Stop the testing madness and focus on what the Finns have already proven works!

Let’s face it, profit drives America. It’s what a society based on the merits of capitalism is all about. As such, here’s a truism we continue (and likely will continue) to ignore:

There’s no profit in fixing poverty and inequality, but there’s a fantastic amount of profit in high-stakes testing and charter school management. The education reformers will continue to ignore what drives Finland’s success. (my words)

Anu Partanen, a Finnish journalist based in New York City, writes a compelling year-ending post for the Atlantic Journal titled: What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success. The most compelling thought is the sub-heading of the online article: The Scandinavian country is an education superpower because it values equality more than excellence.

Here are several key points from her article but I strongly encourage you to go to the link and read the entire post:

  • Finland owes their fame to one single study, the PISA survey.
  • Finnish schools assign less homework and value creative play.
  • There are no private schools in Finland. Only a small number of independent schools exist and they are publicly funded. There are no private universities, either.
  • Finland has no standardized tests except for an exit exam following the equivalent of high school.
  • Teachers are trained to assess students in the classroom using teacher-created tests (what a novel idea).
  • The Finnish system focuses on responsibility, not accountability.
  • Teachers are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility.
  • A master’s degree is required to enter the profession (in America, the reformers argue a master’s degree is not necessary in teaching).
  • Education policy is driven not by competition but by cooperation.
  • The PISA results were a surprise to most Finns. They thought it was a mistake. They were not focused on test results, instead they were focused on eliminating inequality of opportunity.

As Partanen points out, Pasi Sahlberg’s new book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? makes a similar argument and Sahlberg himself admits no one in America wants to tackle the real problem. We don’t even want to talk about it:

Americans are consistently obsessed with certain questions: How can you keep track of students’ performance if you don’t test them constantly? How can you improve teaching if you have no accountability for bad teachers or merit pay for good teachers? How do you foster competition and engage the private sector? How do you provide school choice?

In other words, the solution in America involves (1) give more tests, (2) fire more teachers, (3) destroy the unions, and (4) open the market up for ginormous profiteering through charter school management.

All of these focus on the bottom financial line. None of these focus on student learning. Superintendents and other community-based K-12 leaders must band together to help Partanen, Sahlberg and others get this message across once and for all. The future of our kids depends on it.

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About David Britten

Retired U.S. Army Officer, former elementary, middle and high school principal, currently serving as a public school superintendent.
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