Driving to work today I was listening to BBC radio when they covered a story about the success of Finland’s Schools. The phenomena of Finnish schools is not new to anyone who follows education policies. And yet the simple truths about why they are successful continue to evade U.S. education policy makers (aka Billionaires and corporations). How can this be? The question leads me to deduce one of two possibilities: Either they are so completely diminished in their collective mental bandwidth in spite of the numerous degrees from Harvard (or so completely removed from the world we call reality) that they are unable to acknowledgment the facts as they are, … or, their ignorance to the facts is deliberate.
After being in this fight against corporate reform for many years now, I have determined that the answer to this conundrum lies in the latter explanation. It’s hard to consider that those in charge of one of the most fundamental cornerstones to our democracy, public education, could be working so hard to destroy it, but looking at the facts, we can no longer deny the possibility, even if it’s hurtful and ugly to look at.
Where Finland does not begin formalized instruction until the age of 7, we push “academics” earlier and earlier via toddler testing and developmentally inappropriate expectations (NO studies have proven this to be effective). Finland hires highly trained unionized teachers who are respected. We replace highly trained teachers with TFA grads, shatter unions, and create a climate of disrespect and mistrust for teachers. Finland does not require high stakes standardized tests in schools. We dole them out like Pez. I am sure there could numerous more comparisons like these.
So, if we see the evidence in Finland’s success, wouldn’t it make sense to do what they do? Unless … one of two things were really happening. Either
1) we really don’t want to copy their model because, let’s face it, there’s no corporate profit to be made using their model,
Or, 2) following the counter argument I have heard many people make; “Well, Finland is successful in part because it is completely different than the U.S. in so many ways—they’re smaller, they don’t have our poverty rates and other socioeconomic complexities we do,” would force policy makers to concede that Finland’s success rests in large part from their policies on issues beyond the scope of what happens IN schools. In other words, U.S. policy makers would have to admit that no test, no curriculum, no “better teacher” evaluations can re mediate for the socioeconomic and environmental factors OUTSIDE of school influencing a child’s capacity for healthy growth and development as “evidenced” in learning outcomes.
If one looks at the facts in order to shape opinion, then we have to follow the logic where it leads. Fact: corporations and billionaires channel large sums of monies via lobbying efforts and in behind- closed- doors deals with politicians to influence educational policies especially around the supposed “need” for new tests, new teacher evaluation systems, new curricula (aka Common Core), and school vouchers. Then, once these policies have passed at the federal or state levels, these same companies and billionaires are conveniently the recipients of the contracts to provide the services needed to implement the new policies. And they make scads of money for doing so.
Need a charter school to replace that “nasty old” public school? Hedge funders can help you with that. New tests required to be taken on computers? Gates can help with that! Need all the latest Common Core training and prep manuals? Pearson can provide those! Need some way to manage this new mind boggling amount of child and testing data? inBloom has got what you need!
Now whether or not you agree any of this is a good idea is I suppose a matter of opinion. But the fact that it happens is not negotiable. The fact that it’s profitable has been demonstrated again and again. The claim that it helps children has yet to be shown.
It is also a fact that no test, no system of convoluted evaluations, no magic bullet curriculum (aka Common Core) has ever: 1) been proven to increase graduation rates (all of which actually increase drop out rates in many districts), 2) meet the needs of diverse learners (teaching to the test and scripted curricula leave out millions of different types of learners and their needs), 3) reduce the school to prison pipeline, or 4) ameliorate the affects of poverty on children.
What can we prove these policies do? 1) When schools and children “fail” these tests the community schools are closed and re opened as hedge fund invested charter schools (which studies show do NOT out perform their public school counter parts), 2) children’s stress, behavioral problems, health problems and anxiety levels rise, 3) corporations MAKE money, and 4) schools LOSE time and money for programs and practices which HAVE been proven to improve/enrich learning such as:
- reduced class size
- ensuring all classrooms have highly trained educators trained in real teacher preparation programs (not TFA teacher wanna be’s),
- embedded art, music, PE, library, recess and after-school programs
- culturally relevant, creative, student-centered, hands-on curricula
Funny. Finland seems to know this.
And it’s not only that we are ignoring the truth about what has been proven to create successful and meaningful learning for all children. It’s bad enough that we DENY millions of our nation’s children the right to these things. It’s worse. We’re channeling millions and millions of dollars AWAY from proven strategies to fund policies and practices that do the exact opposite. We pay money to set up our children, teachers, and students to fail.
Why? Just follow the money. How could anyone possibly deduce otherwise? The facts speak for themselves. It’s that simple.