Sunday, April 2, 2017

Must we do better?

Some people in the local school district have discovered that the local school day is 20 minutes less that some of the surrounding districts.  Despite the fact that the test scores for this district are solid, they want to extend the day.  An opposing group is asking for evidence that the proposed extension will make a difference in test scores and in children's development.

I doubt that 20 minutes more will make a difference, much less a detectable difference.  Of course, it is expected that a very slightly longer day will make a positive difference and not cause a lowering of achievement.  

As you may realize, it is very difficult to show convincingly that learning this week's spelling words in the 2nd grade contribute later to the value of the life of a 40 year old executive for himself and his surroundings.  In the US, we usually take the approach that if a kid does well in every year of school, he should do well throughout his life.  If he doesn't, we put it all down to bad genes, inadequate effort and poor willpower.  

Some people feel that Finland does very well in international school comparisons and that the US despite being a very different society could follow their example to our benefit.  I downloaded "Finnish Lessons 2.0" by Pasi Sahlberg, former Finnish ministry of education official.  I follow Pasi on Twitter.  [Disclosure: my wife is terrific and is half Finnish.]  I wrote two Tweets today about comparisons of Finn schools and ours.  

First one:

"The [US] reform, she concludes, is "mean-spirited, punitive, and deeply indifferent to the real problems that teachers face." Refers to Diane Ravitch, ed prof and former asst. secretary of education.

Second one:

"In culture, politics, and business—as well as in educational reform—too many Anglo-American cultures and societies have developed an unhealthy obsession with all that is bigger, harder, tougher, faster, and stronger. Companies that sacrifice customer safety to short-term shareholder value; businesses that wreak ecological havoc with excessively bold and risky efforts to increase profitability; financial collapses that result from astronomical levels of unrepayable debt; turnaround specialists who create arbitrary disruption by setting unrealistic targets for growth and equally arbitrary quotas for staff dismissals—these are the consequences of the impatience, hubris, arrogance, and greed that characterize the worst kinds of business." From the Finnish author and official of the Finnish ministry of education.

It may be that we lack the courage to be thoughtful and supportive and can only allow ourselves to bluster and punish.  The Finns give their students a 15 minute break EACH HOUR.

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