Schools We Can Envy by Diane Ravitch | The New York Review of Books - Font Size A A A Schools We Can Envy MARCH 8 2012 Diane Ravitch Finnish Lessons

Schools We Can Envy by Diane Ravitch | The New York Review of Books

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Schools We Can EnvyMARCH 8, 2012Diane RavitchFinnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?by Pasi Sahlberg, with a foreword by Andy Hargreaves Teachers College Press, 167 pp., $34.95 (paper) Tuomas UusheimoThe Kirkkojärvi School in Espoo, Finland, which accommodates about 770 students aged seven to sixteenand also includes a preschool for six-year-olds; from the Museum of Finnish Architecture’s exhibition‘The Best School in the World: Seven Finnish Examples from the 21st Century,’ which will be on view atthe American Institute of Architects’ Center for Architecture in New York City this fallIn recent years, elected officials and policymakers such as former president George W.Bush, former schools chancellor Joel Klein in New York City, former schools chancellorMichelle Rhee in Washington, D.C., and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan haveagreed that there should be “no excuses” for schools with low test scores. The “noexcuses” reformers maintain that all children can attain academic proficiency withoutregard to poverty, disability, or other conditions, and that someone must be heldaccountable if they do not. That someone is invariably their teachers.Nothing is said about holding accountable the district leadership or the elected officialswho determine such crucial issues as funding, class size, and resource allocation. Thereformers say that our economy is in jeopardy, not because of growing poverty orincome inequality or the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs, but because of bad teachers.Font Size: AAA
These bad teachers must be found out and thrown out. Any laws, regulations, orcontracts that protect these pedagogical malefactors must be eliminated so that they canbe quickly removed without regard to experience, seniority, or due process.The belief that schools alone can overcome the effects of poverty may be traced backmany decades but its most recent manifestation was a short book published in 2000 bythe conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., titled No Excuses. In thisbook, Samuel Casey Carter identified twenty-one high-poverty schools with high testscores. Over the past decade, influential figures in public life have decreed that schoolreform is the key to fixing poverty. Bill Gates told the National Urban League, “Let’send the myth that we have to solve poverty before we improve education. I say it’s morethe other way around: improving education is the best way to solve poverty.” Gatesnever explains why a rich and powerful society like our own cannot address bothpoverty and school improvement at the same time.For a while, the Gates Foundation thought that small high schools were the answer, butGates now believes that teacher evaluation is the primary ingredient of school reform.

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