What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools?

Finland’s Pasi Sahlberg is one of the world’s leading experts on school reform and the author of the best-selling “Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn About Educational Change in Finland?” In this piece he writes about whether the emphasis that American school reformers put on “teacher effectiveness” is really the best approach to improving student achievement.

Many governments are under political and economic pressure to turn around their school systems for higher rankings in the international league tables. Education reforms often promise quick fixes within one political term. Canada, South Korea, Singapore and Finland are commonly used models for the nations that hope to improve teaching and learning in their schools. In search of a silver bullet, reformers now turn their eyes on teachers, believing that if only they could attract “the best and the brightest” into the teaching profession, the quality of education would improve.

“Teacher effectiveness” is a commonly used term that refers to how much student performance on standardized tests is determined by the teacher. This concept hence applies only to those teachers who teach subjects on which students are tested. Teacher effectiveness plays a particular role in education policies of nations where alternative pathways exist to the teaching profession.

In the United States, for example, there are more than 1,500 different teacher-preparation programs. The range in quality is wide. In Singapore and Finland only one academically rigorous teacher education program is available for those who desire to become teachers. Likewise, neither Canada nor South Korea has fast-track options into teaching, such as Teach for America or Teach First in Europe. Teacher quality in high-performing countries is a result of careful quality control at entry into teaching rather than measuring teacher effectiveness in service.

In recent years the “no excuses”’ argument has been particularly persistent in the education debate. There are those who argue that poverty is only an excuse not to insist that all schools should reach higher standards. Solution: better teachers. Then there are those who claim that schools and teachers alone cannot overcome the negative impact that poverty causes in many children’s learning in school. Solution: Elevate children out of poverty by other public policies.

For me the latter is right. In the United States today, 23 percent of children live in poor homes. In Finland, the same way to calculate child poverty would show that figure to be almost five times smaller. The United States ranked in the bottom four in the recent United Nations review on child well-being. Among 29 wealthy countries, the United States landed second from the last in child poverty and held a similarly poor position in “child life satisfaction.” Teachers alone, regardless of how effective they are, will not be able to overcome the challenges that poor children bring with them to schools everyday.

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Union members spotlight - day 5

This is the final day five of our week long spotlight on union members who have decided to run for the Ohio House of Representatives.
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4

It should be noted that the districts listed below are new as a consequence of the legislative redistricting process that happened last year.

House district 88 - Bill Young (D)

Bill is a member of OEA and an award-winning Social Studies teacher. He will be facing incumbent Rep. Rex Damschroder in November. Damschroder was absent for the vote on SB5, but did vote for the budget bill which contained many similar provisions as SB5, while also deeply cutting education funding.

House district 95 - Jim Drake (D) and Charles Daniels (D)

This is the only race where two union members will face each other in a primary.
Jim Drake is a member of OEA. Jim is a twenty-year veteran high school teacher, He worked in conjunction with the Ohio Department of Education to implement the Ohio Entry-Year Teacher Program, and served as both vice-president and president of the St. Clairsville Education Association.

Jim is a member of the Ohio Foreign Language Association and has served on the OEA’s Fund for Children in Public Education State Council, Legislative Committee, and is the current chair of the Organizing Strategy Committee. He currently teaches Spanish at St. Clairsville High School. You can learn more about Jim, here.

Charles Daniels is a member of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA). You can follow Charles on Facebook, here.
Incumbent Jack Cera (D) is running for reeelction in district 95, so the incumbent of current District 93, Republican Andrew Thompson will be the primary opponent of the eventual Democratic primary winner. It will be no surprise ot learn that Rep. Thompson was a big supporter of SB5 and the budget which passed the buck to the schools and local governments.

House district 99 - John Patterson (D)

John is a member of OEA. since 1983 John taught U.S. History at Jefferson Area High School. While at Jefferson, John has coached girls basketball, boys baseball, golf, and for the past 12 seasons, boys’ cross-country. During this he has been very active in the Jefferson Area Teachers’ Association, and has been the chief negotiator for his union since the late 1980′s.
He will be facing incumbent Casey Kozlowski in November, one of the few Republicans to buck party pressure and vote against SB5. He did however for the budget.
You can learn more about John, here.

Monday we will turn our attention to union members who are running for the Ohio State Senate.

Ohio charters are solving the wrong problem

NPR has begun what looks to be a very interesting series of articles on charter schools in Ohio.

In 1998, Ohio opened its first 15 charter schools. There are now more than 300, and they’re enrolling more than 100,000 primary and secondary students. Ohio is paying upwards of $500 million to support those schools. But as charter schools have grown, so have divisions between them and traditional public schools.

The whole piece is worth the time to read. As charter schools are given ever greater license to expand and spread, they are coming under ever greater scrutiny. A handful of charters, with a few failing might be seen by most as no big deal, hundreds of charters with dozens upon dozens failing begins to stand out in sharp relief.

One hundred and twenty charter schools in Ohio have collapsed over the last 13 years. They owe the state millions of dollars in audit findings.

Considering there are only 300 charters in Ohio, that's an astonishing number. When you couple that with terrible academic performance and the catastrophic failure of e-schools in Ohio, maybe greater attention to charter reform is needed.

The great promise of charters was supposed to be their ability to innovate without the shackles of regulation. Instead, charter operators and their sponsors have used the lack of regulation in order to drive down the costs of providing education, which in turn has driven down the quality. Why is it, free from regulation, no charter or sponsor has decided to try and replicate successful education models used in countries like Denmark? Here's Diane Ravitch talking about our race to the bottom, and the alternatives

The corporate influence on the charter movement isn't creating excellence in education through innovation, it is simply driving out quality by drivning down costs. That's decidedly NOT the problem charters were sold to Ohioans as trying to solve.

New Poll: SB5 is a referendum on Kasich

A new poll released by Quinnipiac continues to show massive support for the repeal of SB5, indeed the margin of dissatisfaction with this middle-class busting law is growing and now stands at 56% - 32%.

Tracking our recent anaylsis showing that SB5 could turn Governor Kasich into a lame duck, the same poll shows his unpopularity rising to 50%

"Kasich has until 2014 when he presumably will face the voters, to turn his political fortunes around, but the timeline for the vote on SB5, which is obviously a referendum on the governor's agenda, is much shorter," said Brown. "A loss on SB5 would be a no confidence vote on the governor from the voters of Ohio."

Below are the polling trends for SB5.

Poll For SB5 Against SB5
PPP Mar 15th 31% 54%
Wenzel Apr 12th 38% 51%
Quinnipiac May 18th 36% 54%
PPP May 25th 35% 55%
Quinnipiac Jul 20th 32% 56%

SB5 Polling Trend

None of this means the effort to repeal SB5 should let up. Things could change quickly if supporters of repeal become complacent.