Rhode Island won a Race to the Top grant, so of course the state is obsessed with competition, accountability, and high-stakes evaluations of students, teachers, principals, and schools.

Fortunately, the great Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg was invited by the University of Rhode Island to describe an alternate universe where entering teachers meet the highest standards, students do not take standardized tests, competition is minimized, and almost every student graduates from either an academic or career program.

Sahlberg said:

“Finland, unlike the United States, believes that schools can provide every child with a quality education without sacrificing excellence. But that means taking care of the whole child: offering early-childhood programs, comprehensive health and special-education services and a curriculum that values art, music and sports as much as math and English.

“In a fundamental sense, Sahlberg said, the United States is asking the wrong questions. Instead of asking, “What will help students succeed in today’s economy,” the U.S. should be asking, “What will encourage students to be active participants in a democracy?” and “What will make them be lifelong learners?”

“Sahlberg is also highly critical of the American emphasis on what he sees as a competitive, market-driven philosophy of public education, one that asks states to compete for federal dollars by agreeing to federally guided reforms.
Sahlberg also says that the growing popularity of school choice, in the form of charter and for-profit schools, undermines the traditional public schools by pulling valuable resources from students who need them most.”

The contrast between what Rhode Island and Finland could not be more stark.