Odds And Ends, Has Finland Jumped The Reindeer?

Posting will be sporadic over the holiday break.  As a reminder, you can get a daily email with any Eduwonk content by subscribing here.  There is also an automatic Twitter feed of posts @eduwonk. And I am on Twitter @arotherham so you can follow there, too.

Talking with several friends on their way out to get a Christmas duck it occurred to me that as a conservation measure we’ve been able to create federal laws about how many shells a waterfowler’s shotgun can hold (3),  but can’t have a sensible conversation about firearm magazine sizes otherwise.  We’re better at protecting migratory waterfowl than young people. And while the 2nd Amendment confers a right, like all rights it’s subject to some limitations. The Supreme Court has been clear on both those points. But even with the collective outrage following the NRAs proposal yesterday (the New York Post hit the NRA today) the grim reality of a House of Representatives where more members are worried about a primary challenge than a general election loss may make durable progress on this issue as vexing as on the “fiscal cliff.”

Usually Reliable Robelen writes-up the bursting of the Finnish bubble.  IES’s Jack Buckely gets the money quote:

“I’ve always been a little puzzled by” the high level of attention trained on the Nordic nation of some 5.4 million people. “Finland captured the world’s attention for a variety of reasons, but as these results show,” he said, “there are other places to look for case studies.” 

I’ve been critical of the Finnish fetish (and ridiculous correlation-causation nonsense in international comparisons in general – eg country X does Y so Y is *obviously* why they do so well) but that doesn’t mean there are not some lessons there, and elsewhere. In Finland’s case the country’s rise in the postwar period is an interesting story with an education angle – if its limits are respected.  Amanda Ripley has a book coming on all this in 2013.

Happy Holidays!

5 Replies to “Odds And Ends, Has Finland Jumped The Reindeer?”

  1. You edu-reformers question anything that MAY deliver a better results than your career enhancing efforts.

    You then whip right around and accuse the bashed teacher core about having closed minds.

    Let’s be honest. Your cadre, composed of every single opportunist that walked the face of the earth, is threatened by other countries with DIFFERENT BUSINESS MODELS.

    Heck, you guys reject FInland, you reject SIngapore, you reject South Korea, you reject China.

    All you will say is that “it is not scalable.”

    The imprecision and flat out inaccuracy of the edu-reform movement is now legendary. I do remember one choice quote: After being caught in a series of statistical buffooneries one edu-expert said that the purpose of the article was to “open avenues of discussion.”

    That was NOT an option in my former Naval career when a billion dollar vessel depended upon rational though, and it is entirely risible when child’s futures depend upon it.

    Perhaps our brights working at Livermore or our colliders could throw out some pure nonsense and call it a way to open discussion.

    Mr. R., among serious brights, your movement lack credibility. It just does not all add up.

  2. Listen Andrew, quite frankly, the reason why I am a fanboi fetishist for Finland is that your reformer friends are the ones who got me hooked in the first place. If you all want we education professionals to measure ourselves against an international standard and learn lessons from successful countries then, LET US LEARN FROM OTHER NATIONS.

    The minute some of us pipe up with, ‘what’s the matter with the USA, why can’t we learn from Finland?’ We get shut down and our thoughts are sequestered to the outbox piles called, “unscalable,” “different culture,”, “ethnically homogenous”, and “whatever we can pull out of our rears to kneecap the counter-reformers.”

    FYI, Andrew, that wasn’t the money quote. Money quotes serve to promote an argument and that one doesn’t do it. Allow me to offer, “He added, “In contrast, TIMSS tries to assess how well students have learned the curriculum taught in schools.”” The meaning of this selection should be obvious. And telling. If the US curriculum is one thing and it’s something else in other countries based on the what the test tests for then, why are we even having this discussion? Let’s just go our own way, and assume international exams provide interesting results but in no way should provide reliable diagnostic information to be turned into policy.

    The ENTIRE rationale behind the 1983 “America At Risk” kickoff to the modern reform movement was that we were falling behind other nations. The ENTIRE edifice of modern reform is built upon that foundation. You just can’t suddenly diss international comparisons as your progenitors STARTED IT to use as a domestic political cudgel or because you find it inconvenient thanks to clever rhetorical claims as to the saliency of cross-cultural comparisons.

    Ripley has actually given Finland it’s due credit–in comparison with South Korea’s Dickensian educational system. She also inveighs upon the benefits of a military education as a model for US teachers only to be shot down by her commenters in another “Time” commentary. Where am I getting this from? Just Google her. She also insists students should grade teachers. Because children are so adept at understanding pedagogy when they experience it. And because Ripley has spent so much time in the classroom. (Spoiler alert, Ms. Ripley does not have any teaching experience) Money quote: “The shorter version of the survey, used in the Gates study, is available for public use, and it would cost less than $5 per student to implement. That is a remarkable bargain. D.C.’s standardized tests and the detailed analysis of the results cost more than $35 per pupil tested; employing professionals to watch classes and give teachers feedback multiple times a year costs about $97 per student.”

    I look forward to seeing the estimable Ms. Ripley’s original research project. Will it be a PowerPoint or Prezi? Oh, a book! How nice. And how nice of the Finnish people to provide for their citizens basic needs. Their teacher union is strong, teachers have professional control, and there is minimal high-stakes testing or none at all as we might understand it. The devil is in the details, should Ripley or anyone on the reform side care to admit–countries like Finland have social-welfare states. It’s not a race thing. It’s a class thing now. Those countries have had to work hard over several decades to get to where they are at with providing all their citizens a chance to succeed. America talks tough about opportunity but wimps-out with results, not to mention our milquetoast efforts. This is what scares the bejesus out of reformers but more importantly, the corporate and moneyed interests behind them. For the USA to accomplish the Finland results, we would have to not transform schools or teachers but our entire nation-state.


  3. Another aspect to the Finland story has to do with the driveby media love affair.
    Bob Somersby, who has nailed Wendy Kopp and Michelle Rhee on their mendacious tales, has looked at these test scores and come up with some nuggets:

    The Bay State’s black kids outscored Finland, averaging 516 on this test! Given the perpetual gloom about our schools; given the brutal history of race in this country; given Finland’s well-deserved status as a high international scorer—you’d almost think it might count as news when scores like these occur.
    If you thought that, you don’t understand the way your press corps works. In the Associated Press and the New York Times, the standard script about Finland prevailed


    Except for tiny Singapore, Massachusetts students outscored every nation in the world on that eighth-grade science test! They outscored their peers in Taiwan, in Korea, in Japan and Hong Kong—the other Asian giants. They outscored their counterparts in Russia.

    They even outscored Finland, which is smaller and more homogeneous than Massachusetts.

    On the very test singled out by the Post, Massachusetts outscored the entire world—except for tiny Singapore. But readers of the Post weren’t offered that larger, perhaps surprising fact. Gloomily, they were told that Massachusetts didn’t come close, in one respect, to one small city-state.

    Rarely has a paper worked so hard to provide the smaller, less representative fact. Rarely has a paper worked so hard to pimp a gloomy script.

    The Washington Post even published this bit of idiocy:

    LAYTON (12/11/12): Several states that took the test independently scored higher than the U.S. average in eighth-grade math, including North Carolina, Indiana, Massachusetts and Minnesota. North Carolina also outscored the U.S. average in fourth-grade math. Massachusetts, Minnesota and Colorado exceeded the U.S. average in eighth-grade science.


  4. If the reformers want us to believe Mass is all that well, then they should trumpet the success of public schooling and a strong teacher’s union and learn from the Massachusetts Miracle.

    Every state can be above average!

  5. Andy: The important thing to examine is the structural difference between MA and MN, both of which adopted Singapore Math, both of which score high, but are radically different in the way they regulate the classroom.

    All: Scores on PISA within five points of each other are essentially the same, given what the error bars look like.

    Finally, taking the media to task over their gushing is entirely beside the point and a worthless exercise. Each and every success and failure has something to teach us.

    We should be worried about Switzerland’s drop in the most recent exit test. We should be worried about the Slovenian research that developed dependent variables demonstrating that the highest scoring students had strong family support but also teachers that didn’t bother using textbooks.

    This is OLD stuff people. PISA shows us the same landscape it showed us last time with minor changes. Reformers ignored it last time and today we are implementing solutions that have not been used anywhere to do anything other than our imaginations. Today we can confidently say Americans know better than anybody in the world, what doesn’t work.

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