Pasi Sahlberg, a visiting professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, spoke recently to Citizens for Public Schools in Massachusetts.
His topic: what can Massachusetts learn from “Finnish Lessons”?
It is worth watching. Pasi is always a wonderful speaker, and he is a leader in the international fight to resist test-mania and privatization and to protect education and children.
Professor David Hursh of the University of Rochester visited New Zealand, where he explained so-called “education reform” in the United States. He very bluntly describes the bipartisan agenda that is proving to be harmful to students, teachers, and public education.
Hursh met with educators in Australia and New Zealand over a five-week period, encouraging them to resist the high-stakes testing movement.
A teacher in the UK describes what happens when superiors demand that he or should hit their predicted targets, without respect to reality.
“The Secret Teacher
“Some years ago I was called by my head of department to discuss the grades I’d predicted for a year 11 class. They were aspirational and realistic. I was told to change them. My forecast was not in line with school targets for A*-C so if I didn’t change them I would be “targeting failure”. I changed them.
“I’ve got young kids, a mortgage and could do without the stress of a capability procedure. Morals don’t pay the bills. The class achieved close to my original prediction. I was admonished over my underperformance and the inaccuracy of my predictions – the predictions which weren’t actually mine at all.
“Following so far? Good. Because that’s target-driven education; a farce.
This September, Birendra Singh, who spent five years observing science teaching in three unnamed London schools, told BBC News that “the rate of cheating suggested in [my] small study may be indicative of a bigger picture”. He was right. It’s epidemic.
“We’ll go to epic lengths to fiddle controlled assessment. We’ll enter whatever number we need to make the spreadsheet turn green regardless of whether a kid has done the work. Until recently, we’d lie about pupils’ speaking and listening scores (easy pickings – nobody ever checked) to boost them to a C. In short, we remove every last scrap of accountability from the pupil and pull every trick in the book to make sure “they achieve their potential”.
“The result? There’s a demographic of our children with little cognitive link between hard work and achievement – that hard work leads to achievement. It doesn’t matter if you work hard or not, you’ll get the grade anyway and we’ll parade you under the banner of “improving standards”.
A reader describes the impact of GERM in Spain, where she teaches. The Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg coined the term GERM in his book “Finnish Lessons.” It refers to the Global Education Reform Movement. GERM refers to interlocking strategies of testing, choice, competition. PISA spreads GERM. GERM turns education into a competition for test scores, instead of a process of human development.
“Thanks for your blog I have just discovered two months ago.
“Here in Spain we are having lot of troubles in schools and as teachers, due to the policy of our new goverments whose only aim is to reach higher figures in school results without paying any attention to the needs of our students or the increasing difficulties of budgets. During the last year, they have been cutting our budgets and criminalised teachers, they have only paid attention to PISA results, but not in order to solve real problems. So reading your posts makes me see we are not mistaken, and our fight for a public and democratic school is legitimate.”
Finland was not at the top of the PISA league tables in the latest assessment. So what does this mean for the future?
Here, Pasi Sahlberg explains that Finland never cared about being first.
What it wanted most was to have the kind of education that was best for youth development.
What will happen now that its scores have dropped?
Finland should not do what many other countries have done when they have looked for a cure to their ill-performing school systems. Common solutions have included market-based reforms, such as increasing competition between schools, standardization of teaching and learning, tougher test-based accountability and privatization of public schools. Instead, Finns must protect their schools from the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) that has failed to help schools to get better in other countries. The better way for Finland is to ensure that schools are able to cope with increasing inequality, that teachers have tools to help students with individual needs, and that all schools get support to succeed.
PISA results are too often presented as a simple league table of education systems. But there is much more that the data reveal. The Finnish school system continues to be one of the most equitable among the OECD countries. This means that in Finland, students’ learning in school is less affected by their family backgrounds than in most other countries. Schools in Finland remain fairly equal in learning outcomes despite the rapid growth of non-Finnish speaking children in schools.
Finland should also continue to let national education and youth policies — and not PISA — drive what is happening in schools. Reading, science, and mathematics are important in Finnish education system but so are social studies, arts, music, physical education, and various practical skills. Play and joy of learning characterize Finland’s pre-schools and elementary classrooms. Many teachers and parents in Finland believe that the best way to learn mathematics and science is to combine conceptual, abstract learning with singing, drama, and sports. This balance between academic and non-academic learning is critical to children’s well-being and happiness in school. PISA tells only a little about these important aspects of school education.
Please read Jersey Jazzman’s hilarious spoof on “The Night Before Christmas.”
He anticipates not the joy of Christmas and Santa, but the much-anticipated release of PISA scores, when Arne Duncan gets to tell the nation once again how terrible American education is and how we are losing the global competition and why we are still a nation at risk.
He will conveniently overlook the fact that he is Secretary of Education and has now been in charge for nearly five years. No accountability for him!
He will surround himself with Beltway insiders who agree that our schools are dreadful despite 11 years of No Child Left Behind and nearly five years of Race to the Top.
How many more years must we wait until we declare these programs failures?
This is how JJ’s poem begins:
“‘Twas the night before PISA Day, when all through the foundations
The wonks were all dreaming about Bill Gates’s donations;
The rankings were crafted for each nation with care,
In hopes that more grants would come from billionaires;
The children were tested and stressed at their desks;
While visions of bubble sheets made them feel quite grotesque;
Suburban moms in their ‘kerchiefs, and dads in their caps,
Hoped on test day their children’s brains wouldn’t collapse,
When out at the DOE there arose such a clatter,
I looked up from Klein’s tablet to see what was the matter.”
Two nations were influenced by our thinkers and example:
Finland and Chile. Finland learned its lessons from John Dewey. Its
schools are child-centered. It prizes the arts and physical
education. It has no standardized testing. Its schools are noted
for both excellence and equity. It is a top performer on
international tests. Chile learned its lessons from Milton
Friedman. It has vouchers and testing. Its schools are highly
segregated by social class. The quality of education is highly
dependent on family income. Students in Chile are rioting to demand
free public education. No one considers Chile a model. Which
direction are we going? Why? Whose ideas are dominant
Chilean researcher Alvaro Gonzalez Torrez has read the
posts about Chile and thinks the solutions are too timid. Here are
his suggestions for what is needed to get free of free-market
“I’ve been following the series of three blog posts about
Chile, being a Chilean ed researcher myself. I believe Waissbluth’s
contribution to the blog opens a debate of international relevance
by showcasing the Chilean example in the context of a global
advance of neoliberal policies in education (what Pasi Sahlberg
I agree with the (dreadful) diagnosis offered by
Mario Waissbluth in terms of the consequences of neoliberal and
market policies in school education: high social segregation and
low attainment in schools, plus a weakened public image of public
education and the teaching profession.
Sharing the diagnosis,however, I do believe Waissbluth’s (and Educación 2020’s) proposals
to revert this situation would fall short to produce the necessary
changes. I don’t think this is the place to get in a detailed
argument, but I would say that Chile’s problems won’t be solved by
employing ‘market tools’ and ‘special funds’ as change levers.
There’s a need for more radical responses to address the radically
grim scenario of Chilean school education. The idea is to break
free from the neoliberal principles underpinning the Chilean school
system (market, choice, privatisation) that have turned education
into a commodity.
To do so, it isn’t enough to think that ‘we can
play the game better’ than the people that came before us, and use
neoliberal strategies to improve education quality (which is, in my
opinion, what people from the Concertación thought in the
Chile is the poster nation for free market education reform.
Dictator Pinochet installed Milton Friedman’s free market ideas into education. Chile has vouchers, and it also has vast income inequality. Vouchers have destroyed free public education.
Now Chile has an angry student movement demanding free public education and an end to privatization.
To learn about the damage wrought by the free market in Chile, watch this documentary. you will learn about the Chilean student movement.
Watch and learn where the free market policies of the Koch brothers, Arne Duncan, ALEC, the DC think tanks, the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Broad Foundation, Tom Corbett, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Scott Walker, and other free-market extremists are taking our nation.
As corporate reformers demand a free-market system, where charters and vouchers are easily available, and schools compete for students, it is wise to take note of Chile. Chile is the one nation that implemented Chicago economist Milton Friedman’s ideas into its education system, at the behest of military dictator Pinochet.
This is a comment by a teacher who studied in Chile:
“I was studying abroad in Chile in 2011 during the second round of student protests. I was surprised by the low academic level of the somewhat prestigious university I was attending. At one point, I offered to collaborate with a group of students in my physics class. About half the class was repeating the course, and we were all struggling. I had been watching free MIT lectures online, which had helped me understand some of the content of the class. On the other hand, I was still struggling with the format of the class and was barely passing. I offered to explain some of the concepts in Spanish using the MIT videos, if they would help me to do better in class. No one took me up on my offer. In fact, they seemed confused by the proposal. One girl responded, “But we don’t have to understand physics, we just have to get the right answers on the test!”
“My semester was cut short by the country-wide “strike” of college students, and with nothing else to do and no way to know when classes might resume, I spent a lot of time marching and talking with students. I was teargassed by faceless policemen in swat outfits during a peaceful protest. I watched students defend themselves in the only way possible–by throwing rocks at the police force’s armored trucks. I ran from burning rubble in the streets, and crossed a picket line to take final exams so that I could leave the country with credits to take back to the US.
“But what frightened me most about the protests (and what frightens me now, now that I am going into my first year as a public school teacher) was the realization that the Chilean students did not even know how to fight for their educational rights. Many students’ education was so poor and so undemocratic that they could not form an effective civil rights movement. Over and over, I watched them make basic mistakes that caused them to be ignored or ridiculed by the government, media, and middle and upper class citizens. The protests eventually ended with no tangible improvements for the students. If the US eventually gets to the point that Chile is currently at, there may be no way to reverse it.”