Friday, June 3, 2011

NCEE report

Education Week covered the release of a report by the National Center on Education and the Economy recommending that ambitious changes to the American education system are needed to see real improvement. Hmmm...many of them remind me of Finland.

“I think we have been for a long time caught in a vicious cycle. We’ve been unwilling to do the things that have been needed to have a high-quality teaching force. We’ve been unwilling to pay teachers at the level of engineers. We’ve been solving our problems of teacher shortages by waiving the low very standards that we have. We have been frustrated by low student performance, and now, we’re blaming our teaching for that, which makes it even harder to get good people.” Marc S. Tucker, President, NCEE.

Here's a link to the Education Week article and the full NCEE report.

Friday, May 27, 2011

An eventful May

Wow, just a month left to go. May really flew by. This month I have had a great mix of fun and work. Fun things: Vappu (May Day), forest hikes outside of Tampere, a visit to the Pispala sauna, Finland's oldest, watched Eurovision for the first time in my life, celebrated the new batch of Finnish Fulbright grantees going to the US, and cheered on Finland's champion ice hockey team (with 99,999 others in central Helsinki). Work things: presentations in Mikkeli and Helsinki, visits to high schools and vocational schools in Tampere, and more teacher interviews. And writing, writing, writing. I can't say that I know what form this final product will take, but if I manage to articulate all that I've learned well, I think educators in the US, in Finland and elsewhere could find a lot to talk about. One of the reasons I love education is because it is so messy, complex, and important; and one of the most satisfying things I have been able to do is reflect on all I've read, seen, and heard with my American and Finnish colleagues over the past five months. I used to feel indifferent about educational exchange, but not anymore. It is about more than just me coming to Finland and learning how they do things here. It's also about reflecting on both systems deeply - with my American counterparts who have unique experiences and similar questions as I do, and who are coming up with brand new insights about education in Finland from their research; and with my Finnish colleagues who shed new light on both the American system they saw, and the FInnish system they know so well.

Ah well, I am getting sentimental already.

My fabulous Fulbright colleagues.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A school without any traditional Finnish surnames: A primary school in Eastern Helsinki has 532 pupils representing 22 different languages

From the Helsingin Sanomat

Somali, Finnish, Urdu, Finnish Finnish, Finnish, Somali, Finnish, Finnish, Persian, Russian, Somali...
These are the first twelve languages in the list of the mother tongues of first-graders at the Keinutie Primary School in Helsinki’s suburb of Kontula. Read more...

Spring in Finland

Celebrating Vappu (Workers' Day)

Greetings to you all. Finland is transformed now, white to green, white to blue. Here are a few recent pictures. Thursday we three Americans present our work in Mikkeli. This week I have been busy distributing surveys to students and teachers and trying to get an idea of one existing study on immigrant education that is only available in Finnish. I've been using Google translate to at least get some idea of what each section is about. I am finding that it hurts my head to read the English translation in the state that it is in, but it's better than nothing (and quite impressive what technology can do).

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bob Compton and Tony Wagner present:

...the trailer, like the Finnish winter, is designed to give you chills.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Finnish citizenship granted to 5,907 persons in 2010

Finnish citizenship was granted to a total of 5,907 persons last year. Of the total 3,961 obtained citizenship by application and 1,946 by declaration.

A total of 4,812 persons sought Finnish citizenship by application as compared to 4,417 in 2009. As with the previous year, the largest applicant groups in 2010 were Russians (1,385), Somalis (349), and Iranians (283). The largest groups among those who obtained citizenship by application were Russians, Estonians and Iranians.

A total of 573 persons sought Finnish citizenship by various forms of declaration (546 in 2009).

Some 94 per cent of the decisions on citizenship applications were positive, whereas 89 per cent of the decisions on citizenship declarations were positive.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Native language instruction in Finland

From YLE news:

Comprehensive school pupils are spoilt for choice when it comes to the selection of languages on offer. Children who have moved to Finland from elsewhere or speak a language at home other than Finnish or Swedish are entitled to special language education. Mother tongue language classes, also known as clubs, normally gather for two hours a week during the school year before or after the school day...(read more)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Elections on April 17th - Candidates weigh on on immigration policy

Click here for the story from YLE news.

21-April update: Here's the whole scoop clearly written and comprehensible in that way only Wikipedia can do it.

Friday, April 1, 2011


Turku is one of two European Cultural Capitals for 2011, the other being Tallinn, Estonia, which is practically Finland. Turku has a well-developed suite of programs for its language minority students. More details on that when I start pulling my research together. In the meantime, please enjoy some photos.

Meeting with the Multicultural Education coordinator.

Fourth graders practice their play.

Full-time teachers teach 20 lessons/week.

Beautful cathedral in Turku.

Follow this river to the Baltic Sea.

Two people have commented that Estonians probably don't link to be characterized as "practically Finland." I wrote that poorly, and was thinking only about the proximity of Tallinn to Finland. (Tallinn is much closer to Helsinki than Turku is to Helsinki.) I just got a chance to visit Tallinn, which is worlds different than Finland. I also had the presumption that Estonian is very close to Finnish, and upon seeing and hearing Estonian, I was able to perceive the noticeable differences.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Discussion: How to raise the status of teachers

New York Times discussion about the status of teachers in the U.S.

Talkin' shop

On Saturday, I spoke to English teachers at a seminar organized by the Association of Teachers of English in Finland and the U.S. Embassy. I presented an overview of policies and programs for English language learners, along with demographics, legal precedents, and some basics of No Child Left Behind. It's not hard to baffle Finnish teachers when explaining some of the more confounding aspects of NCLB, which American teachers take for granted after ten years working under the law. I clearly remember sitting in some of my first staff meetings as a new teacher in 2001 as NCLB terms like "sanctions" and "safe harbor" were being used to explain our mission as educators. I thought, am I fighting in some kind of war?

In the ensuing ten years my schools have avoided sanctions, but we haven't avoided spending precious time and energy on scheduling, preparing for, and of course administering standardized tests to be in compliance with NCLB. I'm not sure how much we got out of it, to be honest. But I digress.

Acquiring my ESOL endorsement and preparing for three Title III audits have taught me a lot about policies and practices for English language learners. In many regards, we are clearly better positioned than FSL programs are here in Finland: we have systematic ways of identifying and monitoring ELLs in Oregon. More and more attention is being placed on appropriate instruction for culturally and linguistically diverse learners. Finnish schools fumble somewhat with their non-native Finnish speakers, but they are aware that their schools and classroom are seeing more and more students who need language support.

When I talk about American education in Finland, I remind myself and my colleagues that we are really talking about 50 different education systems. You might compare Maryland, for example, with Finland, as they have about the same size populations. How can you have 50 different education systems in one country? the Finns wonder...How can 50 systems look so different and still fall under the same federal guidelines? How can bilingual education be illegal in some states and curriculum look so different from Oregon to Connecticut to Texas? We had some good discussions about their observations, and I am reminded that there is more than one way to think about our work, and we can only grow from engaging with each other and our different perspectives and experiences.

Here are some of the data that I presented to the English teachers which prompted our discussion:

Some interesting, semi-recent data about who, where, and when

Oregon's math scores from grade 3+, English language learners compared to all students

The same, for reading

Oregon drop out rates