Saturday, March 23, 2013

Sahlberg on Real Education Reform Solutions

Finnish educator Dr. Pasi Sahlberg recently provided a simple, effective roadmap for U.S. school reform. The following are excerpted from Finnish educator suggests solution for education reform (emphasis has been added):

"'I am not here to compare or compete in education, I am here to share some of the experiences we have had,' Sahlberg said. 'I wouldn't be here and Finland wouldn't be there unless we had been so carefully learning from what had been happening during the last one hundred years in this country.'

"Sahlberg sees many countries trying to use GERM, the Global Educational Reform Movement, to improve their public schools. The four components of GERM are competition, standardization, test-based accountability and choice, which he says end up hurting the education systems in the long run.

"'If the elements of GERM were a good idea, I think there would be at least one country in the world that would show by doing this, things would improve,' Sahlberg said. 'But there is nothing. Not a single successful example of a country that has relied on GERM.'

"His response to the GERM infection is the 'Finnish Way,' which is how Finland has been implementing educational changes over the past 40 years.

"'Everybody in high school, 100 percent of our kids, have a personalized learning plan,' he said. 'And we have been trying to enhance equity in the education system, which means everybody should be successful in the school system regardless of where they come from.'

"Sahlberg provides his three steps for better education: taking equity more seriously, spending less time in the classroom and improving the professionalism of the teachers."

So, what Dr. Sahlberg's saying is:

1. The U.S. decentralized education system is the model that was used by the Fins to improve their system.

2. Reform centered on high-stakes testing doesn't work.

3. Opening more schools in an attempt to create a market-place approach to public education isn't the answer. Nor are closing schools or firing teachers ala Michelle Rhee.

4. Equity of opportunity is the foundation for an individualized education system that supports achievement for all despite the conditions they live in or the background they come from (in Finland, all schools are funded the same).

5. Putting more resources into improving teacher professionalism is important, not cutting school revenues so drastically that schools are forced to reduce staffing, salaries, and professional development.

6. True education reform takes time (40 years and counting for the Fins) and cannot be done in a year (or less than a year for the supporters of the EAA model in Michigan), a few years or even a decade.

I'm betting Dr. Sahlberg is not a member of ALEC, doesn't subscribe to any of the Mackinac Center publications, and doesn't reside anywhere near Ada, Michigan. That would imply that he "knows nothing" about education reform. At least that's what they probably think in Lansing.

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