I can't help but look at, from afar, how aspects of US education are crumbling. In just these few months, Ive been shell-shocked by example after example of diminished trust of teachers, the pervasive use of standardized testing, and the reports of how our children are failing. I refute the idea that teachers are the lynch pin in school and student success.
"The... fallacy is that “the most important single factor in improving quality of education is teachers.” This false belief is central to the “no excuses” school of thought. If a teacher was the most important single factor in improving quality of education, then the power of a school would indeed be stronger than children’s family background or peer influences
in explaining student achievement in school."
I think Finland demonstrates how teachers and students can thrive when they are working as part of a Whole. I also think this is true for many students and teachers in the United States. In fact, from my point of view, the United States exemplifies educational innovation in ways that I have not seen here in Finland. It's the inequitable opportunity for American students that is unsettling.
But, here's my hypothesis - if I visited 20 schools around the United States - in urban areas, rural areas, large schools, small schools, primary through secondary, I'd see very different schools. The variety would be immense. And the inequity might be intense in terms of facilities, resources, teacher engagement, safety, technology, values, opportunities, community support, funding, and leadership. I make this assertion because in my hometown of Albuquerque, it is possible to see a gamut of schools -- palatial edifices compared to thousands of kids and teachers who work in portable buildings as their 'permanent' facility; class sizes of 24 compared to class sizes of 36; schools where students are trusted vs. schools that require students to wear a colored vest to go to the bathroom (and how dare they wander to a color zone in the school other than what they are wearing.) We have schools that still able to take students on field trips and others that don't have the time (standardized testing) or funds to take kids out beyond the school.
I've observed over 20 schools in Finland and over 50 classrooms. I've seen diversity, yes. Each school has it's own character, spirit, and path. Still there is a commonality of quality and equality among each school that is palpable. All classrooms have a projector and computers. Each school has a developmentally structured play yard. Every single school has been brimming with student art work. Children at all schools receive a nutritious, hot meal (and all children partake in school lunch.) There are laptops or iPads or both. I've seen at least one ping pong table at nearly every school I've visited. Teacher lounges are colorful, active spaces where teachers meet in between classes for coffee and conversation. Kids walk around in stocking feet and teachers change from outside shoes to inside shoes. The coat racks are rainbows of coats, hats, snow pants, scarves, and gloves.
There's an assurance that every child is going to get a comparable, quality educational experience that exists in the psyche of the Finnish people. That's what I want to bottle up and take home with me.