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California Teacher, Finland Bound

October 21, 2012

Dave Orphal

InterACT guest blog post by Dave Orphal

Dave Orphal teaches high school social studies in Oakland, CA.  In addition to being a member of Accomplished California Teachers, he is also active in two projects of the Center for Teaching Quality (Teacher Leaders Network, Bay Area New Millennium Initiative) and  a project of the the Institute for Teaching, an initiative of the California Teachers Association.  This blog post was originally published on TransformED, the group blog for the Center for Teaching Quality.  Read more from Dave and other teacher leaders on TransformED.

If you are like me, you have been following Barnett Berry’s posts about his recent trip to Finland.  Barnett, along with Linda Darling-Hammond, union leaders, and other educational reform heavy-thinkers spent about a week together with Finnish education leaders and Pasi Sahlberg, the author of Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn form Educational Change in Finland?   If you haven’t you can catch up on his trip herehere, and here.

I am also heading to Finland.  On Monday, I step onto the airplane.  Organized by PDK International and EF Professional Development Tours, about forty American educators are going to meet with Finnish teachers, university professors, and the Ministry of Education.  Some folks reading this post might ask, “Why Finland?”

For the past decade, the educational reform community has lauded Finland (along with Singapore, South Korea, and Hong Kong) as a model system.   This is due to Finland top performance on the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) exam.   In each of the last three cycles of the PISA exam (2003, 2006, and 2009) Finland has scored at or near the top of the international ranking in reading, math, and science.  The PISA exam is designed to measure fifteen year olds in reading, math, and science.

What fascinates me about Finland is both the national top-performance on the PISA exam, but also the narrow achievement gap.  Finland poorest schools perform nearly as well on the exam as their most well off.  Within a school, the children from the poorest backgrounds do nearly as well on the exam as their classmates from wealthier socio-economic circumstances.

I’ll be writing while I am there, but for now, let me tell you a little bit about my trip.  There will be a couple of days for site-seeing, but mostly, I’m going to be in meetings with Finnish educators and education officials talking shop:

  • On one day, I’ll get to visit a high school in the capital city of Helsinki and talk with teachers there.
  • Another day, I’ll get to visit teachers in another school to talk specifically about how the country prepares its children for the PISA exam.  I wonder if the Finns teach to the test.
  • I’ll get to visit the Finnish National Board of Education to see what educational policy and reform have helped shape the Finnish education system today.
  • I’ll be visiting a university in Helsinki to talk to professors about how teachers are trained and credentialed.  I wonder if there is a Teach for Finland fast-track alternative teacher training program.

In my next posts, I’ll share with you the lessons plans that I’ve got for my students for while I am gone.  As a teaser, let me write this:Many of you know I teach a career/technical education elective class called “Introduction to Education.”  This class is starting a special unit on international education and education reform next week.  While I’m in Finland, they will be studying about the Finnish education system and comparing it to the education they are receiving in Oakland, CA.  After I return, my classes will draft 2-4 school-reform proposals based on their study of Finland that they will present to our school leadership team.

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