Education Opinion

Long Time, No Blog....

By Sara Mead — October 17, 2011 2 min read
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Sincere apologies for being an incredibly lousy blogger the past month--I’ve been working on a very intensive, time sensitive project that’s taken up most of my time and brain power and as a result haven’t gotten around to blogging, or kept up with what’s going on in the blogosphere.

And, wow!, a lot has happened!

Senators Harkin and Enzi released an ESEA bill. When both the NEA and the Ed Trust dislike your bill, that’s not a good sign. The folks at Quick and the Ed and my colleague Andy Rotherham have some good analysis.

For some reason, everyone decided to talk about Finland. As someone who’s actually been to Finland, I’ll say that the big lesson I took away from that visit is that the biggest challenge to drawing lessons for the U.S. educational context is probably not scale, or racial differences (and I’m dismayed by the quasi-racism of some comments made on this score), or our lack of Finland’s awesome social services, but issues of path dependence. For a bunch of reasons, Finland is on a path where top college graduates go into teaching, schools are good, and people generally expect the education system to work well, and the U.S. is on a different path. Given that, it’s very difficult to say that replicating one or even several elements of the Finnish system would improve U.S. educational outcomes, because changing one thing probably doesn’t work unless you change the entire path. More broadly, in Finland I was struck by the extent to which people we met seemed to just assume that things work, and to be slightly perplexed at the questions my American colleagues and I were asking, coming as they did from a place of assuming that all too often things do not work. Obviously, the big place this comes into play is assumptions about the functionality of government and government services (this post by Matt Yglesias does a great job distilling that). But it’s also things like, because service workers in Finland are decently paid and the baseline level of education is higher, there tends to be an assumption that people are basically competent, rather than here where every trip to CVS becomes an exercise in painful ineptitude. The Nordic cultural emphasis on equality also probably also plays a role here, particularly in that lower levels of income inequality make teaching a more attractive career relative to other options for college graduates, even as Finnish teachers make less in absolute terms than their American peers.

Rick Hess seems to have been in rare-even-for-him form, following up a manifesto and series of posts questioning reformers’ emphasis on achievement gaps, with the complaint that journalists rely too much on Democratic sources in ed reform coverage. RiShawn Biddle has good responses on the former, Andy Rotherham on the latter.

Democrats for Education Reform (disc: I’m on their board) has issued a host of new reports this week, including an analysis of lessons from the first few years of the District of Columbia Public Schools’ IMPACT Teacher Evaluation System, and a ranking of recent state teacher legislation (note: It’s pretty different from the one BW put out a while back!)

And lots of other stuff happened, too! Some of which I’m going to be writing more about this week as I get caught up. In any case, I’m glad to be back.

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.