The Individual Teacher versus the Educational System: What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools?

February 20, 2015 at 7:59 am 5 comments

I highly recommend the article below, for the perspective above all.  The issue of “If we fix teachers, do we fix the American educational system” is discussed below and in a recent Freakonomics podcast (see link here).  The Freakonomics team comes to the same conclusion as below — no, the home life is a far bigger factor than any particular teacher.

But I’m more struck by the focus on the education system more than the individual teacher in the below essay.  If your focus is on the education system, then the goal shouldn’t be to identify and get rid of the “bad” teachers.  In the end, that’s just one teacher in a whole system.  You’re better off improving the system, by making the teachers as good as possible (e.g., with high-quality professional development, and lots of it).  Develop your teachers, and the system improves itself.

The comments about Teach for America are relevant to the TEALS program, too.  If we value teaching as a profession and want highly-skilled, prepared, and experienced teachers, then you don’t take newbies and make them teachers.  Make them assistants, or make them para-professionals.  Take a legitimate peripheral participation approach and let them help on the edges.  But keep the teacher front-and-center, valuing her or him for the experience and development that she or he brings to the classroom — don’t try to replace the teacher with someone who doesn’t have that experience and preparation.

When I told Barbara Ericson about these comments, she countered that I’m assuming that (with respect to computer science) schools have these well-prepared and experienced teachers.  She says that she’s seen whole districts without a single teacher with preparation as a CS teacher — but they’re teaching CS.  She argues that in most schools, a TEALS professional could not be just an assistant or para-professional, because the teacher can’t adequately support the course on his or her own.

In recent years the “no excuses”’ argument has been particularly persistent in the education debate. There are those who argue that poverty is only an excuse not to insist that all schools should reach higher standards. Solution: better teachers. Then there are those who claim that schools and teachers alone cannot overcome the negative impact that poverty causes in many children’s learning in school. Solution: Elevate children out of poverty by other public policies.

For me the latter is right. In the United States today, 23 percent of children live in poor homes. In Finland, the same way to calculate child poverty would show that figure to be almost five times smaller. The United States ranked in the bottom four in the recent United Nations review on child well-being.  Among 29 wealthy countries, the United States landed second from the last in child poverty and held a similarly poor position in “child life satisfaction.” Teachers alone, regardless of how effective they are, will not be able to overcome the challenges that poor children bring with them to schools everyday.

via What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools? – The Washington Post.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mike Zamansky (@zamansky)  |  February 20, 2015 at 5:42 pm

    Of course, it’s easier to blame us rotten teachers and cheaper to replace us with TFA temps in for a cup of coffee before law school,

    On the TEALS thing, I’m really concerned that we’re going to get stuck with a good enough solution that isn’t nearly good enough.

    Every TEALS volunteer I’ve spoken to says the same thing — they’re doing nothing to increase long term capacity but while they’re in the classroom they’re giving kids something that they otherwise wouldn’t have had.

    I support TEALS but am concerned the powers that be will say – hey, we now have CS in the schools. Even worse, we’re rolling out curricula that “doesn’t need a CS teacher” when any educator worth their salt knows it’s about the teacher, not the curriculum.

    • 2. Edward Bujak  |  March 7, 2015 at 1:59 pm

      i am amazed this blog entry has not generated any activity. I wonder if it so obvious that no one has anything more to add, but why do I feel it is more of an act of self-preservation and putting no views out there in the wild; especially if they are not populr or in vogue? I love Mike Zamansky’s final remark about
      “Even worse, we’re rolling out curricula that “doesn’t need a CS teacher” when any educator worth their salt knows it’s about the teacher, not the curriculum.”
      Hey, who’s up for an annual highly paid activity of curriculum activity/mapping/rewriting/adoption/re-adoption that looks just like the previous three and does not affect any student academic gains as advertised? 🙂

      • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  March 7, 2015 at 9:35 pm

        There’s not always a correlation between the activity in the comments thread for a post and the angry emails in my inbox.

        • 4. Edward Bujak  |  March 9, 2015 at 6:18 am

          Good point. How can anyone be angry with you? 🙂 I am glad you put these important discussion points and issues out there in the wild. I hopefully generates a “healthy” discourse which is certainly better than silence and

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