MR Original – Standardizing Education is Not the Answer

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MEDIA ROOTS- Forty years ago, Finland began transforming its educational system to a more personalized methodology of teacher to student learning as part of the government’s economic recovery plan. Finland’s youth has since shot up to the highest in the world in reading, math and science skills.

Conversely, America’s impersonal initiation of marketplace competition into its educational system has caused the US to fall behind.

According to AFP:

The three-yearly OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics.

Although Obama has slammed his predecessor’s controversial ‘No Child Left Behind’ legislation, he has implemented the same broken concept of a standards based education reform into his administration’s ‘Race to the Top’ policy.

Diane Ravitch, educational policy analyst and former US Assistant Secretary of Education, claims that President Obama’s ‘Race to the Top’ program will further weaken the country’s education process by embracing the following key elements: regular teacher evaluations in accordance with students’ test scores, privatizing schools with low test scores, mass firings in low-performing schools and making states compete for federal money with test ratings.

This current educational model of standardization is inherently flawed. By basing a complete faith in standardized testing statistics to determine the competence of teachers and abilities of children, there is a human element eliminated from the equation– an element that Finland has incorporated as the main pillar of their education strategy.

The Smithsonian sheds some light on Finland’s educational success:

Many schools are small enough so that teachers know every student. If one method fails, teachers consult with colleagues to try something else…

There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. Finland’s schools are publicly funded. The people in the government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians…

Ninety-three percent of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, 17.5 percentage points higher than the United States, and 66 percent go on to higher education, the highest rate in the European Union. Yet Finland spends about 30 percent less per student than the United States.

Furthermore, the solutions posed by ‘Race to the Top’ to improve education will result in private entities looting the system, revealing more collusion between private interests and politicians. In an egregious grab to profit off the public sector, hedge funds along with billionaire Bill Gates have initiated a massive PR push to privatize education, and their campaign has paid off– ‘Race to the Top’ calls for a dramatic expansion of privately owned charter schools.

Robert Cruickshank of the California Progress Report explains the motivation:

They’re engaged in a process of rent seeking, which has no productive value. By taking tax dollars that currently provide public services and channeling them to the private sector, which contracts to provide the service at lower cost – and therefore at lower quality – these wealthy individuals can add new income streams while also blunting any effort to raise their taxes to provide these services.

The trajectory of education in this country is drastically off course.  Human beings are complex creatures and learning isn’t black and white; some of us are brilliant in ways that cannot be expressed through multiple choice answers. Instead of penalizing teachers for low test scores, teachers should be encouraged to develop alternative teaching methods based on students’ differing needs.

To learn more about the education policy and ‘Race to the Top’, check out a recent Project Censored KPFA radio show on the framing of education reform. My news report on the show starts at 8:25.

Written by Abby Martin

Photo by Brett Smith

5 thoughts on “MR Original – Standardizing Education is Not the Answer

  1. EXCELLENT article; what a bleak assessment of our educational system, once the beacon and shining example for the world. One think Finland, Scandinavia in general and the Asian countries have in their favor though is a homogenized population and common language. “No child left behind” and “race to the top” work against the system with our large immigrant population and children learning English as a second language. There has to be a better way to incorporate all and it seems we are veering further away from the solution.

  2. This is a great article and I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately educational reform requires the re-evaluation of what is truly important in regard to being a human being. Since the goal of the education system is to simply prepare the youth for American life, it will continue to churn out drones for the corporate American dream. Educational reform that would deviate from this perspective would only be possible with a different focus as a society and with the all mighty dollar at the helm this is a far away hope. Standardizing education is an easy way (cop) out much like creating a stencil for trees and shoving a forest through it one by one.

  3. this is a lousy form of privatization, when it is still taxpayer funded. How about we actually privatize it, get the government out of the picture, and make parents responsible for their own kids’ education?

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