AJ Duffy, The Video                 

Education Models

A very rough draft I wrote about Finland's education reform

Nineteen seventy was a year filled with the usual contemporary big splash events:

The first earth day was celebrated.

The United States military invaded Cambodia.

Paul McCartney announces the Beatles have disbanded.

Finland begins the process of overhauling their education system.

The first three events seem on the surface to be far more momentous and certainly more nostalgic then the forth. However, the overhaul of the Finish education system is probably the most important event of the nineteen seventies and should by all rights be listed as the single most important event of the last half of the twentieth century whose outcomes and lessons should lead us into a golden era in school reform.

That overhaul has taken Finland from the middle of the international education pack to the head of the class and should serve as a shining beacon for comprehensive progressive education reform. The data would suggest strongly that in order to build a world class education system, tweaking the system will never work.

Blaming teachers is easy but leads nowhere except on an endless search for answers that can't be found. Blaming teacher unions is vogue but senseless if for no other reason than teachers and their unions must be a part of the process to transform public education. And using standardized tests to judge the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom is the most fallible gauge of teacher excellence and does nothing to add to learning. In fact, using standardized tests to judge the quality of teaching is the lazy bureaucrats excuse for not doing the real work necessary to create a quality assessment for classroom teachers.

In looking at the education system in the United States, I compared it to several systems
around the world: Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Finland. While they all
have similarities to one degree or another as well as strengths and weaknesses, I believe
that all roads to education excellence lead us to Finland.

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The Fins understand that from quality education grows economic health. They understood in a very unique way early on that economic health was absolutely dependent upon quality education. And to attain that they realized that collaboration between government, teacher and trade unions and business and industry must be on the same page and moving in the same direction. Discussions, disagreements and yes arguments about policy must be had but at the end of the day only common ground would suffice to move the nation ahead economically ,culturally and spiritually by creating the kind of world class education that served the greatest number of people and there-by the nation as a whole.

     It's not just investment in education that motivated Finland and permeates their society; it is a deep       seated belief that the best and most important investment the nation can make is in its people.               Indeed I believe the country that does not truly invest in its people is a bankrupt society doomed to         eventually fall from the heights to obscurity and extinction as a meaningful entity.

The most astounding fact of the disparity between the quality of Finland's education system and ours is that though we hail and applaud Finland's success we refuse to learn the lesson and emulate them embrace what they have done, take it for our own and rebuild our education system utilizing a model that works. Perhaps it is our national ego that blocks us from acting on another nation’s collective and cumulative knowledge.In Finland the end game appears to be using education not only to build the nation economically but also and most importantly to create a healthy nation by building healthy people: healthy in body, in soul, and in pocket. For what good is a full pocketbook if the soul is empty and devoid of passion and compassion for the least able to survive.

         Major roadblocks exist between governmental bodies and teacher unions in the United
         States. This situation exists because of two major factors.

Governmental bodies, on all levels, mistrust teachers and their unions. Unlike in
Finland, we do not strive to make teachers and their union a part of the process of change because we simply do not trust them--and look where that has gotten us.

Why do we spend so much time training teachers only to dictate to teachers what they should teach, how they should teach it, and what resources they can and cannot use.

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Certainly in Finland there is a give and take and a push and pull relationship between Teachers Unions and the education bureaucracy, but at the end of the day there is compromise for the benefit of the students and the health of the nation.

Sometimes I ponder the waste of human resources that are diverted from the

main goal of quality education for all children. This waste occurs because of the constant struggles between unions and management before agreements are made and after through endless struggle over interpretation of contract language. It is almost as if we want teacher unions and education management to embrace the ambiguity to simply continue the fight…..  Madness!

The second factor in the seemingly dysfunctional relationship between teacher unions and education management is the unfunded mandates that stretch education budgets to the breaking point.

In the United States we are big on lofty education goals set by governmental bodies and local school boards, and very thin on financial support to attain those goals. Two
examples suffice to make the point.

Education that has been mandated and appropriately so, for special needs. Students have never been fully funded. And No Child Left Behind legislation whose goals are appropriate but wildly unrealistic. These programs, mandated by the federal government, like so many other mandates are doomed to failure and eventually to exit into oblivion because those who mandate refuse to fully fund. You simply can't put starving children into an apple grove, tell them to eat their fill and not give them a latter tall enough to reach the hanging fruit of knowledge from the trees.

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    What follows can be considered the keys to the kingdom. Finland’s jump to the top draw leader in       education excellence can be traced to several important changes in their approach to education reform.

    In Finland all teachers are educated in universities. Permanency cannot be attained without a master’s degree. Teachers are respected and paid well. The most important factor in Finland’s teacher quality is who and how they determine who will be allowed into education programs. Also, in both their primary and secondary schools competition for grades does not exist. Every child is given every opportunity and raised up to attain the highest level of knowledge and skill possible. In Finland no child is truly left behind.

    The competition occurs in the process of who gets accepted into university education programs. In the United States virtually anyone with decent grades, the money to pay, and the ability to pass tests and write papers can get into education programs and exit them to become full- fledged teachers. Some are great teachers. Others fall into the classic bell shaped curve of competence. They do an adequate to good job, neither great nor under par. While the latter group of teachers seemed to have been highly successful when our country needed masses of skilled and semi-skilled vocational workers, the new highly technical world of fast passed computerized skill levels needed both to compete and be successful seems to be eluding us. I believe this is happening because we are simply not set up to attract the best and brightest into the teaching profession.

By contrast because Finland firmly believes that the root structure of a healthy economy is each succeeding generation of students, they assure each generation that only the best and brightest are teaching the generations to come. How do they accomplish this? Simple, they restrict who comes into the teaching profession and who get out taking their place into the highly regarded profession of teaching. As I stated earlier getting into and out of education programs in Finland is highly competitive. Only 10-20 percent of applicants are accepted and of that number only approximately 10 percent make it out. And applicants are generally of the top half of the graduating class of their secondary schools.

There is a secondary benefit to the “best of the best” paradigm. Most of the administrative and master teacher time goes into working with classroom teachers to create the best and most meaningful professional development and professional growth rather than looking over their shoulders. When you start with the best of the best who are also highly motivated you end up with a teaching force that is well prepared and highly motivated. Finally, when that group of teachers is given an enormous amount of autonomy to create the curriculum that best suites the needs of students and the resources to carry out the mission, you end up with a proscription for success.

In point of fact, Finish teachers, for the most part, do not view their evaluation system in the same way we do in this country. Our evaluation systems are of the “I got you´ type. Theirs is collaboration between many elements to improve teacher expertise. Stated simply, Finish evaluation system is geared to maintain the highest standards and improving the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom.

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What you have just read is a rough draft of what was to grow into a larger big picture view of education around the world. Obviously the book did not get finished and may never but in point of fact, Finland’s ascendency to the top clearly shows what can happen in a country when all of the meaningful sectors of life participate in crafting a product that is truly meaningful quality.

I’m not sure what will happen with our education system and when if ever the education establishment will ever trust the teaching staff at any given school but I am sure that our modern education bureaucracy needs to be dismantled and rebuild as conduits for monetary and human resources to go directly to schools and disavow the current model of command and control.

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