28 August 2011

To Whom It May Concern - Please Small Class Sizes

The Answer for Education: Small Class Sizes

by Mhaire Fraser
August 27, 2011

Seven of my teacher friends emailed this to me to write about.

Every single one of them said the same thing: ”Please write about this. Please get it posted. Please tell people we said this will work here. Here in America, supposedly the most progressive thinking country in the world.” And they all included the link to the Smithsonian’s article on Finland’s schools and why they are so successful. Here is the short answer from all of them:

Small. Class. Sizes.

There is never enough money for education and it is no longer “no child left behind,” but a whole country being left behind. Because we don’t spend enough on teachers and we don’t hire enough of them and we don’t think it matters when it comes to the budgets of our states. California and North Carolina are both notable for this. For instance, twenty two percent of all North Carolinians have difficulty with reading or writing that seriously affect their daily lives. The lawmakers are okay with this.

The teachers are not the problem.
The students are not the problem.
The testing is not the problem.
The overly large amount of students being put into a single classroom is the problem.

The funny thing is, this seems to have been going on for a long time.

Finnish schooling became a source of controversy after the 2010 documentary film Waiting for “Superman” contrasted it with America’s troubled public schools. In Finland, most schools are small enough so that all the teachers know every student. If one method fails, a group consult happens to try something else. And the Smithsonian reports that almost 30 percent of Finland’s school children receive some kind of special help during their first nine years of school, because special help in a hard subject will help foster learning. We have known for a while that not everyone learns the same way, even though here in America they are tested the same way.

In Finland, there is only one standard test at the end of your Senior Year. There are no comparisons, no grades, no results, no academic competitions. All schools have the same National goals and pull from the same pool of University-educated teachers, and all schools are public. This means that one can get a quality education no matter where they go to school. I just can’t see that happening here, although I wish it could.

The Finnish attitude of “whatever it takes” could work. If we have enough teachers, we will have the manpower to turn around illiteracy. If we pay the teachers, they will come. It took Finland 40 years, but we could do it. I am not sure we can get the buy in for that long, neither from lawmakers or parents who wants things like grades and marks to make sure Little Johnny is on track (I always ask “on track for what?”).

So to my teacher friends at all levels, including my college colleagues: I’m with you. I know. Maybe we can’t turn around the whole system quickly, but we can ask for small class sizes and more money for education.

I’m with them. You with me?

P/S: Dear Mhaire Fraser, I am with you too!

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