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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

We could learn a lot from Finnish schools

In a package full of life’s little necessities, every Finnish newborn receives a precious gift –– a set of three books, courtesy of the government.

There’s a book for Baby, one for Mom and one for Dad, according to a research paper by Dr. Leo Sandy, a professor of counselor education and school psychology at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. The three books symbolize Finland’s commitment to lifelong learning.

Sandy studied the Finnish educational system, which many experts tout as the best in the world, for a paper titled “Education in Finland,” published in the New Hampshire Journal of Learning in April 2007. He was way ahead of the American mainstream media, which have only recently begun dissecting the tiny Baltic nation of 5 million, trying to discern its mind-numbing ability to outpace even traditional academic powerhouses like Japan and Germany on international standardized tests, even though Finland gives no such tests of its own.

To my mind, the conversation about Finland’s education system couldn’t come at a better time. Through the new Common Core State Standards, the U.S. is pushing further into uncharted educational territory, where standardized tests rule and teachers, long derided by the public, become pawns of the state, charged with producing seemingly unattainable results with too few resources.

What we need is a full-fledged discussion about what constitutes a proper education. Finland is an excellent place to start.

This year, we watched in horror as children’s scores on New York’s grades-three-to-eight English Language Arts and mathematics exams plummeted. The tests were the first to measure kids’ abilities against the Common Core, a nationwide curriculum aimed at raising standards that many states adopted in 2010. Across New York, roughly 30 percent of students passed the new exams, which state Education Commissioner John King said are early measures of their readiness for college and careers.

The Common Core makes you wonder about the millions of children who came before today’s students. Were none of us ready for life after high school?

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