Monday, June 09, 2014

How Finnish Education Really Works

It is highly selective at all levels.  And selectivity SHOULD yield higher performance

… American reformers have been smitten with the Finnish school system for a couple of years now, but they have not really fully understood that it is NOT what they think it is, nor will it magically cure what ails American schools. And, being that I am Finnish (duo citizen w/ USA); have a mother who taught English & German in Finland; have HKI U professor cousins whose kids are in Finnish schools; I feel that I can burst the Common Core bubble by telling all of you some truths about the Finnish system that those annoying American reformers chose to ignore as they now try to push CC to the American public. …

Well, these are some of the things that CC fans have ignored as to how the Finns use their education core standards which are supposed to be adapted by US public schools:

1. PISA is taken in 9th grade, around the time students (students start school at 7) are 15 turning 16. At the end of 9th grade, surprise, Finnish students are entitled to receive a HS diploma, and many graduate, move on with their lives. 80 % continue to business schools, Votech community college-like places, nursing schools, industrial schools, trade schools. All free of tuition. Teaching, however, requires the rigorous Bac HS for 3 more years, and then you pray that you are accepted to a 6-year university program after that.

2. ONLY 20% of Finnish students move on to the intensive baccalaureate 3-year program for which they have to take a test- that would be the equivalent of scoring 1300 out of 1600 SAT. One simply will not get ACCEPTED to the national universities without being in this percentile. University of Helsinki and Aalto only accept the top 10%. Most students in that very small group (17-19 year olds) are confident enough to continue for the baccalaureate diploma, since they have passed ALL the tests that will ALLOW them to enter the Bac program in the first place.

In the Helsinki area there are roughly 10 HS. For each one, a student must take an exam to see if they get into their favorite one…normally, one picks 3…and of course, their district HS, if they are not accepted to the any of the other, favored ones. Currently, the most popular one is completely taught in English, and only the top 3% get in there. Of course, it is the STEM HS (similar to Stuyvesant) in Tapiola, a suburb of Hk. Many American ex-pats’ kids go there…and Asians/other foreigners whose parents are working in the tech sector in Finland.

3. Starting in 7th grade, there IS tracking, at least in the Finnish metropolitan areas. Finns believe strongly in letting their best minds move quicker faster…children are considered a national resource, so the country believes in supporting the top students/most academically gifted from falling off the rails because of boredom/crappy parents/crappy home life. Even the best hockey players go to their “own HS” in Lahti since Finland knows that they will become future multi-million dollar NHL players and come home to Finland as the top 1% taxpayers. Finnish people are loathe to leave Finland….at least forever.

4. Not only do Finnish kids have to read books in Finnish, but Swedish is also required…and English, starting in 2nd grade. Most of the immigrant/refugee kids can be exempt from Swedish, but they must learn Finnish or they will not succeed in the country. If their English is good (better than Finnish), there are “English only” High Schools where they can springboard to universities in UK or USA…which is fairly common. I know several non-ethnic Finns, immigrant students that are at Stanford, Harvard, MIT, etc.

5. Curriculum is not dumbed-down, nor is it unrealistically hard for students who just can’t master the content. Skilled teachers do a fair amount of differentiation, and parents have no say as to who gets to be in the “higher track,” or not, since every child has to hit certain bench marks. There is far less parental involvement and no sports. Teachers are free to teach, no annoying parents meddling, and, this is accepted as status quo.

Some work is done together as a group in the classroom, some is harder for the more capable students…and no one argues that this is not fair. There is plenty of pull-out programs for the students who are struggling with content, particularly the newer immigrants. Also, every week the same content is taught (with different levels of rigor) in every Finnish school but the teachers are completely entitled to deliver the content in a method of their choosing. This is why the quality of teachers is so high and why their education is long and laborious – why they are respected.

6. Special needs kids have separate schools – the Finns have not figured a way to realistically, in their opinion, integrate SN children. In some cases, a high-functioning student who is autistic is integrated, and possibly attending a top HS & later, university.

7. Finnish students more or less, must know what kind of student they are/what they are interested in/what are they good at by 15-16. All males upon turning 18 must serve in the army or navy, where they get another chance to do some soul-searching. It is not imperative or socially more acceptable to go and get that university education as opposed to wanting to be a plumber. Career choices are numerous, and, it is not considered negative to end your secondary HS education after 9th grade. I have many friends who are ship’s captains, nurses, small business owners, marina managers, equine managers, bakers, potters, fire fighters, nuclear power plant technicians, professional snowboarders who were loathe to enter that rigorous 3 year HS Bac education, even if they could have, academically.

Finland believes that students develop an innate sense of themselves and what kind of career they want from their K-9 years. And, proof of that is that everyone seems happy in that cold, northern country, and, the population is increasing every 10 years. And, yes, there are plenty of millionaires and well to do with their yachts and water-front homes. It is not some kind of socialist, snowy wasteland. They do pay more taxes than Americans, but they don’t have to worry about tuition for any type of post secondary school education; they have universal healthcare and the fastest internet in the world, great infrastructure. Beckham had all his knee surgeries there.

I know this is really wordy, but I felt like stating all this since American reformers ignore the plain truth that not every student is the same/has the same motivation/same level of acuity/same interests. And, this is NO ONE’S fault. It is a shame that all I ever hear from Common Core supporters (particularly by Ivy League graduated journalists and reformers) is that every student in America can supposedly do the level of work that a student bound to a Caltech/MIT/Stanford does. That everyone is special/everyone is equally creative/artistic/intelligent is not true and should be obvious to people. If this was the case, one would think that reformers would question the very validity of a Noble Laureate: did they “game” their research? Did they receive sneaky, expensive test prep to get into their initial undergraduate university? Were they from a perceived affluent family, so were thus, privileged over others? Are they really intellectually superior in their field? Is there work somehow fraudulent?

Expecting all students to excel like all top % students world-wide, can not be willed somehow. And, I do think the point that a previous commenter made (if CC fails, it proves that current American teachers are crappy) about the nefarious intentions of the reformers is a valid one.


Middle class children from the best-performing British schools should miss out on top universities, says government study

Universities should discriminate against applicants from private schools, grammars and high-performing comprehensives, Government-funded research has suggested.

The controversial study reccomends that universities should lower their entry requirements for pupils from non-selective and poor-performing state schools because they show more ‘potential’, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

These students are ‘significantly’ more likely to graduate with a first or 2.1 in their degree than peers from private or high-achieving state schools who gained similar results at GCSE and A-level, the study of millions of school-leavers found.

They are also less likely to drop out of their degree courses part-way through.

The researchers, led by Dr Claire Crawford, claim that selective schools may be better at drawing out good results from their pupils - a so-called ‘teaching effect’.

They say that university entry grades should be lowered for pupils at comprehensives, particularly schools where pupils make poor progress, ‘in order to equalise the potential of all students being admitted to university’.

The study – published yesterday by his own department – will disturb Education Secretary Michael Gove who has warned that attempts to skew university admissions policies give weak schools an excuse to avoid improvement.

In contrast, his colleagues at the Department for Business, David Willetts and Vince Cable, have urged universities to go further in introducing so-called ‘contextual’ admissions.

But in a further finding, the study suggested that many costly initiatives aimed at encouraging less privileged youngsters to apply to university may have been wasted because they came too late in their school career.

Efforts should instead be focused on encouraging pupils to choose appropriate GCSE subjects at 14 and boosting their achievement in them at 16.

Universities are likely to use the study to justify schemes that involve making lower offers to pupils from certain schools or groups or giving them places ahead of more advantaged applicants.

Growing numbers of universities are adopting such policies but the research claims that ‘more could be done’.

But critics claim the policies risk crude ‘social engineering’ and detract from attempts to boost academic standards in state schools.

The new study will also add to confusion since separate research earlier this year claimed that those with top grades – mainly As at A_level – stood roughly the same chance of gaining a good degree regardless of whether they attended a state or private school.

Only students with slightly lower grades – Bs and Cs – were more likely to do well at university if they came from a state school, according to findings from the Higher Education Funding Council.

It also suggested that ‘contextual’ admissions policies which take into account the average performance of an applicant’s school are flawed.

The performance of a school – whether high or low-achieving – was said to make little difference to a pupil’s chances of achieving a first or 2.1 at university.

However in her report, Dr Crawford, a researcher at the IFS and assistant professor of economics at Warwick University, said universities ‘may wish to take into account a measure of school value-added’ – how much progress it helps pupils to make – ‘or school performance…when making their admissions offers’.

The report said it could not recommend ‘specific changes that should be made to the entry offers of particular universities’.

But it added: ‘These results provide suggestive evidence that universities may wish to consider lowering their entry requirements for pupils from non-selective or low-value-added state schools (relative to pupils from selective or high-value-added state schools, or independent schools) in order to equalise the potential of students being admitted from these different types of school.’

It said pupils from state grammars should be ‘excluded from receiving these lower offers’.

According to the research, which tracked millions of school-leavers over several years, those from selective private or state schools or comprehensives with low numbers of pupils on free school meals are ‘significantly more likely to drop out, significantly less likely to complete their degree and significantly less likely to graduate with a first or a 2.1’ than their counterparts with similar results in non-selective or lower-performing schools.

Among pupils with similar grades, pupils from selective independent schools were 6.4 percentage points less likely to complete their degree and 10.3 percentage points less likely to graduate with a first or 2.1.

‘Those from non-selective or low-value-added state schools could be regarded as having higher “potential” than those from selective or high-value-added state schools or independent schools’, the report said.

It suggested that private and selective schools ‘may be better at producing good grades at GCSE for their pupils than others, meaning that a pupil of given ability will obtain higher grades at a selective school than a non-selective community school’.

But it added that such schools may be preparing their pupils poorly for university study.

‘While independent or selective schools might be very successful at preparing students for GCSE and A-level (and equivalent) exams, they may be less good at preparing students for independent study at university,’ it said. And pigs might fly


Radical Islam in British secular schools: now the shocking truth emerges

"Students' understanding of the arts, different cultures and other beliefs are limited." That's one of the complaints about Birmingham schools made by Ofsted in their leaked report. It sounds like a relatively mild criticism.

Not so. What the Trojan Horse scandal has revealed is that leaders of the Muslim community in Birmingham have been creating a Wahhabi-inspired counterculture in secular, not faith, schools.

Put simply, the interpretation of Islam that's sweeping through the Muslim world, thanks to Saudi money, seeks to deprive children of any exposure to the arts, which it condemns as idolatrous. Even listening to music is haram, forbidden. The underlying teaching is that the arts, by seeking to create beauty, blaspheme by detracting attention from the only source of true beauty, Allah, which can be appreciated only in the natural world he created.

The imposition of this ideology on Muslim cultures is a tragedy – for them. But secular state schools in Birmingham are not part of Muslim culture, and their ghettoisation under the years of Labour government is a scandal.

To be clear about this: primary school children in certain non-faith schools are not taught music because Islamic fundamentalists have been able to manipulate the system.

Finally, Ofsted has begun to discover what's going on. I very much doubt whether it would have done so if anyone other than Michael Gove – who is not an Islamophobe but is definitely a veteran opponent of creeping Islamism – were Secretary of State for Education.

I expect plenty of controversy in the days to come, as the Ofsted report is published and its implications sink in. The BBC will try to dampen it down. We mustn't let that happen.


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