Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Teaching our children... some propoganda from Queens Parent.

Just read an article in a local parenting magazine about what we can learn from Asians about education that quoted the 2009 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment.  She pointed to the importance of learning to take tests and memorizing by rote, which I thought was odd.  After 15 minutes of research and actually reading the assessment on which she based the ENTIRE ARTICLE, I realized she was either a lazy or intentionally misleading readers. 

From the assessment:  In 2001 China moved "away from repetitive and mechanistic rote-learning towards increased student participation, real-life experience, capacity in communications and teamwork, and ability to acquire new knowledge and to analyze and solve problems." 

Yeah... I just blew up your entire thesis to justify our regressive fifteenth ranked education system by doing a google search and actually reading the source material.  (The irony of the 2009 PISA focusing on reading and comprehension was not lost on me.)

She also did not take into account what the top three schools have in common:  Equity.  The goal of the Shanghai/Hong Kong system, Korean system and Finnish system is educational equity.  PISA is specifically testing students ability across social and cultural lines, assessing "how far students near the end of compulsory education have acquired some of the knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in society. In all cycles, the domains of reading, mathematical and scientific literacy are covered not merely in terms of mastery of the school curriculum, but in terms of important knowledge and skills needed in adult life."

In making education equitable, these countries have actually made their educational systems better; more effective; more relevant; increased the pay, training and respect for teachers. (In Finland, teaching is one of the most respected professions, accepting only the top 10% of students into the field.)

Shanghai and Hong Kong have taken very different approaches but both have implemented a goal of "universal education."   They are integrating rural and urban schools and removed "key" schools at the elementary and junior high level.  Their goal of equality of education has gone hand in hand with the removal of "learn by rote" education.  This change truly took effect in 2001.  By 2009, they ranked #1 in the PISA assessment.

In Finland, the road to reform was slow and steady, nearly four decades, and its "current success is due to this steady progress, rather than as a consequence of highly visible innovations launched by a particular political leader or party."

"Finland is one of the world’s leaders in the academic performance of its secondary school students, a position it has held for the past decade.  This top performance is also remarkably consistent across schools. Finnish schools seem to serve all students well, regardless of family background, socio-economic status or ability...  possible factors behind this success include political consensus to educate all children together in a common school system; an expectation that all children can achieve at high levels, regardless of family background or regional circumstance; single-minded pursuit of teaching excellence; collective school responsibility for learners who are struggling; modest financial resources that are tightly focused on the classroom and a climate of trust between educators and the community."

Finnish schools are also so much more:

The first thing to note is that these schools offer more than education. These are full-service schools. They provide a daily hot meal for every student. They provide health and dental services. They offer guidance and psychological counseling, and access to a broader array of mental health and other services for students and families in need. None of these services is means-tested. Their availability to all reflects a deep societal commitment to the well-being of all children.
A commitment to the well-being of all children.

Doesn't this sound like a place you want to send you child?  How you want them educated?

What none of these systems have is an emphasis on testing.  In one case (China) they moved from a test based system to an integrated "real life" practical methodology to increase student involvement.  Finland does not test its students until they are in their teens, children don't start school until they are seven and art, music, play time and hands on education are  integrated and balanced with traditional subjects.

It is telling that all of this comes from a final report called Strong Performers and Successful
Reformers in Education:  Lessons from PISA for the United States
(emphasis mine)

We have much to learn.

And unfortunately we have to deal with journalists/writers, like this hack from my local parenting magazine, using falsehoods to push an agenda or simply doing shoddy research and politicians who use education as a tool of electoral politics or, in the case of the Texas school board, as a weapon to spread a specific theological or ideological way of thinking.   We also seem to have fallen into a trap of blaming educators, making it a profession that no one would want to go into, and our flippant use of the word "accountability" instead of giving them responsibility and empowerment and focusing on the student.

PISA's goal in the assessment is to show us what similarities successful systems have.  Sadly, we in the US seem determined to trudge in the opposite direction.  Here's to hoping we change our mind.

You can see more about the most recent PISA results here.

You may also read the report, Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education:  Lessons from PISA for the United States  here

And find more presentations on Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education here.

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