Timothy Noah

Finlandize Me

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From Diane Ravitch's latest piece in the New York Review of Books:

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. 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 datastrategies similar to the ones that helped produce the economic crash of 2008.

Ravitch's essay is about the superiority of schools in Finland, a new meme among those she calls "corporate reformers" in order to distinguish them from education reformers who actually know what they're talking about. The latter group admires Finnish schools, too, Ravitch writes. Remember when "Finlandization" was neocon-ese for "losing the Cold War"? Now it seems we could all stand us some Finlandization.

Funny thing, though. "Finland disproves every part" of the corporate reformers' agenda, according to Ravitch:

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 opportunityan 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.

 You can read the rest (or rather, the rest of part one; it's a two-part series) here

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