Common Core – ‘Benchmarking’ to Finland’s Success

Just to see  what one of the “high-performer” countries to which Common Core was “internationally bench-marked” was doing, I searched Finland’s education system.

I found an article published Smithsonian Magazine titled “Why are Finland’s Schools So Successful?” by LynNell Hancock. Please note that Finland has a population of 5.4 million people, a fraction of the population of PA and even smaller fraction of the entire U.S.

In discussing the reforms that lead to Finland’s success story:

…the final set of initiatives shook the classrooms free from the last vestiges of top-down regulation. Control over policies shifted to town councils. The national curriculum was distilled into broad guidelines. National math goals for grades one through nine, for example, were reduced to a neat ten pages. Sifting and sorting children into so-called ability groupings was eliminated. All children—clever or less so—were to be taught in the same classrooms, with lots of special teacher help available to make sure no child really would be left behind. The inspectorate closed its doors in the early ’90s, turning accountability and inspection over to teachers and principals. “We have our own motivation to succeed because we love the work,” said Louhivuori. “Our incentives come from inside.”

On teacher autonomy and authority over curriculum and classroom environment:

Teachers in Finland spend fewer hours at school each day and spend less time in classrooms than American teachers. Teachers use the extra time to build curriculums and assess their students. Children spend far more time playing outside, even in the depths of winter. Homework is minimal. Compulsory schooling does not begin until age 7. “We have no hurry,” said Louhivuori. “Children learn better when they are ready. Why stress them out?”

“Children learn better when they’re ready.”  What a novel concept. My, how Kindergarten has changed here in the United States from its original intention of being like a ‘children’s garden’ where children learn naturally through imaginative play, singing songs, rhyming, and interacting with each other. That concept has been replaced with academic rigor and rigidity to standards and curriculum. Play is now the exception, not the rule. It’s serious business now in the Kindergarten classroom. And just imagine adding testing on top of it all, which PA intends to do if it can just get the funding. (And, thanks to the Corbett Administration, PA has implemented Early Childhood Learning standards for Infancy through First grade.  And of course, if you have standards, you’ve got to test them. Yes, infancy learning standards.)

Of the current initiatives in American education, the article notes:

“In recent years, a group of Wall Street financiers and philanthropists such as Bill Gates have put money behind private-sector ideas, such as vouchers, data-driven curriculum and charter schools, which have doubled in number in the past decade. President Obama, too, has apparently bet on competition. His Race to the Top initiative invites states to compete for federal dollars using tests and other methods to measure teachers, a philosophy that would not fly in Finland. “I think, in fact, teachers would tear off their shirts,” said Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal with 24 years of teaching experience. “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.””

Furthermore, Finland has no standardized tests until graduation. The first test children are possibly exposed to is in the sixth grade, and this is only at the discretion of the teacher, who do it mostly out of curiosity. The results are not published. Finnish educators have a hard time understanding the United States’ fascination with standardized tests.

“Americans like all these bars and graphs and colored charts,” Louhivuori teased, as he rummaged through his closet looking for past years’ results. “Looks like we did better than average two years ago,” he said after he found the reports. “It’s nonsense. We know much more about the children than these tests can tell us.”

If we are touting Finland as a success story, why are we running in the opposite direction with more top down control and more standardized assessments?  Furthermore, some of these high-performing countries touted by the Common Core propaganda have standards, others do not.

Next: PA’s Sunshine Laws Left Most of Us in the Dark

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