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Fight GERM! HB 1234 Commits All the Education Reform Errors Finland Avoids

The Finns again!

Twitter friend and fellow teacher Jeremy Hurd points me toward Finnish education expert Pasi Sahlberg's own recapitulation of what's right with Finnish education and what's wrong with American education reform efforts. Actually, Sahlberg sees a global education reform movement (GERM... and down, Sibby, down!) that has been touting five basic and wrong-headed principles since the 1980s. See if these sound familiar:

  1. Standardization of education.
  2. Focus on core subjects.
  3. Search for low-risk ways to reach learning goals.
  4. Use of corporate management models to drive improvement.
  5. Test-based accountability policies for schools.

I find Sahlberg's explanation of #3 particularly relevant not just to the awful House Bill 1234 with its standardized teacher evaluations, increased standardized testing, merit pay, emphasis on science and math, and end of teacher due process protections, but to South Dakota's (and the nation's) broader focus on STEM, Common Core standards and testing:

This [search for low-risk strategies] minimizes experimentation, reduces use of alternative pedagogical approaches, and limits risk-taking in schools and classrooms. Research on education systems that have adopted policies emphasizing achievement of predetermined standards and prioritized core subjects, suggests that teaching and learning are narrower and teachers focus on "˜guaranteed content' to best prepare their students for tests. The higher the test-result stakes, the lower the degree of freedom in experimentation and risk-taking in classroom learning [Pasi Sahlberg, "Finnish Lesson #5: How to kill 99.9% GERMs?" The Pasi Sahlberg Blog, 2012.01.16].

What policies does Sahlberg recommend? He points to the Finnish model, which sounds much like some things I've recommended:

The best way to avoid infections of GERM is to prepare teachers and leaders well. In Finland all teachers and principals must have masters degree in education or in the field of their subject. This ensures that they are good in what they do in classrooms or staffrooms, and also understand how teaching and learning in their schools can be improved. School principals are also experts of educational change and can therefore protect their schools and school system from harmful germs.

These lessons from Finland help you to kill 99.9% of GERMs [Sahlberg, 201201.16].

Anyone ready for a referendum and a serious conversation about education reform?


  1. LK 2012.03.07

    I think Steve's in a double bind on this one.

    You've helped him make the case that there's a global conspiracy, but the solution to stopping the ill effects of that conspiracy is found in a country that he would consider socialist.

    My policy debaters could learn a thing or two from you on this one. Well done

  2. D.E. Bishop 2012.03.07

    The GERM policies are what is killing the critical thinking of our citizens. I noted on another blog that the students I taught in the 70s and 80s were much better thinkers than the ones I taught in the 00s.

    Did you read the excellent article about this on the Professor's blog? It's well worth your time.

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