Tag Archives: education

Readings & Reactions: To Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody – Really?

Image: EdWeek's Top Performers blog banner

Photo: Marc S. Tucker   Photo: Anthony Cody

By Marc Tucker @ EdWeek’s Top Performers blog

This recent blogpost where Marc Tucker rebuts Anthony Cody’s previous criticisms of education’s impact on the economy is a fascinating window into two very different points of view that more likely talking past one another rather than to one another.

While I certainly cannot speak for Mr. Cody, I would point to a small but significant distinction between the point I think he was making and the point that Tucker is countering.

It seems to me that in Tucker’s rebuttal is making education and schooling synonymous, which is common. However, as one part of a wider discussion, which seems to be Mr. Cody’s major endeavor both in his former EdWeek column and beyond, is that education and schooling are not necessarily as synonymous as sometimes believed.

Of course, it is foolish to argue against many of the facts that Tucker offers about income rates generally being higher for those that complete more schooling, but a much stronger argument could be made that the individuals that complete the various scholastic benchmarks cited begin with an array of advantages that might otherwise enhance their income. This point gets no mention in the column.

I would also add that “higher levels of knowledge, skills and technology,” may be a product of higher levels of education, but is not a guarantee. Ideally, this is true. Yet again, education and schooling are not necessarily the same. The educational system, made up of schools, is not the only source of education, nor should it ever be. Employee training programs can also be a form of education that can enhance income considerably, when done well, and that is only one additional source.

However, many companies cut training and development opportunities to increase their bottom line and satisfy shareholders, while blaming the decline of the educational system for its inability to produce qualified workers.

This raises the spectre of another wider debate about the purpose of an education, and how much of that purpose be strictly vocational, but that easily exceeds the boundaries of one column. Still, education may be the result of schooling, training, apprenticeship, and far more opportunities and alternatives that exist beyond what is considered the traditional educational system.

To suggest that there are not places where the existing educational system can be improved is folly, but admitting that also does not require the admission that the system is failing. Plus, comparing our students to other nations’ students is also not without serious flaws, again far more than would fit in a single column.

It seems to me that Mr. Tucker and Mr. Cody might very well be writing past one another, using common vocabulary but meaning very different things.

What Can Be Learned from Finland & Pasi Sahlberg?

Photo: Pasi Sahlberg

Pasi Sahlberg, director general of the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation (Helsinki, Finland), presenting Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? at University of Rhode Island, December 10, 2013.

Distinguished International Scholar Pasi Sahlberg recently made the final presentation at University of Rhode Island’s Fall 2013 Honors Colloquium. It is a fascinating glimpse into his book Finnish Lessons, as well as a remarkably thought-provoking lecture on educational change and what he has dubbed the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM). It is well worth the hour or so that it takes to view it.

Sahlberg is an exceptional speaker, measured and thoughtful, exuding a quiet authority. Above all, he is a teacher and warm storyteller that shares deep insights and understanding about education, highlighting the path Finland has chosen in contrast to those infected by one of the most virulent forces of decay, GERM.

Remarkably, Sahlberg wisely insists that his native land has lessons worth sharing about education, but that it would flawed to simply imitate them. That is not how to build a great educational system. That result can only come from within a nation looking at finding ways to realize their philosophical ideals and aims. Moreover, there is a hint of paradox in that Finland has never had a goal of being a top educational system.

The lesson is one about focusing on meaningful targets and being the top rated nation according to PISA may not actually be one.

In fact, one of the themes that comes out of Sahlberg’s presentation is the impact of indirect, seemingly peripheral issues as benefitting education. Issues like equity and wealth distribution correlate with student achievement. This, of course, is something that many educators have been challenging edreformers not to simply dismiss or ignore.

Still, a more holistic set of issues also seem correlated with Finnish success. Issues like technological advancement, low corruption, economic competitiveness, and innovation. However, child well-being, happiness, maternal benefits, and political empowerment of women are all aspects that fuel the success of Finnish education. In fact, 50% of the Finnish Parliament are women and 30% are actually teachers!

The lesson is one about empowering a plurality of voices and perhaps focusing on the health and well-being of children, maybe even their happiness.

In the second part of the presentation, Sahlberg reveals the makeup of just what comprises GERM and then shows how Finland continues to avoid infection.

Symptoms of GERM Finnish Resistance
Competitiveness Collaboration
Standardization Personalization
Test-Based Accountability Trust-Based Responsibility
School Choice Equity
Education as Industry Education as a Human Right

Maybe most interesting is the distinction that Sahlberg makes about how standardization hampers and limits creativity. I suspect that we will see this for ourselves in the United States as the Common Core is implemented.

However, the strongest recurrent theme is equity in education, as a he simply explains, equals quality or excellence of the system. He returns to that point repeatedly, even declaring that his analysis of current data shows that the United States has made strides in equity, in the past three years, and the public school system is arguably doing better than it has ever done.

The lesson is one about creating equity in the system, giving all children fair opportunity and shared access to the promise and success that education offers.

Sahlberg ends with a few takeaway conclusions he has learned in his experience. First is the reiteration, “Equity equals excellence.” Second is “School is team play.” Third and finally is “Children must play.”

Interestingly and unfortunately, all three of these ideas seem to violate American individual’s sense of entitlement and exceptionalism. There is a subset of American’s that will always dismiss ideas such as these too European and socialist, even. Yet the nations that Sahlberg highlights in his Excellence Improves/Equity Increases chart (slide 11) are neither.

There are many lessons worth learning  from both Finland and Sahlberg. If only more American policymakers and politicians would heed them.

Listening to the Other #ETMOOC Couros

Jumping into last night’s ETMOOC session “Introduction to becoming a Networked Administrator” (item T1S6) was fascinating. I have often joked, “Being an administrator is a job that involves everything I hate about education and nothing I like.” Yet, after listening to George Couros‘ presentation, he has me reconsidering that notion slightly. While I still doubt I have much interest in becoming an administrator, Couros got me much more interested in administration. More than anything, I can say without question George Couros is definitely the kind of administrator I would want to work for as a teacher.

For one, the fact that Couros is a principal and blogs regularly, already puts him in elite company. For an administrator to commit to writing their evolving thinking and beliefs in such a public and transparent way is striking in its courage. In an almost subversive way, by making his thinking public Principal Couros is reaching out to others, demonstrating his capacity to connect, building relationships, and inviting others to join him. By definition, that behavior is a kind of leadership.

What’s more, I would bet that his blogging ameliorates a lot of suspicion, ignorance, and fear that can take root in any school’s staff. Of course, those qualities might never be able to eradicate completely from a teaching staff, but it strikes me as being a significant step in an opposite more positive, pro-active direction. Again, the behavior is a means of leadership, blazing a path towards the kind of practitioners that he would like to see in his school.

Something like a post referenced in the session, “8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom,” goes a long way in directing his staff, as well as echoing a declaration of belief and values that he brings to his school and district. That is powerful communication. As a teacher, I know I would appreciate an administrator writing something like this as a blogpost, which is considerably more personal and human, and not some district-level document filled with educational Engfish (Ken Macrorie‘s term for something that looks like English but isn’t).

Another post like “5 Characteristics of a Change Agent,” also referenced in the session clearly illustrates the kind of people Couros is hoping work in his building. Even better, he is walking the walk, not just talking the talk. His blogging is a clear indicator of that. As I routinely tell my English students, “You can’t write about what you don’t know.” Of course, Couros doesn’t know it all, and in some instances may even be writing his way into a deeper understanding. The point is, however, he is doing just that, engaged in a deepening of his own learning and understanding. Again, a principal blogging in this way is an educational leader. He doesn’t need to inform his staff of his position, as I have heard more than one principal assert in my career, his example speaks for itself.

The whole session was just another excellent even that has been part of the ETMOOC experience. More than anything, it drove to further my thinking about just how much I think administrative “leadership” in education, at least in the States, is subject to question. In fact, I would submit it is a group getting an almost complete pass in the edreform donnybrook that has broken out all over the media. As the press and politically connected, monied interests take turns pounding on teachers unions and teachers in general, I rarely see any notice being paid to administrations with the exception of the much vaunted “turn-around” agents. Meanwhile, I observe administrations turning over at a rate that rivals that of teachers leaving the profession.

Something tells me that a principal like George Couros is more committed for the long term. My biggest fear if he were my principal is that he would be a victim of his own success and called higher and higher up the administrative ladder, although that wouldn’t be all bad.

I need some more time to stew on Cormier’s Rhizomatic Learning session.