I asked Sahlberg how it was possible to hold teachers or schools accountable when there were no standardized tests. He replied that Finnish educators speak not of accountability, but of responsibility. He said, “Our teachers are very responsible; they are professionals.” When asked what happens to incompetent teachers, Sahlberg insisted that they would never be appointed; once qualified teachers are appointed, it is very difficult to remove them. When asked how Finnish teachers would react if they were told they would be judged by their students’ test scores, he replied, “They would walk out and they wouldn’t return until the authorities stopped this crazy idea.”

Schools We Can Envy

When we first moved into the city, we were excited at the prospect of what we thought would be good public schools, given that our elementary school covers one of the wealthiest local neighborhoods. My first warning that these hopes were in vain came some years ago, when one of my bosses was telling me he pulled his children from public school, because the decision came down to integrate the gifted children with the general population, in some strange hope that they would be a good influence on their new classmates. Which likely explains why the majority of the local school’s students are on food assistance – middle and upper class flight from horrendous policies.

In researching the local elementary schools, we find they all practice the same policy, teaching to the test. Things have changed from when I was a student.

One interesting aspect of the new school reform ideology, that the article hints on, is the idea that if their policies improve education (a big if), that this education will have a positive effect upon poverty. That really only seems to be the only solution to poverty these days – improved education and broader access to college. One is left wondering how a BA or BS will affect a janitor financially, other than providing another source of crippling debt.



Filed under Culture

6 responses to “School

  1. I’ve long thought the “education will solve our employment/poverty problem” was a bunch of bull pucky. It makes the following false assumptions: 1. everyone is suited to higher education (since presumably the idea is that public schools are preparing kids for this) 2. even janitors, etc. need higher education 3. everyone will be able to get into college in the first place and then graduate 4. those who do will find a surplus of jobs available. Number 4 is the least probable–they’re starting to outsource or automate white collar jobs, the number getting into elite schools and elite jobs will always be small, and at best college education in this context just expands the ranks of the barely-above-poverty-line lower echelon office jobs.

    Frankly, I think all the “education will save us” hoopla is just to distract from the economy as it plunges further into the toilet and as neither political side lifts a finger to stop it.

  2. s-p

    At 59 I’ve entered the arena of public education and it is a crock of shit. Education is a business. Standardized tests are bullshit. ALL students in my state MUST pass math, science and english tests in order to get a diploma that most of the legislators who passed these laws could not pass.
    I have kids who will be janitors, clerks and construction people who can’t get a diploma because they can’t pass a math test that requires them to know quadratic equations. My job is dependent on the percentage of kids on my roster that I can get to pass those tests. Don’t get me started……

  3. Leah

    Until relatively recently (1980s or so), school administrators and the public at large accepted that many if not most students would drop out of high school. This wasn’t as much of a problem as it is now, because a boy could get a reasonably good job in a factory and a girl could be a secretary or a telephone switch operator. Starting in the 1970s, those types of jobs started disappearing and a college degree became the equivilent of what a high school diploma used to be. Thus, the problem we have today is what to do with the vast majority of students who are not capable of doing college level work, but still desire upward mobility in the legitimate economy.

    I really don’t have much faith that the US’s educational system can be reformed. The whole concept of “school choice” is a joke. If a “good public school” suddenly became deluged with poor children or even middle class children of color, the white parents would panic and put their own children in private schools. This is exactly what happened in the elementary school I attended. In those days (late 80s, early 90s) there was a program called “Minority to Majority” that allowed black students to attend public schools that were outside of their neighborhoods. About five years ago, I found a school directory from 1990 and realized that someone had drawn in dots next to the names of all the black students. When I asked my mother about it, she told me that she had confronted the Powers That Be about the fact that the black population of the school was being slowly but surely pushed out and used the data in the directories as evidence for her claims. Sure enough, that school is almost 100% white today.

    Another thing that many people don’t pick up on is the amount of private money and volunteering that parents in “good neighborhoods” can put into their neighborhood public schools. This NYT article from 1988 says it better than I can, and even mentions the school I was alluding to in my personal anecdote :
    Discussions about the amount of money that is or is not spent on public schools is moot if certain parents can afford to raise or donate large sums of money or bring in private lessons that their poorer counterparts cannot.

  4. This has been getting a lot of buzz lately –
    “there are 5,057 janitors in the U.S. with Ph.D.’s, other doctorates, or professional degrees.”
    from –

    Yet at the same time we hear we grant work visas for all these folks coming over to do jobs America has a shortage of trained personnel for. Apparently all of our educating is not hitting the right vocational/credential targets.

    • I’d love to see data which breaks down the degrees these janitors have by academic department. I assume that they are mostly humanities majors, but perhaps that isn’t the case.

    • Leah

      The US has always been weak in basic science. The American ideal for a man of science is someone like Thomas Edison or the Wright Brothers (i.e., autodidactic tinkers who invent marketable products). Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerburg all fall into this model. We have to import the Albert Einsteins, Werner Von Brauns, and Niels Bohrs from other countries because our culture and our educational system is not geared for research for research’s sake, whether it’s physics or English literature. Ever so often, the media describes some basic science project being funded at the DOE, the DOD, or some other government agency, usually as an illustration of the silly things our tax money is being spent on. But you can’t have innovation without basic science, and most basic science has to be funded wholly or in part by the government. A desire to be first in science and innovation is not the same thing as inventing something that will put millions of unemployed Americans back to work, which is what our STEM policies are trying to accomplish. Steve Jobs himself said that it wasn’t his duty to produce jobs for America, and that’s exactly what happened.

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