More teacher education vs. centralized control

June 25, 2010 at 9:37 am 3 comments

Linda Darling-Hammond’s new book The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity will Determine Our Future is excerpted in this piece at I have the book but hadn’t started it yet, but now I’m really intrigued.

In this excerpt, Linda Darling-Hammond is contrasting the success of Finland with the direction of educational change in the United States.  While the US has moved more toward standardized testing and increased curricular standards (even at a national level), Finland has (instead) decreased the national standards and instead increased education for its teachers — three graduate years, paid for by the state.  The goal is to increase the quality of the teachers, rather than try to check outcomes and enforce standards (in some sense) after the fact.

This is relevant for us because the current trends in improving computing education (e.g., the new AP “Computer Science: Principles” exam, and the efforts toward getting CS into the Common Core) look much more like the US mainstream strategy than the Finland option that Darling-Hammond is praising.  I admit my naiveté — I had not even considered the trade-off between our current centralized strategy in high school CS and this option for fewer standards and better education for teachers.  I’m not sure that Darling-Hammond is right (e.g., will a strategy that works in Finland also work in the larger and more diverse United States?  Can we create these post-graduate teacher education programs in the US, at scale, especially in CS where such programs are almost non-existent?), but I’m intrigued and want to learn more.

The process of change has been almost the reverse of policies in the United States. Over the past 40 years, Finland has shifted from a highly centralized system emphasizing external testing to a more localized system in which highly trained teachers design curriculum around the very lean national standards. This new system is implemented through equitable funding and extensive preparation for all teachers. The logic of the system is that investments in the capacity of local teachers and schools to meet the needs of all students, coupled with thoughtful guidance about goals, can unleash the benefits of local creativity in the cause of common, equitable outcomes.

Meanwhile the United States has been imposing more external testing—often exacerbating differential access to curriculum—while creating more inequitable conditions in local schools. Resources for children and schools, in the form of both overall funding and the presence of trained, experienced teachers, have become more disparate in many states, thus undermining the capacity of schools to meet the outcomes that are ostensibly sought. Sahlberg notes that Finland has taken a very different path. He observes:

The Finns have worked systematically over 35 years to make sure that competent professionals who can craft the best learning conditions for all students are in all schools, rather than thinking that standardized instruction and related testing can be brought in at the last minute to improve student learning and turn around failing schools.

via Steady Work Finland.

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Paying teachers for merit only works if you can measure merit Creating (and improving) options for CS practice: Practice-It! and beyond

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. weilunion  |  June 25, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    I appreciate Linda’s work. I am not sure if anyone saw the last issue of the Nation with an article from Linda.

    The coverage by the nation was sad, if not tragic. I say this for two reasons. One, it once again hauls out the same old tired dliberals who evade the real issues facing education. They do this, and this is the second reason I claim the coverage was essentailly terrible if not tragic, is that what they leave out of their sociaological points of view is the fact that capitalism, the economic system within which all the school institutions remain the superstructur3e, is never a part of their analysis. They actually go out of their way to avoid any fundamental understanding of the economic systme of corporate control and private property in their attempts to offer up solutions.

    The solutions rae always the same as well. Liberal solutions that are offered as if we lived in a society that would even fund any of the project Linda and others promote. Their lack of understanding or fear of mentioning the capitalist system of social relations that fall under it are the deathknell to their analysis and thus their conclusions.

    when will we finally get down to the business of idneitfyding the elephatn in the room and not its parts? When will we fnally understand that within the system of mendacity and cruelty within which we re now living, that education cannot be reformed seperate from the social system within which it lives and breathes and serves. And this social system itself will never be ‘reformed’ for it must be overthtown.

    Tired eloquence is not what we need now. Suggestions as to how to create enclaves of learning are fine, but we must see them as larger reforms within a revolutionary moment or they will fall be the wayside as did all the other good reforms like critical thinking and whole language.


  • 2. Hélène Martin  |  June 26, 2010 at 12:01 am

    I’m not familiar with this person’s work but it sounds like something I should explore. Intuitively, I feel like what you highlight here is the right approach. When I think of successful high school computer science teachers I admire and respect, they’re successful because they’ve tailored their material heavily to their students’ needs, they can change directions on a dime if they have to and the students have complete trust in their knowledge of computer science. In contrast, I can’t think of many success stories involving an amazing curriculum (maybe Stacey Armstrong’s materials count).

    I do think there needs to be more sharing of resources and clearer goals for K-12 CS but investing in building a strong teaching corps is what will really make a difference…

  • 3. weilunion  |  July 17, 2010 at 2:40 am

    Yes, Mark this is good. the problem Darling does not point out is that Finland is a more equitable country than ours. Here in the US we have rising unemployment, a broken financial system, lost public workers, pensions decimated, and the rest of the economic woes you know are present.

    the problem with Darling, and her article in the Nation magazine is proof of this, is that she ignores along with most ‘leftist’ teachers and academics the stranglehold of capitalism and the devastation it is causing to the working class.

    Education will never be reformed until we begin a socialist movement in this country. Until then it will remain chatter for the academics who have jobs and pensions while for those not lucky enough to either have pensions or tenure in Universities will see their lives continue to crumble.

    Henry Giroux was and is right: schools are a site for struggle but to think we can fix them outside the corporate forum is delusional.


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