Saturday, January 29, 2011

Please, Br'er Reformer, please don't throw me into that Finnish briar patch!

Alexander Russo:

Progressives might be feeling pretty good right now about the defeat or delay of various attacks (Waiting For Superman, the anti-strike legislation in Illinois, the parent trigger in Compton) and the emergence of several champions (Ravitch, Strauss).

But in my mind at least progressives are still spending so much time tearing down any and all possible examples of progress, a tactic that while useful may have reached its limits. There's always something wrong, or not good enough, or an extenuating circumstance or special treatment that can be used to explain things away. Where's the money coming from? What about the teacher turnover rate?

As you'll see below, I think it's time for a more positive, hopeful narrative, with a new set of examples and heroes illustrating an alternative path to success. But I'm not sure anyone's working on that.

This is tough, considering everything from NCLB, to the depredations of Broad-trained state and district administrators, to the confounding fact that most new progressive schools are charters.

Luckily, neo-liberal reformers have given us a great gift in raising social democratic Finland as an example. We should use it. And, frankly, we should get credit for using it; have you read The Flat World and Education? The former head of the Obama transition team's education working group lays out a US version of Finnish school reform. There it is! What's a gal have to do to get noticed around here?

Anyhow, I thought Kevin Carey's post today, commenting on Samuel E. Abrams piece in TNR, was a good illustration of the kind of pre-emptive strikes which lead to posts like Russo's:

Finland is an unambiguous success story and there’s a lot we can learn from them. The “Finland is homogeneous and thus has nothing to teach us” argument is, I believe, mistaken. Far and away the most Finland-like American state is Utah (white, mono-religious, few natural resources, strong cultural bonds) and their educational results aren’t nearly as good.

But anyone arguing that the evidence from Finland cleanly supports either side of the American education reform debate is being dishonest.

If Finland is the compromise, I'll take it!

Don't let them psych you out on Finland. Love it, live it. You are Iorek Byrnison and the Finnish education system is your armor. Force feed 'em shots of Finlandia until they suffocate on their own vomit. Pummel their weakest point from our strongest.


Stephen Downes said...

And if they don't like Finland, offer them Canada, which also ranks well above the U.S. in results, and yet is equally (if not more) diverse, geographically distributed, multilingual, and close.

Oh yeah, and we're doing a lot of that progressive education stuff up here. And it's working.

Tom Hoffman said...