Finland Has A Good Model?For Education

“Hall Elliot” (“Eighteen Districts Isn’t Best Option For Students,” The Post-Journal, Feb. 3) expressed concern, saying, “There has to be a ‘size’ [school district]…that works for both quality education and quality sports.” Why must sports be added when considering quality education? If we really are concerned about “the best educational opportunity” for students – and the future of our state and country – academics must come front and center.

Consolidation, yes, “Hall,” but it’s only a small part of the answer. Research by Duncombe and Yinger (2001) suggested that consolidation clearly cuts costs for small, rural New York school districts: consolidating two 300-pupil districts can cut costs by over 20 percent; consolidation of two 900-pupil districts, 7 to 9 percent.

Bemus Point, Clymer, Ripley, Sherman, and Panama might save money by consolidating, but no cost savings for districts of 1,500 pupils or more. Students at Jamestown High School would function better if their huge school was broken up into several smaller schools-within-a-school, each offering a rigorous basic curriculum. Many positive outcomes would result: all would be better served – students, parents, teachers, and the community.

High math achievement is crucial to a country’s economy and productivity, say researchers Hanushek et al. Unfortunately, math performance by U.S. students on the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) was shockingly low compared to the rest of the world, “Hall.” A dismal 6 percent (New York, 6.3 percent, but Massachusetts, 11.4 percent) ranked at the advanced level in mathematics compared to these percentages: Finland, 20.4 (fourth in math, first in science); Czech Republic, 15.7; Canada, 14.7; Taiwan, 28 (first in math); Korea, 23.2; Netherlands, 17.6. Thirty of 56 countries outranked us.

Hanushek, et al. wrote: “The U.S. trails other industrialized countries in bringing its students up to the highest levels of accomplishment in mathematics. It is not a story of some states’ high performance being offset by the low performance of other states. Nor is it a story of immigrant or disadvantaged or minority students hiding the good performance of better prepared students. Comparatively small percentages of white students in the states achieve at a high level. And only a small proportion of the children of our college-educated population is equipped to compete with students in a majority of Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries.” Not good, “Hall.”

In 2011, these researchers examined math performance at the proficient level on PISA – much lower than advanced. U.S. students had a 32 percent proficiency rate, placing 32nd among participating nations. More than half of Korean (58 percent) and Finnish (56 percent) students were proficient. Vinton Cerf, an internet entrepreneur, said we don’t produce enough innovators of our own, and America has “a deteriorating K-12 education system and national culture that does not emphasize the importance of education and the value of engineering and science.” “Hall,” did you get that – “deteriorating K-12 education system”?

Top U.S. performer for math proficiency is Massachusetts (51 percent). Sorry, “Hall,” only 30 percent of New York students are proficient in math, ranking them 32nd. How did local districts perform against the world? Jamestown was at the 33rd percentile in math, meaning that out of every 100 students, 67 students did better than those in Jamestown; reading (42 percent), 58 students did better. If Jamestown’s math results were included with Canada’s, its score would drop to the 24th percentile. Inclusion with Finland’s drops it even further – 18th percentile. The question asked on was: “Given the results shown on the Global Report Card, are our students prepared to compete in the global economy?” Unfortunately, the answer seems dreadfully obvious. Where is our sense of urgency, “Hall”?

What is New York doing to raise our international ranking? Race To The Top? Awful! Common Core? Called by many a “mandate for mediocrity”! First-class standards and academic excellence? In the tank. Accountability? Absolutely not increased. District teacher evaluations? A farce! You see where all of this will lead ?New York school districts, don’t you “Hall”? Certainly not on the road to Finland or Singapore, or even Ontario, Canada.

What to do, “Hall”? Forget all the claptrap, inefficiency, failed fads, and suffocating regulations now present in our schools. Individual schools in districts, as in Finland, need to create a world-class curriculum for their students. Starting place-rigorous research and models of excellence – beginning with kindergarten to third grade. Children must master basic skills in reading, math, writing, spelling, cursive writing. They need to read more and better books. Forget computers at this age; they’re not necessary nor helpful. In Finland, students learn Finnish, another dialect, plus two foreign languages. All secondary students take four years of math, science (chemistry, physics, biology, plus an additional year in one), and history. Examinations are rigorous essays that require a well-developed knowledge base.

In Finland – even to teach young children – only those with superior secondary school academic qualifications enter baccalaureate teacher preparation programs. Moreover, Finnish teachers are required to obtain a degree in an academic discipline – not education – plus submit a master’s thesis requiring original research, defended before a faculty committee. Doesn’t this strike you as sound policy for setting New York schools on a path to excellence, “Hall”? We have no influence over 49 states, but we do have elected representatives in our state to work on behalf of academic excellence for New York students.