Will PISA Results Raise US Inferiority Complex?

“Why is a country the size of New Mexico beating the U.S. in academic performance?”

The headline above is from Valerie Strauss’ The Answer Sheet column in today’s Washington Post.  The article contains a piece by Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, and Olli Luukkainen, president of Finland’s Trade Union of Education.  They write about the PISA (Program for International Student Assessments) results, which will be released tomorrow, and discuss how they impact views on American education.

I have grown weary of the Finland/United States comparisons.  I think America is a unique country that is hard to compare to others.  Van Roekel and Luukkainen, however, are savvy educators who challenge our thinking when it comes to using Finland’s approach to improving the American education system.

They are clear and correct to point out that Finland’s 4% poverty rate strongly affects their student achievement results.  We could stop right there and say any further comparisons are without merit; however, Van Roekel and Luukkainen identify six points that are worth considering:

1-Teachers in Finland are recruited from the top 10% of high school graduates.
2-Teacher pay is commensurate with other professions with similar education requirements.
3-Teacher certification is more narrowly defined with few alternative routes to the profession.
4-Standardized testing does not begin until the end of high school.
5-Essay tests are valued above multiple choice/computer graded assessments.
6-Teacher autonomy and trust are high in Finland.

Can you imagine what would happen if those six points were the focus of education reformers in America?  If we recruited from the “cream of the crop” and paid teachers at the same level of other fields, we could raise the bar for the entire profession.  If we reduced the number of watered-down teaching programs we could certainly improve instruction.  Do the growing number of online programs and short-term master’s degree programs lead to a richer pool of teaching candidates?

Finland recognizes that standardized tests have no place in education until students are fully prepared to take them.  How much better would American teachers be if they weren’t constantly preparing students for developmentally inappropriate assessments?  When they do test, Finland understands that multiple choice tests are of little value when compared to extended writing tasks.

If those first five areas were addressed, teacher autonomy would soar and America would once again place its trust in educators.  We don’t need to become Finland, but we certainly can adopt practices that lead to the success of our students.

Full Washington Post Article:



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