in the US 1,067 in South Korea

        (Source: TIMMS testing, 2003)

        Though many systems have more school days per year than the US, none use the time as brutally efficiently as America.

        I think that having the same teacher(s) for the first 5 years of school, as the article on Finland demonstrates,  greatly increases the efficiency: the teacher doesn't have to repeatedly 'learn' the students and expectations are (likely) very quickly re-adopted after extended time away.   I can imagine that, with a teacher of true merit, the synergy assumed after year two and into the fifth year, can be quite a marvel.   In the converse, where an assembly line of students comes through year after year, can, it seems to me, lead to a depersonalization and or devaluation of individual students in favor of a 'template' mentality.

        So the system of continual churn might be 'efficient' in terms of material covered and rote instruction provided, but is not, as I can see, all that efficient in terms of teaching: too much time is spent in the churn.

        The other thing that struck me, from the article and video posted, was the use of the term 'head teacher' rather than the more prosaic 'administrator' that we have here: it's clear that the Finns have a system not distinct in its adversarial posture, as we have here.  

        • Looping

          It's called "looping" in the jargon...staying with the same kids more than one year then starting over.  Personally, I had the same group of students two years running...and I'd that saved some 10 school days because we didn't need to spend time getting acquainted.

          sabutai   @   Tue 4 Dec 7:00 PM
        • On the flip side

          If the teacher sucks you are stuck with them for five years. My grades took a nose dive during 3rd grade after I left a great old school teacher for the experimental MILES program at the old Fitzy. That teacher was a complete disaster and the school was anarchical. I don't think I learned anything for a whole year. Within the first two weeks of my 4th grade class I had learned more math than I had the entire previous year.  

      • Ability grouping is something I really push for.

        We started switching classes for Language Arts as young as first grade, and math in fourth grade.  In junior high we were levelled based primarily on Language Arts, but it seemed pretty indicative of our competency in other subjects as well.  High school of course had college prep, honors, and AP.  As a student I'm glad I had an opportunity to be taught at my level.  As a substitute teacher I've seen mixed classes as my town dropped levelling at the elementary level.  In one 5th grade class half were on IEPs and the teacher taught it that way.  I am so glad I was not one of those non-IEP students in that class because I would have been bored to tears.  I've also had classes where I assign work and a third finish in reasonable time, a third are holding everyone else up, and a third take just a couple of minutes and then start asking what to do when they're finished.  It's much easier to teach a class with everyone more or less able to work at the same pace.  You should measure by grades the previous year and of course reassign every year or possibly every semester.  I'd even go as far as wonder whether we should dump the age/grade level relationship entirely.  That is, put kids into subject classes only by ability.  If there is a few year gap between the oldest and youngest in a class so be it.  You might be a math whiz and therefore the youngest in math class, yet struggle in language and be the oldest in that class.

        • It's a tough call

          I say you pick your poison on this.  Ability grouping has a lot to lend to it, and a lot that doesn't.

          The trick is that between grades 5-8 demonstrated ability can change rapidly, not least of all because the concepts are different.  Math becomes so different that it involves new portions of the brain, history is no longer story time, and science introduced induction and not just deduction.  In this  changing environment, a "top level" kid in September may be a mid-level kid in February.  What chance does a kid have who comes into a class one level above, that is two months ahead of her old class?  And none of this even gets into the neurological changes that affect students of this age.

          I think the "dump and save money" approach that is called "differentiated instruction" is not the best solution either, for the reasons you describe.  But which is superior?

          Dumping age-grade connections does make a fair bit of sense in my mind to an extent, but considering the number of social interactions in class, there are concerns there.  Does a 14 year old belong in a group with a 10-year old, even if they both have trouble finding the main idea in a paragraph?

          I'm not saying change is impossible or even bad.  I"m saying it's complicated.  It's also the sort of thing one would wish policymakers were considering, rather than how best and quickest to privatize education.

          sabutai   @   Tue 4 Dec 7:00 PM
          • Idk

            Id say from my own experience that having a rigorous middle school program where all the other kids were as smart as I was, where I was no longer bullied due to my abilities, and where I made a lot more valuable friendships based around common interests was good for me. It also meant that the entire class was on the same page, something I wouldn't see again frankly until college.  

        • The research indicates that heterogeneous grouping

          produces the best results--for all students, irrespective of grade.  Getting the class composition right is essential of course, but in a balanced classroom, heterogeneous grouping lifts the lower achieving kids and gives the higher achieving kids a chance to demonstrate both their independence and their mentoring capability.

          Accreditation pressures are moving high schools away from homogeneous grouping, except for those kids in AP, and there is a significant push to provide AP for all.  

          I've taught both homogeneously grouped kids in high school and  heterogeneously grouped kids--with correct composition (no more than 25% on plans)--in middle school.  I prefer the heterogeneously grouped instruction across the board and am pleased that we are moving in that direction at our high school.  

          • The research seems to address theory.

            In practice, I've seen as both teacher and student that it doesn't work that way.  Higher kids generally don't get the opportunity to demonstrate their potential and the lower kids tend to set the tone for the class often in terms of discipline as well as achievement.  I don't understand AP for all.  There needs to be demonstrated competency unless you're willing to go all the way to the sink or swim extreme and allow kids into a class that any reasonable person could predict they will fail.

            The high achievers almost always get the shaft.  When I was growing up our school's gifted and talented program was first on the chopping block when the budget got tight.  I think I have only once seen an IEP which modified curriculum upward, and I'm sure that kid's parents were very squeaky wheels.  The lowest students have all kinds of services, IEPs, resource rooms, etc. and that is their class.  High achievers maybe get the aforementioned enrichment programs, but not in any integrated sense.  We must get to the point where we acknowledge that the need to be challenged IS a special need.  That there need to be IEPs and special classes for those students in just the same way as there are for the learning disabled.  To do less is to do a gross disservice to these students and just simply unfair.

            We can certainly have different preferences on this, but my own wish for more levelling remains firm.

            • When I was growing up.....

              Well, your wish, I'm afraid is unlikely to be reality in high-achieving, forward-thinking districts.  Your anecdotal experience and emotional reactions are surely meaningful to you, but fortunately they apply only to you and are not replicated in progressive, successful, high-achieving schools or districts.  The data is the data and the research sound.  In this entire comment, you seem to wish to substitute your personal preferences (and biases) for actual data, research, and best practice.  Not cool at all.   I hope you don't make a habit of rejecting substantiated research like this when it doesn't suit your sensibility.   Some meaningful professional experience might help you sort this all out as what you've written here smacks of little in that regard.   "Resource rooms and that is their class," indeed.    

              • Don't discount experience and exposure.

                I have absolutely no problem with your having different preferences and experience than me.  You said above you prefer to teach heterogeneous.  That's certainly a fine preference to have.  I was not dismissive of your contribution to this discussion.  Please afford me the same courtesy.  Not sure what the last line was about.  My district has resource rooms to address the special needs of those who are learning disabled with no equivalent for the other end of the spectrum.  If your district does indeed have the latter then I am officially envious.  Research is great and there is a place for that, but keep in mind this is a soft rather than a hard science.

              • I have to disagree

                I concur that research in aggregate shows that heterogeneous classrooms work.  However, there is also sufficient data that high-achieving students have greater overall achievement when educated in an environment respectful of their abilities.  

                Frankly, gifted&talented students should have their own IEPs and their own experiences that complement and supplement their classroom experiences.  "AP for all" sounds akin to "varsity football for all" or "Harvard for all".

                sabutai   @   Tue 4 Dec 7:00 PM
                • AP for all is not what you suggest--at all.

                  The classes are opened up to students who have a clear understanding of the coursework and wish to challenge themselves.  Teachers are trained to specifically teach AP  classes under these conditions.  There are many hybrid classes that don't fall under this banner but are Honors/AP combined and those who are AP slotted take the exam.  The Honors kids don't, but they benefit from the rigorous coursework.  

                  As for your suggestion that "gifted & talented students," whatever that really means, should absolutely be provided opportunities to stretch and grow, I absolutely agree. I don't think that's the issue, though, and has nothing to do with heterogeneity of the classroom.  This is an instruction/teacher training issue, not a classmate issue.  

                  • I believe..

                    ...that is was you who suggested "AP for all".  I do know what advanced placement classes are, and I'm glad those still exist.  I have no truck with anyone taking the AP exam...why not.

                    As for " 'gifted & talented students,' whatever that really means", I hope you get an opportunity for more professional development in that field.  These are severely under-served students within our system who are as clinically distinct as ADHD or frankly autistic students.  While what I think of as "ultimate differentiated instruction" could meet these students' needs, the fact that this "dump'n'hope" approach has so thoroughly failed over the last few decades makes me suspect if a more proactive solution is needed.

                    sabutai   @   Tue 4 Dec 7:00 PM
                    • There is no established or accepted criteria for identifying

                      and characterizing "gifted and talented students," and I believe you know that .   As for my level of professional development in this area, I'm  had more than a fair amount.  Thanks.  

                      I did suggest AP for All as a good thing, but you characterized it as this:

                      "AP for all" sounds akin to "varsity football for all" or "Harvard for all".

                      I was trying to point out to you that AP for All is not that--at all.  I assume you are familiar with AP, so I don't understand why you would make such a disparaging comment regarding students s who wish to take advantage of AP-level instruction.  The districts who offer AP for All are to commended, not mocked.

                      At any rate, we're on that road again, and I'm not going down it.  Completely unnecessary.  

                    • Fair enough

                      There is limited consensus for identifying those students who demonstrate particular ability in those skills emphasized in the school environment (G&T), particularly as a threshold issue.  It's the same problem in the opposite direction as identifying autism.  I remain frustrated with the official pretension that G&T is too confusing or ill-defined and thus doesn't exist and shouldn't be serviced, though.  The attitude of "whatever that means" dismissal has become a common way to attempt to shut down planning for the very real special needs of G&T students.   If I misunderstood you about AP (exams) for all, I'm sorry -- anyone who wants to take the exam should be allowed to do it.  

                      sabutai   @   Tue 4 Dec 7:00 PM
    • in poking around

      I found that the UK appears to have about 194 days, Australia about the same, Canada depends on the province (I found 178 in Ontario). The days may be longer, but in most cases have significantly longer breaks in the midst of them, so that the so-called "time on task" is the same or shorter than in the US.

  6. Sweden has School Vouchers

    There's no one perfect model for teaching, which is why I'd like to see school vouchers.  But it would have to be done in such a way that radically decentralizes schooling.  Any reform should treat teachers like professionals rather than subjecting them to every new harebrained ideology-driven reform cooked up by academia.  

    • Vouchers

      I get the feeling that if vouchers were implemented, as soon as the Herald ran a story about schools named the "Malcolm X" or "Cesar Chavez" schools attracting lots of students, people would suddenly be against vouchers.  

      • Vouchers an odd concept

        I think for special education and maybe for gifted students vouchers would work, but as a catch all solution to our education crisis they fail miserably. What makes private schools 'better' on paper is that they select their own students which by law public schools cannot. Er go if all the private schools were forced to accept all the public school students with a truly universal voucher program than they would be just as 'bad' as the public schools the replaced. Alternatively if the vouchers were for a limited population we would see a brain drain from the public schools.

        That said though it is unfair to the individual student to keep them in a bad school, I happen to teach at the high school our governor would have gone to had Milton not given him a voucher, and I am unconvinced he, or anyone, could emerge from there after 4 years and still go to college. Its the quintessential liberals dilemma-do we help one or two disadvantaged people or do we keep all of them in subpar situations with the hope of lifting all of them up?

        • It takes money from the public system.

          As to your final question I choose the latter option without hesitation.  The trick is to make them non-subpar.  This falls into greatest good for the greatest number, which is the concept on which I generally hang my policy preferences.

          • Accountability is good

            However, test scores are at best a partial solution.  It's akin to judging a dentist by the number of cavities his/her patients have  -- shockingly, dentists that cater to upper-income, wealthy populations would make out better.  Doesn't mean much.

            sabutai   @   Tue 4 Dec 7:00 PM
          • The trick

            That's the rub, isn't it?

            Much of the education policy discussion focuses, at bottom, on whether that is a practical possibility while simultaneously embracing jconway's Option 2.

            I say "practical" possibility, because I'm sure that with unlimited resources, anything can be done, but unlimited resources will never happen.

          • Except when its your kid that falters

            I for one am glad my sister was able to send my nephew to a private school with vouchers instead of the public schools which were wholly ill-equipped to address his special needs.  

        • Why would the private school be $quot;forced$quot; to accept anyone with a voucher?

          A primary factor favoring private schools in these comparisons is that they can decline admission or expel.  I don't see how that dynamic changes if people who otherwise qualify obtain financial assistance in the form of a voucher.

          It would benefit public schools to be more selective in this way, but the objective to serve 100% of the students means that a lot of resources must go to a fraction of the enrolled kids.

          • Right

            Which is why its not a catch all panacea to the crisis facing the public schools. I am saying the right tends to make vouchers sound like this easy process whereby you just give the per pupil money back the parent and they can send their kid wherever, accept that if their kid is a behavior problem or tests low its unlikely to be an option even with the money. So we end up plucking the would be Deval Patrick's out of public school draining them of talent and leaving the rest to a second class education. That said, had Deval stayed at Hyde Park High I suspect he would not have gone to Harvard, Harvard Law, and corporate and political success. This is not to demean him, but only to say that this particularly school resembles the Hobbesian state of nature more so than a place of learning-and its not alone in Chicago or in this country in that respect.

            Charters are a lot more interesting in the sense that they have much more freedom to experiment and try radically new approaches to education, Urban Prep, also on the South Side, has had fantastic results with a school that has a robust house system (smaller schools within the school), small groups that meet after school to focus on college prep like applying and researching schools that are never touched on in the avg. school day, its all male including the staff, and there are uniforms. So far it has sent all of its students to college. Neighborhood school Englewood High remains the worst in Chicago.

            Now I also understand the reservations to charters, mainly under the existing structure they take away funds from local schools, but if we could perform these kinds of experiments in small class sizes, discipline, single gender schools and/or classes, and ethics focused liberal arts education perhaps we could see similar results in public schools. Public boarding schools in DC have also been successful and remove a lot of the parenting problems.  

            • Maybe I'm missing something

              This is a feature, not a bug, no?

              Presently, in many urban districts, one goes to the school one is told to go to.  Period.  If you are sufficiently involved as a parent to seek an alternative, sacrifice for tuition, work bingo, etc., and if your child is one who might benefit from being in a place in which the lion's share of resources are consumed by discipline and remedial reading/math, tough.  Those kids get stiffed in favor of the under-performers, and the underperformers don't perform anyway.

              In other words, vouchers don't solve the problem for everybody, they solve the problem for some.  Any solution that tries to solve the problem for everybody, like th existing public school system, say, is doomed to failure.

  7. i say

    1-legislature house... because all those other good ideas would follow suit :)

    (well, the adoption of a new language may not necessarily happen, but I'd settle for embracing the idea that we don't have to be so xenophobic about the english language and those who don't know it in this country.)

    As for the subject of your article, I find it very interesting. I think the gist I get from it is that 'there are many ways to skin a cat,' but in order to skin it well... you need to actually observe what works and what doesn't. Standardized tests and charter schools in this country has not "solved" public education. A strong public education system that addresses the needs of each and every student and keeps parents involved would.  

  8. sab

    what do you think about finnish teacher selection?  i think i saw somewhere that they reject 90% of those who apply to study to become teachers.  

    • Don't really know the system

      Teacher treatment and rejection of applicants go hand-in-hand.  Finnish teachers are treated well in many ways, so the system has the luxury of picking and choosing only the best candidates.  Treat American teachers as professionals, and you'll be able to reject 90% of applicants and still service the students.  Treat Finnish teachers like cr-p, and they'd have to be far less fussy, too.  

      sabutai   @   Tue 4 Dec 7:00 PM

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