(Thanks to Peter Campbell who blogs at Transform Education. His post on kindergarten readiness is linked below.)
What should America be doing to free public education from the onerous and punitive dictates of No Child Left Behind and the ubiquitous culture of test-based accountability? What can it do to improve the quality of learning for the children in its public schools?
How about taking some lessons from the Scandinavian countries that always do well on international tests of reading, math and science without test-prepping the children in their schools. In fact, standardized testing appears to play little role in Scandinavian education.
So what do Scandinavian schools do that American schools might emulate? Here's a start:
"...educators in Finland*, Sweden, and Denmark all cited autonomy, project-based learning, and nationwide broadband internet access as keys to their success."
Autonomy is the polar opposite of the top-down decision making so characteristic of American educational systems. In the three Scandinavian countries
"Local school officials have the flexibility to provide education services according to their students’ unique needs and interests... ."
Project-based learning runs counter to another American tradition, the mastery of discrete subject areas. Instead, Finland, Sweden and Denmark encourage a more learning friendly (and efficient) interdisciplinary instructional approach.
The third --nationwide internet access-- argues for social policies that narrow the gap between the haves and have-nots, a leveling of the playing field that American conservatives would undoubtedly criticize as anti-capitalist, an unAmerican redistribution of wealth.
Perhaps most importantly, in all three countries
- "...students start formal schooling at age seven after participating in extensive early-childhood and preschool programs focused on self-reflection and social behavior, rather than academic content."
(That's far different from the American obsession with "achievement", where students are tested as early as age four to assess kindergarten "readiness" for academics.)
- No grades are given until high school for fear of taking "the fun out of learning."
Note that learning --not "achievement"-- is stressed. And learning should be "fun". Here in America we talk about academic "rigor" as the key to higher achievement. There, the talk is about learning for learning's sake.
Note also that the ranking and sorting of students with grades and scores on normed tests is discouraged in Finland, Sweden and Denmark, especially in the pre-high school years. Learning as a competition between students is a notion that seems alien to Scandinavian education. Competition implies winners and losers. Or winners and non-winners. That's hardly a recipe for leaving no child behind. Quite the opposite, which is one reason I despise the idea, often cited as a goal of successful educational systems, of making American children "competitive" in the global marketplace.
Of course, these cradle-to-grave welfare states --Sweden is the bete noir of zealous free marketers-- may simply abhor competition. But in education, at least, a cooperative, non-competitive approach seems fully capable of producing students who are quite "competitive" in the "global marketplace."
*(Finland has a large Swedish population --Swedish is one of its official languages-- and can quite correctly be called one of the Scandinavian countries.)