Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ignoring Finnish Lessons, Relationships, & Seamless Transitions

"When shown successful reform models elsewhere in the world, educators and lawmakers (in the U.S.) often scoff that there are no lessons for America."

This is the opening sentence of the "Lessons Ignored" article posted 1-30-12 on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The article goes over the strategies used by too many in the US to ignore what is happening in Finnish schools.

The final sentence in this article is painfully true about the U.S. educational system: “We keep making minor changes to an education system that is 100 years out of date. It is not that the United States has a bad system. We have no system.”

The educational system in Finland has multiple unifying factors.  Probably the most central is a dedication to minimizing transition trauma between grades and maximazing personal relationships by students with teachers. It leads to a system with no separate middle schools.  The elementary school years (grades 1-6) and the middle school years (7-9) are all spent in the same school. 

The middle school debate has raged within the United States for 50 years.  Middle schools were started without reasoning based in university research.  They were simply considered a good idea.  Now all over the US school systems are closing separate middle schools and moving back to the K-8 model.   Google "separate middle schools" and read the reports.  If you study the first 50 hits you will find a very few school systems who are opening middle schools.  Those are moving against the crowd.   Over 1,000 of the 9,000+ U.S. middle schools that existed in 2005 have closed or changed into k-8 schools. ( http://educationnext.org/the-middle-school-mess/ )  Now we have Finland that reinforces this change.  We should end using separate middle schools so that our students avoid unnecessary transition trauma.

Due to the value the Finnish educational system places on personal relationships and the minimizing of transition, most of the time one teacher stays with the same class of students from first through 6th grades.  The goal is to make the first 9 years of education as seamless as possible, all in one school, with as few teachers as possible involved with each student.  That is a priceless goal!