What is really going on in Finland’s school reform?

Finland has been in the spotlight of the education world since it appeared, against all odds, on the top of the rankings of an international test known as PISA, the Program for International Student Assessment, in the early 2000s. Tens of thousands visitors have traveled to the country to see how to improve their own schools. Hundreds of articles have been written to explain why Finnish education is so marvelous — or sometimes that it isn’t. Millions of tweets have been shared and read, often leading to debates about the real nature of Finland’s schools and about teaching and learning there.

We have learned a lot about why some education systems — such as Alberta, Ontario, Japan and Finland — perform better year after year than others in terms of quality and equity of student outcomes. We also understand now better why some other education systems — for example, England, Australia, the United States and Sweden — have not been able to improve their school systems regardless of politicians’ promises, large-scale reforms and truckloads of money spent on haphazard efforts to change schools during the past two decades.

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Class Sizes will be “The Biggest Ever” Boasts President Trump

Doubling down on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ recent claim that students “can learn better with larger classes, with more students to collaborate with, to learn with,” President Trump this morning bragged that the U.S. will lead the world in class size. “Under President Trump, our classes will be huge. They’ll be the biggest, most beautiful class sizes you’ve ever seen, believe me!”

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US Senate Bill Proposes Smaller Class Sizes for High-Poverty School Districts

Following a year of teacher strikes where educators in West Virginia, Los Angeles, Denver and beyond called for wage increases and reduced class sizes, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has introduced a new bill to incentivize smaller class sizes in kindergarten and first, second and third grades. The legislation, which would allocate $2 billion for competitive grant funding, primarily to high-poverty school districts in the United States, is co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris (CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Cory Booker (NJ) and Michael Bennet (CO). The bill is also endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the National Parent Teacher Association, and First Focus Campaign for Children.

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New Study Undermines Case for a Year 1 Phonics Test

A new study comprehensively refutes the claim that phonetics is little used in teaching reading in Australian schools. It shows that the large majority of teachers in Australian primary schools use a combination of methods in teaching reading, including phonetics.

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Scotch College Property Buying Spree Supported by the Taxpayer

It was reported in The Age this week that the elite Melbourne private school, Scotch College, has been on a $25 million spending spree over the past 20 years buying up surrounding properties to expand the school. It is part of the facilities arms race between wealthy private schools to market the school and lure students.

What The Age report did not mention is that this spending spree was directly and indirectly supported by the Commonwealth and Victorian Governments. Continue reading “Scotch College Property Buying Spree Supported by the Taxpayer”

Public School Enrolments Increase

New school enrolment data show a reversal of the steady drift of students from public to private schools over the past 40 years. Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last week show that the share of public school enrolments increased from 60.05% of all enrolments in 2015 to 60.09% in 2016. This is the first time the public school share has increased since the 1970s.

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Student Absenteeism is High in Australia

Student absenteeism is a well-documented factor in poor performance at school.  Students who skip school, skip classes and arrive late for school tend to have lower test scores [OECD, PISA 2012 Results: What Makes Schools Successful? Resources, Policies and Practices (Volume IV), 2013, p. 60].

It is likely to be a factor behind the high proportion of Australian students who do not achieve expected international standards in reading, mathematics and science. Data from PISA 2015 show that a much higher percentage of Australian students skipped a day of school at least once in the two weeks prior to the PISA test than in other high performing countries and the OECD average.

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Schools in Deep Water Over Mandatory Swim Lessons

Earlier this week principals in Victorian government primary schools were stunned to learn that as from the beginning of 2017 that all students would have to be able to swim 50 metres continuously by the time they finished year 6. Swimming would become a mandatory part of the new Victorian Curriculum as part of the Andrews Government’s aim to prevent deaths by drowning.

It didn’t help that principals found this out via the media.

There is no disagreement about the goal – having all children competent in swimming is a no brainer. But, as is too often the case, the devil is in the detail and in this case the detail doesn’t stack up. More’s the pity because with some meaningful consultation between the government and school principals, so many of the self-inflicted obstacles to potential success with this initiative could have been avoided and the government would have been on a winner.

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Technology is No Game-Changer in the Classroom

Technology will revolutionize the classroom! I have been hearing these promises for most of my 20 year physics teaching career and yet there is scant high quality evidence for it. Cyber schools show little learning. The OECD found “no appreciable improvement in student achievement” with large scale investments in computer technology. Computer technology seems like such a natural fit in the classroom. Why has it not been the game changer that it should be?

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More Evidence That Better School Results Increases Economic Growth

A study published by the US National Bureau of Economic Research this week shows that bringing all students up to a basic level of education increases work force skills and economic growth. It adds to the substantial weight of international and Australian evidence that increasing student achievement increases economic growth.

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