Archives for category: International

A recent article in The Guardian in the U.K. revealed the secret of Europe’s most successful school system: Finland. It is a four-letter word: P-L-A-Y.

The author, Patrick Butler, visited the Franzenia daycare center and describes what he saw.

Central to early years education in Finland is a “late” start to schooling. At Franzenia, as in all Finnish daycare centres, the emphasis is not on maths, reading or writing (children receive no formal instruction in these until they are seven and in primary school) but creative play. This may surprise UK parents, assailed as they are by the notion of education as a competitive race. In Finland, they are more relaxed: “We believe children under seven are not ready to start school,” says Tiina Marjoniemi, the head of the centre. “They need time to play and be physically active. It’s a time for creativity.”

Indeed the main aim of early years education is not explicitly “education” in the formal sense but the promotion of the health and wellbeing of every child. Daycare is to help them develop good social habits: to learn how to make friends and respect others, for example, or to dress themselves competently. Official guidance also emphasises the importance in pre-school of the “joy of learning”, language enrichment and communication. There is an emphasis on physical activity (at least 90 minutes outdoor play a day). “Kindergarten in Finland doesn’t focus on preparing children for school academically,” writes the Finnish educational expert Pasi Sahlberg. “Instead the main goal is to make sure that the children are happy and responsible individuals.”

Play, nonetheless, is a serious business, at least for the teachers, because it gives children vital skills in how to learn. Franzenia has 44 staff working with children, of whom 16 are kindergarten teachers (who have each completed a three-year specialist degree), and 28 nursery nurses (who have a two-year vocational qualification). The staff-child ratio is 1:4 for under-threes and 1:7 for the older children. Great care is taken to plan not just what kind of play takes place – there is a mix of “free play” and teacher-directed play – but to assess how children play. The children’s development is constantly evaluated. “It’s not just random play, it’s learning through play,” says Marjoniemi.

He cites British researcher David Whitbread, who says:

Carefully organised play helps develop qualities such as attention span, perseverance, concentration and problem solving, which at the age of four are stronger predictors of academic success than the age at which a child learns to read, says Whitebread. There is evidence that high-quality early years play-based learning not only enriches educational development but boosts attainment in children from disadvantaged backgrounds who do not possess the cultural capital enjoyed by their wealthier peers. Says Whitebread: “The better the quality of pre-school, the better the outcomes, both emotionally and socially and in terms of academic achievement.”

Importantly, early years care in Finland is designed and funded to ensure high take-up: every child has a legal right to high-quality pre-school care. In Franzenia, as in all daycare centres, there are children from a mix of backgrounds. Fees, subsidised by the state, are capped at a maximum of €290 (£250) a month (free for those on low incomes) for five-day, 40 hours a week care. About 40% of 1-3-year-olds are in daycare and 75% of 3-5-year-olds. Optional pre-school at the age of six has a 98% take-up. Initially envisaged in the 70s as a way of getting mothers back into the workplace, daycare has also become, Marjoniemi says, about “lifelong learning and how we prepare young children”.

Finnish educator look at the big picture, not test scores.

Daycare is not the only factor underpinning academic success. Hard-wired into Finland’s educational mission is the idea that equality is vital to economic success and societal wellbeing, as well as the belief that a small nation, reliant on creativity, ingenuity and solidarity to compete in the global economy, cannot afford inequality or segregation in schooling or health. Behind its stellar education ranking is a comprehensive social security and public health system that ensures one of the lowest child poverty rates in Europe, and some of the highest levels of wellbeing. Gunilla Holm, professor of education at the University of Helsinki, says: “The goal is that we should all progress together.”

Finnish children do not face the competitive pressures of children in the UK and US. When test scores on PISA dipped, what do you think Finnish educators did?

As UK educational policy becomes more narrow and centrally prescribed, Finland devolves more power to teachers and pupils to design and direct learning. Teachers are well paid, well-trained (they must complete a five-year specialist degree), respected by parents and valued and trusted by politicians. There is no Ofsted-style inspection of schools and teachers, but a system of self-assessment. Educational policy and teaching is heavily research-based.

Worried that its sliding Pisa scores reflected a complacency in its schools, national curriculum changes were introduced this year: these now devote more time to art and crafts. Creativity is the watchword. Core competences include “learning-to learn”, multiliteracy, digital skills and entrepreneurship. At the heart of the new curriculum, the National Board of Education says unashamedly, is the “joy of learning.”

Not long ago, I established a fund at my alma mater, Wellesley College, to encourage the study of public education in the United States. The fund gives support to students for research and internships; many of them are preparing to teach. The most important public activity of the fund is to present an annual public lecture about public education. I gave the first lecture. The second annual Diane Silvers Ravitch 1960 Lecture will be given by the distinguished Finnish scholar Pasi Sahlberg.

If you live anywhere near Wellesley, which is near Boston, I hope you will attend.

The lecture will be October 13, 2016, at 7 pm at Alumnae Hall.

Pasi is a brilliant thinker and speaker. He spent the last two years teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He has a broad and deep understanding of American education and international education.

I will be there, and I hope you will too.

The New York Times reported the crisis now gripping Chile. During the heyday of Pinochet’s love affair with free-market forces, when Chilean economists trained at the University of Chicago loved Milton Friedman’s libertarianism, Chile privatized social security.

President George W. Bush, like other conservatives, admired Chile’s solution. Eliminate guaranteed defined-benefit pump signs and direct a portion of employees’ wages to the stock market, where they were sure to win greater growth even as they fed the stock market. Bush tried to privatize Social Security, with Chile as a model of success. But now we learn that Chile did not succeed. Its privatization has been a disaster for workers.

Another epic fail for privatization.

“SANTIAGO, Chile — Discontent has been brewing for years in Chile over pensions so low that most people must keep working past retirement age. All the while, privately run companies have reaped enormous profits by investing Chileans’ social security savings.

“The bubbling anger boiled over in July when Chileans learned that the former wife of a Socialist Party leader was receiving a monthly pension of almost $7,800 after retiring from the prison police department. That figure dwarfs the average monthly pension of $315, which is even less than a monthly minimum-wage salary of $384.

“In a country already battered by widespread political and corporate corruption, this was the last straw.

“Hundreds of thousands of people marched through Santiago, the capital, and other cities to protest the privatized pension system. More than 1.3 million people, according to organizers, turned up in August, the largest demonstration since Chile’s return to civilian rule in 1990.

“One protester was Luis Montero, 69, whose monthly pension is about $150. Like many Chileans, Mr. Montero has mainly worked informal jobs without a contract at wages too meager for him to save enough for retirement. He still does maintenance work at a school to make ends meet.

“I’ve worked my entire life and I’d like to stop and rest, but I can’t,” Mr. Montero said. “I have no idea what I will do when I get older.”

“In 1981, the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet privatized the old pay-as-you-go pension system, in which workers, employers and the government all contributed.

“Under the privatized system, which President George W. Bush hailed as an example to follow, workers must pay 10 percent of their earnings into accounts operated by private companies known as pension fund administrators, or A.F.P.s, the initials of the term in Spanish. The administrators invest the money and charge workers a commission for transactions and other fees. Employers and the government do not make any contributions to the workers’ accounts.

“Chileans were given the option of keeping their old plan or switching to the new system. Most switched. But those entering the work force after 1981 had to invest in the privatized system. (The armed forces and the police were exempted from the change and today enjoy pensions several times higher than those available in the privatized system.)

“The money invested by the administrators bolstered Chile’s capital markets, which stimulated economic growth and yielded reasonable returns. Today six A.F.P.s — half of them owned by foreign companies — manage $171 billion in pension funds, equivalent to about 71 percent of Chile’s gross domestic product, according to the office of the supervisor of the pension funds.

“But the pioneering privatized system has failed to provide livable pensions for most retirees. If the stock market dips or investments go awry, workers’ savings and retirees’ pension checks decline.

“The pension system is unfair,” said Romina Celis, a 28-year-old teacher who marched in one of the protests. “I don’t know what formula we can use, but there has to be more state participation. We must continue protesting. The thought of reaching old age so precariously is scary.”

“Women fare worse than men do because they earn less, are more likely to work intermittently, retire earlier (the retirement age is 65 for men and 60 for women) and have a longer life expectancy.”

Donald Trump, whose own children went to private schools that cost about $50,000 a year (or more), has swallowed the far-right Republican doctrine that public schools are “government schools,” and thus somehow less than legitimate.


Donald Trump laid out a $20 billion initiative to bust up a federal “education monopoly,” accusing Democrats of having “trapped” black and Hispanic children in “failing government schools.”

In a speech in Cleveland, and on his website, Trump vowed to support school choice and merit pay for teachers.

“Our campaign represents the long-awaited chance to break with the bitter failures of the past and to embrace a new and strong American future,” Trump said, the Washington Examiner reports.

“There’s no failed policy more in need of change than our government-run education monopoly and you know that’s exactly what it is.”

The Democratic Party has “trapped millions of African-American and Hispanic youth in failing government schools that deny them the opportunity to join the ladder of American success,” he told the crowd, according to the Examiner.

Obviously no one has ever told him that every high-performing nation in the world has a strong public school system, not a choice system of charters and vouchers.

If this guy is elected, you can kiss public schools goodbye.

Perhaps you are sick and tired of hearing about the wonderful schools of Finland. Well, I am not. They demonstrate that it is possible to do the right things for children and succeed by every metric. It is important to have a demonstration in real-life of an entire nation that gets it right; not just one school, that picks its students, but an entire nation. No high-stakes testing. No charters. No vouchers. No Teach for Finland. Every public school is a good school, regardless of its neighborhood (or, as we would say, its zip code [I don’t know if Finland has zip codes.]) I have visited Finland. I have toured Finnish schools. I have seen students of every age taking a recess break after every class. I have seen students displaying their artistic accomplishments. As long as there is Finland, we can all hope for a better future for American education. As Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg often says and writes, “we got many of our best ideas from the U.S.”

William Doyle, author and film-maker, is a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Eastern Finland, where he lectures on education and the media. This column appeared originally in USA Today.

He notes that Finland is experiencing social and economic problems. It has also seen slippage in its educational results on international tests. But it is doubling down on what proved successful instead of following the U.S.’s abysmal test-and-punish “reforms.”

He writes:

Social and economic pressures are increasing sharply. Inequity is growing among schools. Severe budget cuts are hitting vocational and higher education. High-performing students often don’t feel challenged, and Finnish children face problems common to many the world over — bullying, big drop-offs in math and reading skills, digital overload, and feeling bored or disengaged from school. The performance of Finland’s 15-year-olds in international tests has fallen in recent years.

The United States for more than a decade has responded to its own education challenges with a bizarre, bipartisan and ineffectual mix of mass standardized testing, de-professionalization of teachers, dismal quality “cybercharter schools,” the elimination of arts and recess for children, and the botched, now politically toxic Common Core attempt at national curriculum guidelines.

Finland is taking largely the opposite approach. It is doubling down on many of the things that made its schools great in the first place.

Finland has adopted a new curriculum, but it is nothing like our Common Core, which makes everything “harder,” even in kindergarten and first grade.

Finland’s brand new National Core Curriculum emphasizes a child’s individuality and says “children have the right to learn by playing and experience joy related to learning.” It says they should be encouraged to express their opinions, trust themselves, be open to new solutions, learn to handle unclear and conflicting information, consider things from different viewpoints, seek new information and review the way they think. Teachers are directed to give students daily feedback and measure them against their starting points, not other students. In grades one through seven, schools now have the option of dropping numerical grades in favor of verbal assessments. (Failing students will still receive a “fail” grade, and can be held back as a last resort.)

The new guidelines strengthen traditional roles of play and physical activity. Preschool and kindergarten students will continue to learn through songs, games, conversation and playful discovery, not military-style drilling and stress at ages 4, 5 or 6 as is increasingly the case in American schools. A number of studies have supported the advantages of play-based early education for children, including those from low-income backgrounds. Formal academic training in Finland will continue to start at age 7, when many children are best ready for it. That corresponds with research indicating that any advantage gained by earlier instruction, when children are not developmentally ready, washes out a few years later.

In addition:

Finland is also continuing other policies that work: Primary school teachers will still have to earn master’s degrees and undergo at least two years of in-classroom training by master teacher-trainers before being allowed to lead classes of their own. Grades one through nine will offer instruction not only in math, science and history, but also in two or three languages, physical education, music, visual arts, crafts and religion or ethics. And home economics, a rare subject in American schools, will be taught in grades seven, eight and nine.

No high-stakes testing. No vouchers. No charters. No Teach for Finland temps in the classroom.

Jonathan Pelto writes about a report on Bill Gates’ underwriting of “journalism” touting privatization of public schools in Liberia, gates is an investor in Bridge International Academies, a for-profit business that offers scripted schooling by uncertified teachers in poor nations in Africa. Some have called it the new colonialism masquerading as philanthropy.

Gates has invested in BIA. it is not philanthropy.

“In a stunning expose written by Adam Johnson of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), it becomes undeniably clear that Bill Gates has reached the point where his billions not only fund the myriad of corporate education reform initiatives that are sweeping the country and the world, but his investment in the media taints much of the coverage of these developments.

In an article entitled, “This Guardian Piece Touting Bill Gates’ Education Investment Brought to You by Bill Gates,” FAIR’s Adam Johnson explains:

“The Guardian (8/31/16) published a broadly positive report on Liberian education, which is handing over the reins of 120 primary schools to a consortium of private education companies and NGOs in a pilot program exploring privatization of the West African nation’s schools. One passage in particular was especially glowing:

“The deputy minister [of Education], Aagon Tingba, is reading The Bee Eater, a biography of Michele Rhee, a polarizing educational reformist and former chancellor of Washington, DC, public schools.

“She changed the lives of children in Washington, but people complained her methods were controversial. But she made a difference. So why can’t we do that here?”

“What the piece failed to note—other than the fact that Rhee’s tenure left DC’s schools “worse by almost every conceivable measure” (Truthout, 10/23/13)—is that multi-billionaire Bill Gates is both the major investor of the company administering the Liberian education overhaul and the principal of the Gates Foundation, sponsor of the Guardian’s Global Development vertical, where the story appeared.

“The story clearly labels the Gates Foundation as its sponsor. What it never mentioned is that Bill Gates is a major investor of the firm at the heart of the story, Bridge Academies International, having pitched in, along with Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and eBay co-founder Pierre Omidyar, $100 million for the “education startup.”

“Making the conflict more glaring is the fact that this is a personal, for-profit investment for Gates, not a charitable donation.

“The Guardian claims its Global Development vertical, launched in 2011, is “editorially independent of any sponsorship.” According to its most recent tax filings in 2014, the Gates Foundation has an on-going $5.69 million grant to Guardian News Media Limited.”

Leonie Haimson has written a stunning article about stories in the New York Times that promote investments of Bill Gates without acknowledging that the writer’s outside organization is funded by the Gates Foundation.

She refers in amazing detail to two laudatory articles about Bridge International Academies, the corporation that is providing for-profit schools in poor countries in Africa and elsewhere. Gates is an investor in BIA. The Gates Foundation supports the organization that supports the journalist. BIA is encouraging countries like Kenya and Liberia to outsource their responsibility for primary school education to the corporation, which charges the families about $6 a month. Haimson points out that when the cost of uniforms and supplies and food are included, the total is far higher, and represents about a quarter of the family income. If there is more than one child, the cost may be 2/3 of the family income. You can be sure that the business is highly profitable, and it relieves the country of the necessity of building universal free public education.

The article goes into detail about the research on both sides of the issue, which is not reflected in the Times’ coverage.

Other articles in the New York Times have praised the “flipped classroom,” a favorite of Bill Gates, and edTech schools that Gates endorses.

I hope the Public Editor of the New York Times reads this timely and important critique of their coverage.

Bill Phillis, onetime state deputy superintendent of instruction in Ohio, now director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy, raises an important question: What becomes of the Gulen charter chain of about 150 charters if the U.S. State Department decides to extradite Imam Fethullah Gulen? The Turkish government blames Gulen’s followers for the coup that sought to overturn the government. The Turkish government now blames the U.S. for sheltering Gulen. Turkey has resumed an alliance with Russia because of our refusal to turn Gulen over.

The decision the White House makes on the request of the Turkish government to extradite Turkish Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen (the U.S. charter school magnate) will likely affect the future of the 150 Gulen, tax-funded charter schools, 19 of which are in Ohio
The August 3 New York Times article-Turks can agree on one thing: U. S. was behind failed coup- indicates that pressure is mounting for the U.S. to send Gulen home to Turkey. Since the U.S. government has denied the extradition request multiple times, the Turks opine that the U.S. is supporting the coup attempt by the Gulenists in Turkey.

Disentanglement of the international politics associated with the recent coup attempt is beyond the scope of this post. But it is appropriate to ask a fundamental question to state officials and the sponsors of Gulen charters: Should a chain of charters, spawned and operated by members of the Gulen movement, continue to be supported by tax funds?

In dealing with this sensitive issue, the White House could send a clear message to Turkey by forbidding public funding of Gulen charters. Inasmuch as it has been substantiated that some of the funds paid to Gulen charters gravitates to the Gulen movement, state and federal officials should arrange for a complete investigation of the connection between the Gulen movement and the Gulen charters.

The question remains: Why are taxpayers allowing foreign nationals to take control of their neighborhood public schools?

The Ugandan Parliament ordered the for-profit corporation Bridge International Academies to close its schools for failing to meet the nation’s standards. The linked report comes from Education International, which represents teachers’ unions around the world. Teachers’ unions think that children should be instructed by qualified teachers. Most children in Uganda cannot afford to enroll in a fee-paying school.

The Ugandan teachers’ union elected a member to Parliament, who championed their case against the for-profit schools.

In the latest turn in the saga between the Ugandan government and Bridge International Academies the country’s parliament has instructed management to close the schools until further notice. Bridge currently has 80 pre-primary and primary schools in Uganda run by American founders Jay Kimmelman and Shannon May.

According to Uganda’s Minister of Education, Janet Museveni, Bridge has the opportunity to reopen should they meet necessary standards. However, despite the order to cease operations, Bridge says it is business as usual.

Bridge, operating what are known as ‘low-fee,’ for profit schools in Uganda, Kenya, and most recently Liberia, is financially supported by the likes of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and education conglomerate Pearson Ltd. It is also receives funding from the World Bank and DfID-UK. Bridge’s business model, which depends on public money to operate fee charging schools run by unqualified teachers, faces a continuous barrage of criticism.

Although the company promotes ‘affordable’ education to some of the world’s poorest children, Bridge forces families to pay for inadequate scripted lessons read from tablets. Many children are left to learn in questionable environments, such as classrooms lacking proper materials, including desks, chairs and in some cases, toilets.

This is the response from Bridge:

http://www.bridgeinternationalacademies.com

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Bridge International Academies statement on comments in Ugandan Parliament

Kampala, 9 August 2016: Bridge International Academies has expressed sincere concern over statements made in the Ugandan parliament this afternoon threatening to force 12,000 Bridge children out of school and 800 Ugandans out of work, by seeking the closure of Bridge International Academies. Bridge has been working in partnership with the Government of Uganda to ensure that all Ugandan children have access to a high quality education.

“We are waiting to receive the report referred to in Parliament and a copy of the Parliamentary Hansard to review the Ministry’s concerns”, says Michael Kaddu, Head of Corporate and Public Affairs for Bridge International Academies in Uganda. “We have been working closely with the Ministry to put the needs of the children first and come to a speedy resolution of any issues made known to us.”

“In the meantime, our academies are running as usual as we continue to work with the relevant educational authorities to uphold our commitment to our parents and communities to provide a world-class education to their children.”

“Bridge has been a great blessing to our community,” says Mrs Gertrude Kizza from the Nsumbi area of Nansana, the grandmother of two Bridge children and the LC1 of the Nsumbi community. “Prior to Bridge opening in Nsumbi, our children either had to travel a long distance to get to school or pay high fees for the local private schools. As a result, many children did not go to school. Since Bridge opened in February of this year, I have seen great changes in my grandchildren, who are now leaders in English and confidence.”
“As a Ugandan citizen I should have the right to give my grand-children a better future, which is why I sent them to Bridge”, says Mrs Kizza. “Now the government is taking away that right.”

Bridge now operates 63 nursery and primary schools across Uganda. Bridge teaches the Ugandan curriculum, using technology to prepare and support teachers, streamline administrative processes and monitor attendance and academic progress.

“I joined Bridge after teacher training college because I was excited by the idea of a school system were I would be prepared and supported to ensure children are learning”, says Patrick Mutegeki a teacher at Bridge International Academy in Nsumbi. “Working at Bridge has made me a better educator and has made me excited for the future of Ugandan children. Bridge pupils in Kenya had a 40% higher chance of passing the national primary exit exams than the national average, and have gone on to the best secondary schools in Kenya and the United States. I want those same opportunities for Ugandan children.”

Bridge International Academies is the 21st largest employer in Uganda, with close to 800 Ugandan employees and has already invested over UGX10bn in the Ugandan economy, with plans to invest another UGX25bn in the coming years.

The Harvard Business School reports a study from Britain that claims to explain how to turnaround a failing school.

https://hbr.org/2016/08/how-to-turn-around-a-failing-school

Americans, especially experienced educators, are likely to find their recommendations controversial.

The researchers say that reducing class size is not necessary. They say a class of 30 will do as well as a class of 15.

They say not to worry about teacher quality until you have the right leader and governance structure.

They say that the key to success is to exclude students with behavior problems. Pay another school to take them. Now there is a clever idea.

Their study was conducted using academies as their models. Academies are similar to our charter schools.

Imagine: as schools follow their advice, there will be a market for students who are behavior problems. Who will buy them?

Take it another step, and the school could sell students who don’t speak English and students with disabilities.

Now, that’s corporate reform using business thinking!