5 Questions for . . .
Rachael Avery Barton, Middle School History Teacher in Leominster
Michael Capuano, U.S. Representative for Massachusetts’ 7th District
Kenneth Hawes, Senior Lecturer in Education, Wellesley College
Phillip James, History Department Coordinator, Lincoln-Sudbury R.H.S.
Véronique Latimer, High School Art Teacher
Arthur Unobskey, Assistant Superintendent, Gloucester Public Schools
Isa Zimmerman, Executive Director, Massachusetts ASCD (Association
for Supervision and Curriculum Development)
3. Which educational systems in the U.S. or in other countries would you point to as a model for reform efforts here? What has made them successful?
Rachael Avery Barton
Of course I’d like to say Finland, Sweden and those other Scandinavian countries. But we are talking about a whole other set of rules. These countries operate in such a governmental system where vast amounts of money and time are put into their educational systems. Their successful methods are nothing without this funding and the trust they have in their teachers. (Their teachers are trained more and paid more!) We cannot compare ourselves to any system until our government learns that in order to better the future, actual dollars need to be spent on education. Throwing reform after reform, test after test, textbook after textbook at the system will do nothing. Sure money is being spent, but so much of it is on testing and reform created by corporations with little input from actual educators.
These countries also understand the value of play, creativity, of individuality, and of small class sizes!
I cannot answer this question thoughtfully because I do not follow ed reform on that level of detail. Furthermore, I have always believed that there is no such thing as universal reform that helps all children. I prefer to offer as many different education models as possible for people – some kids respond better to one method, while others prefer something else. Some like uniforms and rote. Others react well in jeans and open classrooms. So far, this is the biggest missed opportunity of the charter school movement – options. I have seen many different programs that work well, but none that work well for everyone.
I think that there are things we can learn from other countries, but I think that we have to rely mainly on examples and pilot projects in the US. Don’t do any big policy changes without good pilot projects!
I would not claim to be very familiar with educational systems in other countries so it is best that I not comment on them. I would point out the success of small, private schools. They do not have to answer to state-mandated tests and they have the class sizes to give students the attention that they need. Teachers are given the freedom to create and implement curriculum independent of educational bureaucracies. Some of these schools have student populations who are “ready” to learn when they enter school. The students do not lack material goods and they have been primed for learning by their parents. Yet these schools are given the space to be creative, focus on students’ individual needs, and foster a love of learning. Some public schools have a similar environment. Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in Sudbury, Massachusetts has a long history of giving both students and teachers the freedom to learn and teach in a meaningful way. Students are given freedom to choose courses that make sense for them and teachers have a great deal of autonomy in shaping curriculum and pedagogy.
Finland! I just read an article in the Mass Art Ed association newsletter about the Finnish educational system. The main differences being they have a consistent long-term policy, education is free to all, there is a culture of TRUST where teachers are valued and trusted and local authorities plan the curriculum –there are no state exams or people not connected to the classroom or community dictating what needs to be covered. Sounds wonderful, right?
China is not a model as an educational system because it makes a final test too powerful. However, aspects of its approach to improving pedagogy are very effective. Its approach to teaching elementary math, for example, demands that teachers spend hours together developing each moment of a lesson. Those carefully planned lessons give students fewer practice problems, requiring them to spend several minutes planning individually and collaboratively to integrate the skills they have learned. Teachers maximize the time students spend applying more than one algorithm to new situations and minimize the time they spend memorizing. Only these carefully designed application problems will enable them to build the numeracy that so many American students lack.
There is no single system that we can adopt from another country. I have visited the UK, Canada, Puerto Rico, Israel and Finland over the years, looking at education (among other topics!). In each there was something that we could learn from:
Finland…not transformational teaching as I had expected but rather the respect afforded the profession so it attracts dedicated and well-educated people.
Israel…demanding requirements and a great deal of time spent in learning not just in school.
Puerto Rico…having resources matters. Poor schools cannot provide the same resources for teachers and students as well as endowed schools. While money is not everything, it is essential.
Canada…avoid feeling that one is falling into someone else’s shadow.
UK…a tradition of private (known as public) schooling which creates more divisions than the same bifurcation in the US