Archives for category: International

This comment came from a teacher in Mexico who read the post by a charter school teacher in a “no excuses” charter school. .

She writes:

“I am a kindergarten teacher in Mexico we belong to the so called third world and what you have described as a bad experience is what is happening here too. This kind of teaching has led us to a lack of values and a general violent citizenship. This is a wrong way, it is like going backwards. If you as a country start teaching your kids as third world countries or as dictatorships do you are in danger of losing the progress and the benefits of a civilized society where human rights and human development will be lost. Please keep on fighting to support your public schools so we can have a role model to follow; do not give up what you have achieved, give us some hope by standing for the joy of learning, for the respect of children, for preserving their integrity and dignity, do not let go, please, keep on leading the way so we can refer to you when we try to explain to our authorities what school should be.”

“Please look at this teacher you will love it though it is in spanish. Performance para repensar el rol del docente – El…:″

In the past few days, the media has barraged us with stories about how American students rank on PISA’s “problem-solving” test. We were told that they scored better than average yet still behind other nations.


But what is the test and what does it mean?


Andy Hargreaves of Boston College, co-author with Michael Fullan of Professional Capital, tweeted to me an article in the British press that contains examples taken from the test.


As I read the questions, I am reminded of standardized test questions I have seen that pop up on tests of reason and logic or on IQ tests.


Why don’t we administer the PISA problem-solving test to our state legislators and publish their scores? Or to the top officials at the U.S. Department of Education?


Now that would be interesting, wouldn’t it?



This is not an April Fools’ joke.

Russian troops are massed on the borders of Ukraine.

People are shopping in the fish market in Odessa, going about their daily life.

Then a flash mob appears.

What do you think they do?

Why do these notes always speak of hope? Why do they stir us so?

Why do we hear this music and think of a better world?

Thank you, Andrew Sullivan, for posting this beautiful scene.

Dr. Hunter O’Hara and Dr. Merrie Tinkersley visited Finland, and this is what they learned:

“American Educators Find Surprises in Helsinki and at Home in the United States”

On the basis of Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores, Finnish public schools have ranked at the top, or very near the top in the world in the areas of mathematics, reading and science. Seven teacher education seniors and three teacher education faculty at The University of Tampa traveled to Finland to determine the nature of Finnish success with public education. We visited three public schools; 1) grades K-8, 2) grades 1-6, and 3) grades 9-12. We also visited Metropolia University and the University of Helsinki. At U.H. we had an extended conversation with a teacher education professor.

Prior to our visit, we understood that Finland prides itself for creating school equality across the nation. During our visit, we felt we were able to develop a realistic perception of Finnish public schools. We also spoke with Finnish students, teachers, administrators and parents. We expected to see extraordinarily dynamic, innovative teachers and pedagogy. We anticipated being dazzled with Finnish approaches to instruction, teaching strategies and techniques……such was not the case.

We observed examples of group inquiry/investigation, interdisciplinary thematic instruction, content-driven flexible conversation as well as the use of film for instructional purposes. Approaches such as these are not novel and are modeled, taught and practiced in multiple teacher education courses and internships at The University of Tampa. In terms of teaching strategies, nothing we viewed seemed visionary, extraordinary or new. Rather we noted that some teachers were using very traditional methods such a lecture/question and answer.

What Is Different About Finnish Schools?

Surprisingly for several of us, we did not see technology used in classrooms at all. We saw no use of standardized testing. In fact, we verified that there is no standardized testing in Finland unless the classroom teacher requests such a test for her or his own diagnostic purposes; but never for accountability. Progress is monitored, but the design and timing of exams are left up to the classroom teacher. We saw an egalitarian curriculum that includes substantial coursework in the fine arts, social sciences, the humanities and physical education in addition to mathematics, science and reading. High quality learner-created artwork adorns classrooms and all hallways. Not unlike the United States just a few decades ago, pianos are found in elementary classrooms.

We found that learning environments are noncompetitive. Instead of competition, the focus is on group learning pursuits and class multilogues. Physical education courses focus on fitness rather than competitive gaming. Finnish students do not even compete in inter-school athletics.

Finnish Culture and The Classroom

We did see significant cultural identifiers that directly impact the functioning of the school community and learning pursuits. Finnish learners are afforded a great deal of autonomy and freedom. Correspondingly, significant levels of maturity are expected of learners. Learners are trusted and expected to complete tasks without policing. Starting in first grade, students are expected to serve themselves at lunch and breakfast (free of charge) and to clear after themselves- regardless of their developmental level. Learners spend a significant amount of time in the out of doors pursuing projects and play regardless of temperatures (for Finns, there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing). They know how to manage their frigid climate well. Learners act autonomously on a frequent basis and are free to take their time during transitions and while they are engaged in various projects. For example, there is no lining up and single -file –silent- walking between locations at the elementary level.

Just as cold temperatures predominate the weather, mutual trust predominates Finnish human interaction. As teachers trust learners, learners trust teachers to have their best interests at heart. School administrators trust teachers and learners, and Finnish communities trust teachers and principals to do their jobs well. Just as teachers trust learners, the Finnish government trusts Finnish teachers to structure facilitate and maintain successful learning environments. One principal shared, “I trust that teachers are going to do their own work in their own way.” Another principal indicated to us, “The focus is on trust, instead of accountability, and there are no high stakes tests. What happens in the classroom is up to the teacher.” Schools are never ranked and teachers track their own students. Finns trust their teacher credentialing process. Unlike many United States charter schools, Finns who have no credentials in education do not meddle in school affairs. Due to the prestige and free teacher preparation at the universities, Finland is able to admit only ten percent of the applicants into the teacher preparation programs. The Finnish government does not police schools in terms of learner performance, and the national standards for the various content areas are a succinct few pages.

All Schools Equal in Finland

There are no charter schools in Finland, no school vouchers, no “grading” of schools and no magnet schools. Unlike the United States, the intent in Finland is to assure that all schools are of equal quality. Again, that quality certainly does not owe it’s success to test driven instruction and curricula, nor does it have to do with “teacher accountability” campaigns as they have been called in the United States. Such approaches would have no place in a trust -centered nation like Finland. As has been made clear by their world ranking, Finnish schools are successful without the above questionable practices. Finnish teachers are highly respected and their prestige ranks with that of doctors and lawyers. Again, Finnish teacher preparation is paid for by the Finnish government. All teachers are prepared traditionally through a five year university preparation program. There is no alternative teacher certification in Finland.

Finnish teachers are fully unionized and they earn decent wages. We learned from faculty and administrators in Finland that there is no place for a scripted curriculum if administrators hire well qualified, traditionally prepared teachers. Moreover to be effective in their profession, teachers must be afforded professional autonomy and academic freedom. Many of these essential, teaching success-inducing components have been eroded in the United States over the past few decades.

Naturally, as educators we found Finnish schools to be very attractive, and yet we never lost our faith in the American public schools that had prepared us- the very schools to which we had also dedicated our professional lives. Quite plainly, the successes we saw in Finland should occur in the United States. Not only that, we were made aware that the entire design and implementation of the Finnish school system was based on American education research! As a matter of fact, the United States generates eighty percent of the research in education worldwide. If American education research is a good enough to base the design of one of the very most successful public education systems in the world, why is it not good enough to use in the United States? Furthermore, if we had the answers in the United States, why were we traveling to Finland to find our own answers?

Return to the United States

Not long after we returned to the United States, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools was published. Diane Ravitch’s carefully researched book contradicts the rabid negative mythology that surrounds American Public Education. Ravitch is a research Professor of Education at New York University and was appointed to the National Assessment Governing Board by President Bill Clinton. In short, she reveals that American Public School high school dropouts are at an all-time low, high school graduation rates are at an all-time high and that test scores are at their highest point ever recorded. In fact, when compared as a nation “the states of Massachusetts, Minnesota and Colorado … ranked among the top-performing nations in the world” (p. 67). Further, “if it were a nation, Florida would have been tied for second in the world with Russia, Finland, and Singapore” on the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (p.67). Not only that, “American students in schools with low poverty-the schools where less than ten percent of the students were poor- had scores that were equal to those of Shanghai and significantly better than those of high-scoring Finland, the Republic of Korea, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, and Australia.” (p. 64) Most significantly, Ravitch confirms that the single biggest source of low academic achievement is poverty. Poverty impacts learning in dramatic ways and for learners to transcend that barrier, they must first overcome the overwhelming and debilitating effects of poor nutrition, poor health care, inadequate clothing and housing. Child poverty in Finland is 5.3 % but child poverty in the United States 23.1 % according to the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Report Card 10; the highest rate of poverty amongst all of the advanced nations in the world. It should also be noted that unlike the United States, many PISA high scoring nations do not school learners in an egalitarian fashion past certain ages; which is to say that, in those nations, by the time students take the PISA, underperforming students have already been “weeded out” or eliminated. Ravitch is justified when she asserts that American public education is an extraordinary success.

In light of Ravitch’s meticulous research, one can only wonder why seemingly sinister forces have conspired to stigmatize American Public Schools. Not to be forgotten, however, is the role that American Public Schools have played in the success of this nation. When we act to stigmatize or to condemn that bulwark, we are actually working to condemn ourselves. If the American people allow their public schools to be undermined by powers that have only their greed and self interest in mind, we do so at our own peril. If the day arrives when public schools are lost, the middle class will surely be lost as well. We must all value, support and protect American Public Education.

Ravitch, D. (2013). Reign of Error. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Andy Hargreaves, Pasi Sahlberg, and Dennis Shirley are noted for their scholarly, articulate, and outspoken opposition to the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM), which is spreading like a virus.

Now, one of the chief exponents of GERM–(Sir) Michael Barber–has delivered a report to Boston informing the business community that the schools are mediocre and need a strong infusion of privatization and (of course) more testing. (Sir) Michael Barber previously worked for McKinsey, and he is now the thought leader of that esteemed pusher of testing, Pearson.

Hargreaves, Sahlberg, and Shirley write here about why (Sir) Michael Barber is wrong. (Sir) Michael Barber made his reputation as a creator of the UK’s system of standards and assessments; because of his love of “targets,” he is known as Mr. Deliverology when he is not known as (Sir) Michael Barber. However, the authors point out that there has been no educational renaissance in England and that Massachusetts scores higher on the targets than the nation that last took (Sir) Michael Barber’s advice.


They write:


What’s wrong with the report? First, its grudging acknowledgement of positive educational outcomes in Massachusetts and grim portrait of the state’s shortfalls have little to do with the facts. Massachusetts is the leading state in the United States on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. It is the only state in the United States with an “A” grade in the highly regarded Quality Counts 2014 State Report Card. It is also one of the world’s top-performing systems on a number of international assessments. Its rate of recent progress may be slower than some countries, but they’ve started from farther behind — Massachusetts literally has less room for improvement. To view the state’s school system as suffering from “complacency,” as the report claims, confounds all the findings of United States and international research on school achievement.
Moreover, the report draws many of its recommendation from the United Kingdom, where its lead author, Michael Barber, once worked as an advisor on education to former Prime Minister Tony Blair. England has made massive investments in “academies,” similar to government-supported charter schools here. It has explored various ways to prepare new teachers outside of a university setting. There have been targets and tests galore. Yet, results from the 2012 Program of International Assessment put England merely at the international average, 499, compared to Massachusetts students’ score of 524. For Bay State policymakers to follow England’s lead in education would be like the Red Sox taking coaching tips from the lowly Kansas City Royals.


Yong Zhao posted the first of five blogs about the faulty claims of PISA, the international test that false reformers love to cite as evidence that our schools are failing and our kids don’t work hard enough. The five blog posts are drawn from Zhao’s much awaited new book. If you have not read his other books, order them now. Catching Up or Leading the Way and World Class Learners. You will enjoy them.

Zhao calls PISA “one of the most destructive forces in education today. It creates illusory models of excellence, romanticizes misery, glorifies educational authoritarianism, and most serious, directs the world’s attention to the past instead of pointing to the future. In the coming weeks, I will publish five blog posts detailing each of my “charges,” adapted from parts of my book “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon: Why China has the Best (and Worst) Education.”

In this post, Zhao demonstrates one of the misleading claims made by Andreas Schleicher, who runs PISA.

Zhao writes:

“Andreas Schleicher has on many occasions promoted the idea that Chinese students take responsibilities for their own learning, while in “many countries, students were quick to blame everyone but themselves.” France is his prime example: “More than three-quarters of the students in France … said the course material was simply too hard, two-thirds said the teacher did not get students interested in the material, and half said their teacher did not explain the concepts well or they were just unlucky.” Students in Shanghai felt just the opposite, believing that “they will succeed if they try hard and they trust their teachers to help them succeed.” Schleicher maintains that this difference in attitude contributed to the gap between Shanghai, ranked first, and France, ranked 25th.”

Zhao shows by citing PISA rankings that this claim by Schleicher does not withstand scrutiny. It is false.

He writes:

“What’s intriguing is that the countries whose students are least likely to blame their teachers all have a more authoritarian cultural tradition than the countries whose students are most likely to blame their teachers. On the first list, Singapore, Korea, Chinese Taipei, Shanghai-China, Japan, and Viet Nam share the Confucian cultural tradition. And although Japan and Korea are now considered full democracies, the rest of the countries on the list are not[3]. In contrast, the list of countries with the highest percentage of students blaming their teachers for their failures ranked much higher in the democracy index. Norway ranked first; Sweden ranked second, and Switzerland was number seven. With the single exception of Italy, all 10 countries where students were most likely to blame their teachers ranked above 30 on the Democracy Index (and Italy ranked 32nd).

“One conclusion to draw from this analysis: students in more authoritarian education systems are more likely to blame themselves and less likely to question the authority—the teacher—than students in more democratic educational systems. An authoritarian educational system demands obedience and does not tolerate questioning of authority. Just like authoritarian parents [2], authoritarian education systems have externally defined high expectations that are not necessarily accepted by students intrinsically but require mandatory conformity through rigid rules and sever punishment for noncompliance. More important, they work very hard to convince children to blame themselves for failing to meet the expectations. As a result, they produce students with low confidence and low self-esteem.

“On the PISA survey of students’ self-concept in math, students in Japan, Chinese Taipei, Korea, Viet Nam, Macao-China, Hong Kong-China, and Shanghai-China had the lowest self-concepts in the world, despite their high PISA math scores[4]. A high proportion of students in these educational systems worried that they “will get poor grades in mathematics.” More than 70% of students in Korea, Chinese Taipei, Singapore, Viet Nam, Shanghai-China, and Hong Kong-China—in contrast to less than 50% in Austria, United States, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands—“agreed” or “strongly agreed” that they worry about getting poor grades in math[5].”

And he concludes:

“In other words, what Schleicher has been praising as Shanghai’s secret to educational excellence is simply the outcome of an authoritarian education.

“As discussed previously, Chinese education has been notoriously authoritarian for thousands of years. In an authoritarian system, the ruler and the ruling class (previously the emperors; today, the government) have much to gain when people believe it is their own effort, and nothing more, that makes them successful. No difference in innate abilities or social circumstances matters as long as they work hard. If they cannot succeed, they only have themselves to blame. This is an excellent and convenient way for the authorities to deny any responsibility for social equity and justice, and to avoid accommodating differently talented people. It is a great ploy that helped the emperors convince people to accept the inequalities they were born into and obey the rules. It was also designed to give people a sense of hope, no matter how slim, that they can change their own fate by being indoctrinated through the exams.”

Our policymakers wish our students and teachers would think, act, study, and behave like their counterparts in Singapore and Korea. But first they will have to change America’s irreverent, anti-authoritarian culture. Good luck with that!

Comedy Central, are you listening?

Finnish students almost never take a standardized test. They take tests written by their teachers.

There is one test, however, that students take at the end of high school. It is the same for all students but the quality of the questions is far more complex and interesting than the questions found on the SAT or the ACT.

Here Pasi Sahlberg explains the kinds of questions that Finnish students are expected to answer.

The structure of the exams sounds amazingly like the old essay-style “College Board examinations” that were offered from 1901-1941, when they were replaced by the SAT for the sake of efficiency and speed (the decision to make the switch was made on Pearl Harbor Day). The Finnish exams are written and scored by teachers and scholars, not computers.

There are no bias and sensitivity guidelines to screen out controversial topics. Indeed, the tests include controversial topics.

Here is a typical question:

“Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels predicted that a socialist revolution would first happen in countries like Great Britain. What made Marx and Engels claim that and why did a socialist revolution happen in Russia?”

Students don’t pick a box. It is not a multiple-choice question. Students have to know what they are writing about. No guessing. No SAT, no ACT, no Pearson. .

I earlier posted a five-minute video presentation in New Zealand by Dr. David Hursh.

Here is the full presentation.

In the ongoing debate between Tom Loveless of Brookings and Andreas Schleicher of the OECD, score one for Loveless.

Loveless has steadfastly maintained that the astonishing scores from Shanghai are almost meaningless because of the missing students.

At a conference in Great Britain, Schleicher admitted that about a quarter of the children in Shanghai were not sampled for the PISA exam.  Yet he continued to maintain that the children of menial workers in Shanghai know more than the children of professionals in other countries.

Now if only he could produce a scintilla of evidence that the PISA rankings foretell the economic future of any country tested.

Maybe he might explain how it is that the U.S. is the most powerful economy in the world despite the fact that its students have persistently scored about average in the international league tables or even in the bottom quarter over the past 50 years.

This came as a comment:


Why do Obama and Duncan insist on naming South Korea as a model? Other than testing results, there is little that is admirable about the South Korean education system and South Koreans would be the first to admit it (I am South Korean, although I was educated in the US because my parents immigrated to — you guessed it — spare my siblings and me from the South Korean education system). Public schooling is basically meaningless, kids start going to cram schools that run until 10pm or later while in middle school. Regular school is just for sleeping and socializing. Parents have only one kid (Korea has the lowest birthrate of any OECD country) because educating them is such an insane cash drain. Even so Korea spends much more of its GDP % on education than the US has or ever would. Korean schools can be better funded, standardized and operated because the central government provides most of the funding and sets the curriculum. Socially, Korea is a very horizontally integrated country (at least superficially) outside of certain well-known wealthy neighborhoods like Gangnam, so there are very few equivalents of inner city schools. Most kids, rich or poor, attend similar schools with similar resources.

However, it doesn’t really even matter that Korean public schools are supercifially decent across the board because the reality is that most of them don’t matter to an extent that makes a poorly performing inner city school in the US look like a fountain of opportunity in comparison. There are specific schools in Gangnam that everybody tries to send their kids to because they are known as magnet schools for the best universities. Average academic achievement is very high in Korea but the results are horrifically unjust – in a recent year it was found that 60% of the new hires by Samsung (the most prestigious employer in Korea) were graduates of a single high school in Seoul (plus of course one of the top three universities). Think about that. You don’t go to that high school and you’re basically screwed if you want to work for the biggest, most prestigious company in your country. No wonder the kids are committing suicide.

Korea has the highest immigration rate among OECD countries because even now, if you aren’t one of the lucky elite, you’re better off trying your luck in a foreign country. Imagine if the US had higher test scores but millions of our best and brightest left every year because the US had nothing for them to do. There is your South Korean “model.” That the President and the Secretary of Education know so little about what they are talking about when it comes to public schools makes me seriously worry about whether they know anything about the other things I don’t have any expertise on, and therefore have to take their word that they have a competent level of mastery on the subject.



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