Friday, October 21, 2011

Comparing Educaton in Finland and in the U.S.

In Diane Ravitch's blog she talks about her recent trip to Finland where she visited schools and spoke to educators. Ravitch discovered how horrified educators in Finland are that the U.S. schools are increasing the use of standardized tests, basing teacher evaluations on how well students score on the tests, and will receive merit pay if students do well. Ravitch reports that there is no standardized testing in Finland and teachers are responsible for the curriculum taught in their schools.

There are several reasons that I think it is difficult to compare U.S. education to Finnish education. First of all, the student population in the U.S. is much more diverse.
Twenty percent of U.S. students speak a language other than English at home. Over 400 different language are spoken by students in U.S. schools.
Most English language learners(ELLs) go to the poorest schools and live in abject poverty. Lawmakers are ignoring poverty as one of the reasons for the achievement gap.

U.S. lawmakers are ready to reauthorize ESEA without addressing the unique needs of ELLs. The companies working on the new assessments barely address how ELLs are tested. No one is paying attention to the fact that beginning and intermediate ELLs can not be held to the same standards as the native speakers when being tested in content areas in English. They simply do not have enough language to demonstrate what they know.

Tests in native language do not resolve this problem. The companies designing new standardized tests plan to translate them into 10 languages. Translated tests are not reliable measures for ELLs. Also, if students are learning content material in English, it makes no sense to test then in native language.

ESL and bilingual teachers need to become aware of national educational debates. Our students will be affected. Perhaps more than native English speakers. I encourage you to read Diane Ravitch's blog and to write comments. She has been asking to hear other voices.