Archive for the ‘countries’ Category

00802 Finland

October 8, 2010

Every other nation is jealous of Finland with its 1st place K12 education rating among developed nations. There are few preschools in Finland. Their kids have a pre-primary year at age 6 and enter formal (basic) education at the age of 7. Finnish basic education is nine years followed by 3 years of upper secondary education. The upper secondary splits into preparation for vocational or university. The school year is 190 days for the estimated 800,000 students in a stable population of 5,600,000.

Their four level system is national, municipalities, school and classroom. They give only one national standardized test – much like the SAT or ACT. It is at the end of the upper-school studies which entitles the students to go to university or polytechnics. They have shifted from a national curriculum to depend on the local ingenuity of the schools and teachers. Finland has focused on individualized education base on teacher freedom to provide direction and inspire.

Finnish students learn four languages including English, Finnish and Swedish. The country is bilingual with homes with Finnish and Swedish spoken. Schools are highly stable with low growth rates. They have three teachers in a classroom where one is full time to help struggling students. Teaching is one of the most honored professions with only the top 10% of applicants admitted into the teacher colleges. Their homogeneous population spends about 7% of their gross domestic product on youth education. The Finnish citizens, communities and leadership are highly committed to education.

Our Arizona education ranks below average in the U.S. which has a 19th rating world wide. Preschools are abundant. We have 10 fewer days per academic year and one more year of education. We put one teacher in a classroom with maybe an aid and parent volunteers. Arizona has career technical education and academic options, but do not split the schools. Our population of 6.5 million includes about 1.1 million students.

Our five level system is national, state, district, school and classroom. With No Child Left Behind and multiple other standardized tests, including AIMS, the curriculum decisions are spread through out the system. Schools and teachers are assumed to need more guidance and control, and have less freedom to use their own ingenuity. Arizona has worked for decades to standardize education to control what is taught in the classroom.

Arizona students learn one study one language English and maybe another. Many students learn Spanish in the home. We have continually evolving schools with one of the highest growth rates in the US and some with 30% turnover each year. Teaching is not rated in the top rank of professions. Most students entering teaching colleges are in the lower quartile of college entrants. Arizona spends a bit under 5% of gross domestic product ($10 billion/$210 billion) on youth education.

The differences in expectations and results are obvious. Teachers are the powerhouse which drives their success. Their system and culture is totally focused on getting education right and keeping it right. The other major foundations Arizona contends with like competitive workforce, university education, enterprise, and economy can take care of themselves.

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00509 Social Bonds Trump Governance Policies

October 8, 2010

A May 4th Op-Ed column by David Brooks in the NY Times addressed the issue of government policy and outcomes for the society it governs. His example were Swedes who had immigrated into America a century ago. Today both the citizens of Sweden and their American cousins have 6.7 poverty rates. Their life expectancy rate increases from 1950 were 2.6% and 2.7% respectively. Even though there were huge policy differences between the Swedish welfare state and national healthcare system and the U.S. system, the outcomes were not effected.

So rest easy Arizona, Brooks writes, “The influence of policy and politics is usually swamped by the influence of culture, ethnicity, psychology and a dozen other factors.” A U.S. citizen’s continent of origin is a huge factor in life expectancy. For instance Asian roots will give you 15 years more life than African.

Some U.S. regions happen to be high trust, where highly educated people will produce positive feedback loops, good culture, and human capital programs. Others have low social trust, low education levels, and negative feedback loops.

Government policy has little leverage to improve social bonds, but can be very damaging if it destroys these bonds – like devastating U.S. Native American policies — which take generations to repair. That is rule one, do no political harm to any social group. Second is to establish basic level of physical, economic and social security. Last is to be creative about policies that strengthen relationships.

My gut tells me that there is much truth within Brooks’ take on governance and policy. Without trust, no society will flourish. Without a spirit of collaboration, creativity and long range vision societies give way to wrangling on short term, meaningless issues. Without a total commitment to education of every single student, 70 percent of Arizona’s kids are winding up with the short end of life’s stick.

Arizona is a phenomenon. We are the U.S.’s newest region. Immigration across our north-south-east-west borders has increased our population five fold over 50 years. We have a rich and eclectic mix of social groupings and cultures. Any family that pulls up roots and moves to Arizona has somewhere, down deep, an entrepreneurial – pioneering – innovating spirit.

Arizona is still in play. We are not yet a region of high trust nor a region of low trust. But how we play the game into the future will have huge consequences. So here is the plan:

We must not only celebrate this diversity of social and ethnic groupings but strengthen all aspects. The common linkage that networks all of Arizona is P-12 and higher education. We must refocus all our disparate energies into a single area — our schools. They are the primary linkage for local communities throughout Arizona.

Arizona must become the exemplar of what a “21st Century Education State” means. Any policy proposed that tears the social fabric of any group in any way, we reject it. Any policy that claims to improve our education we try, assess, then adjust our aim as needed. Every leader must be a player on the education team. Every organization must play its part. Especially the local parent, community, religious, neighborhood and business groups that embrace our 1500 schools.