This is the most important article in education that you will read for some time. The evidence comes from one country, but that evidence is startling. It challenges the nonsense proposed by politicians and so-called experts from professional education colleges who have convinced administrators across the United States that assessment is the panacea that will lead us away from the coming Idiocracy. Can you think of a major American university that now lacks something akin to an Office of Institutional Effectiveness (pardon the oxymoron)? By most world standards, Finnish public education (there is no private option, please note — that means no charter schools, for example) is at the top of the heap. How did they do it without interminable, mind-numbing U.S.-style assessment?
For starters, Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what’s called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school. Instead, the public school system’s teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.
Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education, is the Cassandra of this tale. He offers up a fascinating take on another educational buzzword on this side of the Atlantic: accountability.
“There’s no word for accountability in Finnish,” he later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”
An article about the state of education has not been this much fun since the appearance of the works of one of my old teachers Richard Mitchell.