Fight to the Finnish

We wrap up Finland Week with a tribute to the impeccable timing of Diane Ravitch, who picked this day of all days to repost this paean to Finland’s school system, written by William Doyle, a scholar-in-residence at the University of Eastern Finland.

Donald Trump is promoting “school choice” as he vows to improve the American education system. To achieve this vision, he should start by putting his incoming Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on a plane to world education superpower Finland to see what school choice means in its most powerful form — the choice from among numerous, great, neighborhood schools anywhere in the country.

Unfortunately for Ravitch and Doyle, they apparently didn’t get the memo over at the Washington Post, who chose today to publish “Finland’s schools were once the envy of the world. Now, they’re slipping.”

The Post asked Pasi Sahlberg, the go-to guy on Finnish education policy, what was going on. He had a number of theories, but I found this one the most interesting:

According to some national statistics, most teenagers in Finland spend more than four hours a day on the Internet (not including time with TV) and that the number of heavy Internet and other media users (more than eight hours a day) is increasing just as it is doing in the U.S., Canada and beyond. According to emerging research on how the Internet affects the brain — and thereby learning — suggests three principal consequences: shallower information processing, increased distractibility, and altered self-control mechanisms. If this is true, then there is reason to believe that increasing use of digital technologies for communication, interaction and entertainment will make concentration on complex conceptual issues, like those in mathematics and science, more difficult. Interestingly, most countries are witnessing this same phenomenon of digital distraction among their youth.

The reason I find it interesting is because when Sahlberg was asked what Finland will do to address its problems, he said there will be “more student-centered pedagogies, strengthened student engagement in school, more physical activity for all students, and more technology in classrooms.” (emphasis added)

To be fair, Finland does have a way to go to match us in shallow information processing.

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Today I Received an E-Mail from the Past

This morning my inbox contained an e-mail from FutureMe.org. If you never heard of the service, FutureMe allows you to write an e-mail and send it to yourself on any date you specify up to 50 years in the future.

My e-mail came from December 8, 2011. That was the day National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel held a press conference to announce a “new three-part action agenda to strengthen the teaching profession and improve student learning.”

At the time I thought it sounded a lot like 1990s-era “new unionism.” But what prompted the message to Future Me was this quote from Van Roekel:

“Five years from now, we want people to look at NEA as a major catalyst for bringing about the kind of education all Americans want, all teachers can deliver, and all children deserve.”

Eh, not so much.

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Plan Your Next Edu-Getaway!

Every three years, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests 15-year-olds from all over the world in science, reading and math. The latest results show the United States in about the same place in reading and science, and noticeably worse in math.

The teachers’ unions know exactly what’s wrong.

“Schools are successful when states invest in students, rely on the participation of an engaged and professional teachers’ union, encourage community involvement and support, and welcome a comprehensive view of education,” said NEA president Lily Eskelsen-García.

“The latest U.S. PISA achievement results are disappointing but not surprising. They were predictable given the impact of the last 15 years of U.S. education policies combined with continuing state disinvestment following the 2008 recession,” said AFT president Randi Weingarten.

Those are familiar refrains, but Weingarten signaled a sea change in how the education establishment looks at the international scene:

The PISA report encourages United States policymakers to study countries like Germany, Canada, Hong Kong and Estonia to see how a high level of equity, use of tests for diagnostic (not punishment) purposes, and respect for teachers’ professional knowledge and judgment yield improved student performance. On the flip side, Finland—with a government that is investing less on public education and moving away from its student- and teacher-centered strategies—appears to have lost ground in the past few years. Policymakers in the United States and around the world should look more closely at that cautionary tale.

Yes, edu-trend-followers, it looks like Finland is OUT.

Oh sure, Weingarten can blame it on a change of heart in Finland, and analysts like Matt Barnum can skillfully dismantle “the cult of Finland,” but the real reason it’s time for a change in venue is that Finland is simply not the most appealing or convenient destination for edu-tourists.

Fortunately the PISA results open up a whole new world of possibilities for future edu-junkets.

Need to learn how to raise math scores? The top seven nations are in Asia. Put them in a package and you can visit Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, Taipei, Japan, China and Korea in a single trip. Helsinki seems like weak sauce in comparison.

But if your union board of directors, state education agency or non-profit funders balk at the cost, well, there’s an outing for every budget. Canada ranked 7th in science, 3rd in reading and 10th in math. You can get all of Finland’s weather in a fraction of the time and expense.

Here are a few schools you can check out.

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Pro-Labor Voices Call For a Revolution in Union Thinking

A great number of commentators have taken to the pro-labor press to present a way forward for unions after the 2016 elections. Their assessments of the current situation are remarkably candid.

David Rolf is the president of the SEIU local in Seattle. He writes in OnLabor:

Wagons will be circled. Drawbridges will be raised. Poorly thought-out union mergers will be negotiated and inked, primarily to protect union staff and officers from declining budgets. We will once again be called to stand with mainly uninspiring Democrats (and a few inspiring ones) in the 2018 and 2020 elections, each of which we will call “the most important election of our lifetime.” Meanwhile our numbers will continue to shrink and our power continue to wane.

…As nearly everyone outside the institutional labor movement has already known for years, our old unions and our old system of collective bargaining aren’t coming back. The question is, rather, whether it will be replaced by something, or by nothing at all. If unions merely escalate our prior commitments, we will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on defense in the next four years and still not maintain today’s failed status quo: we’ll be weaker then than now.

…The next labor movement won’t consist of unions as we currently know them in the U.S. It won’t be based on contract bargaining at the enterprise level or exclusive representation. It must be based on a value proposition to incentivize voluntary membership (as well as other revenue sources). It must have the power to impact workers lives economically. And it must be able to scale and touch millions of American workers.

Jacobin carries an interview with Rand Wilson, a volunteer coordinator of “Labor for Bernie.” He says:

The labor movement leadership was so invested in the status quo of the Democratic Party that they didn’t understand the moment we were in. And as the Sanders campaign began to manifest itself in a very robust way, they had to circle their ranks, and try to hold the ground for Hillary.

…Clearly, if you listen to Trump and Hillary, you come away thinking, “She’s got a program, she’s more intelligent, better qualified,” but a lot of people in this country just didn’t hear it that way. She had no credibility. One would hope that labor leaders would be more in touch, but they’re so bought into the system, and they get so caught up in this inside-the-beltway culture. Part of the problem is that the lack of democracy in many unions means that we get stuck with people in office for decades getting six-figure salaries and comfortable perks. Maybe that’s what leads to losing touch with what’s happening with members on the ground.

And in Salon, reporter Bob Hennelly writes:

For too long labor unions have been perceived as protectors of the status quo who look out for their most senior members, even if it means cutting rotten deals for their new hires that are most often young people. In too many workplaces in America this has created a two-tier system where the legacy union worker makes $25 an hour and the new hires make $9.10 cents. That was my recent experience in a New Jersey supermarket where I was a member of the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1245. I was blown away when I looked up the six-figure salary the head of that union local made, even as the bulk of the union workers were making pathetic wages based on scheduling that was based on whimsy of management.

Wanting the old to step aside for the young is not a new sentiment, but it’s interesting that all three of these commentators are part of that older generation.

Will unions adapt? I’m notoriously skeptical, but I come by it honestly. I’ve been reading about internal union reform since I started this gig – take a gander at the 1997 Kamber report – and I can’t say I’ve seen any transformation. Perhaps this time will be different.

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NEA Promotes Chief Lobbyist

The National Education Association named Mary Kusler as senior director for its Center for Advocacy, which oversees its departments of Government Relations, Campaigns and Elections, and Collective Bargaining.

Kusler has been NEA’s director of government relations since 2011.

The senior director position became vacant when Kim Anderson left in July to become executive vice president of the Democracy Alliance, where NEA executive director John Stocks holds court as chairman of the board of directors.

To my knowledge, NEA has not yet named Kusler’s successor at government relations.

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A New Mobile-Friendly Look For Intercepts

Didn’t mean to jar you, but as I slowly creep into the 21st century it has become increasingly clear that I have to adjust my output to coincide with the inputs many of you use. Hence the change.

Previous mobile users were redirected to a second site hosted by DudaMobile, but this responsive template works on all devices and ensures relative uniformity.

We older folks will also appreciate the larger print.

The EIA home site, containing the communiqués, declassified documents, assorted tables and statistics will remain as before for the time being.

This should be trouble-free, but you experience any quirks, bugs or outright disasters, fire off an e-mail to mike AT eiaonline.com. Thanks for your understanding.

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