30.1.2012society

(Image via The Awl)

The Finnish Approach to Education Reform

Earlier this month the New York Times reported on a study that tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years, finding that elementary- and middle-school teachers who help raise test scores have a long-lasting effect on their students’ lives. The economists behind the study suggest firing under-performing teachers according to a “value-added” evaluation. This would be a consideration on top of the excessive testing teachers endure and the educational bureacracy regularly heaped on them.

Maria Bustillos breaks down the faulty reasoning behind the study’s conclusion in a piece for The Awl. A telling comparison she makes is between public schools and American military schools; the latter are exempt from the No Child Left Behind program, have no standardized testing for students or teachers, egalitarian treatment of children, and trusted, autonomous teachers. They also regularly outperform public schools, with an achievement gap between white and black students that’s shrinking much faster than it is in public schools.

As Bustillos notes, the system in America’s military schools bears a striking resemblance to Finland’s school system following their education reform in the 70s, which it’s often been said the United States could learn a lot from. While the United States achieved middling scores in the latest PISA results, which assess reading, math, and science literacy, Finland scored very highly for the fourth year in a row. With billionaires controlling our schools and arbitrary testing determining our students’ futures, education reform advocates are looking closely at Finland’s system, but most of the discussion appears to miss the point. Americans are largely concerned with tracking student performance with standardized tests, improving teaching with merit pay and accountability for bad teachers, and fostering competition in the private sector. Almost the complete opposite of Finland’s philosophy.

Finland’s education reform began 40 years ago as part of a plan for economic recovery as Finland emerged from Soviet influence, but its success wasn’t seen until 2000 when PISA issued its first set of results. We can now see that the difference between Finland’s weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the world. Part of their success is an overarching “whatever it takes” attitude: teachers are selected from the top 10% of the nation’s graduates and required to get a master’s degree, following which they’re given the responsibility and trust to do whatever they feel is necessary to ensure their students’ success. On top of this, all schools are publicly funded, and the people running them are educators, not business people or politicians. There are no school rankings or comparisons, and there’s no competition between schools. As a result, Finnish children can get the same quality education no matter where they’re from, at the same cost.

Further Reading

School ‘Reform’: A Failing Grade — Diane Ravitch looks at the current state of education reform in the US and reviews two books on the subject
Grand Solution or Grab Bag? — “Community colleges are being asked to provide everything from second chances to vocational education. Is America ready to help them succeed?”
The Education of Ms. Barsallo — Robert Sanchez takes a close look at the life of a first-year teacher in Denver

(Image via The Awl)

The Finnish Approach to Education Reform

Earlier this month the New York Times reported on a study that tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years, finding that elementary- and middle-school teachers who help raise test scores have a long-lasting effect on their students’ lives. The economists behind the study suggest firing under-performing teachers according to a “value-added” evaluation. This would be a consideration on top of the excessive testing teachers endure and the educational bureacracy regularly heaped on them.

Maria Bustillos breaks down the faulty reasoning behind the study’s conclusion in a piece for The Awl. A telling comparison she makes is between public schools and American military schools; the latter are exempt from the No Child Left Behind program, have no standardized testing for students or teachers, egalitarian treatment of children, and trusted, autonomous teachers. They also regularly outperform public schools, with an achievement gap between white and black students that’s shrinking much faster than it is in public schools.

As Bustillos notes, the system in America’s military schools bears a striking resemblance to Finland’s school system following their education reform in the 70s, which it’s often been said the United States could learn a lot from. While the United States achieved middling scores in the latest PISA results, which assess reading, math, and science literacy, Finland scored very highly for the fourth year in a row. With billionaires controlling our schools and arbitrary testing determining our students’ futures, education reform advocates are looking closely at Finland’s system, but most of the discussion appears to miss the point. Americans are largely concerned with tracking student performance with standardized tests, improving teaching with merit pay and accountability for bad teachers, and fostering competition in the private sector. Almost the complete opposite of Finland’s philosophy.

Finland’s education reform began 40 years ago as part of a plan for economic recovery as Finland emerged from Soviet influence, but its success wasn’t seen until 2000 when PISA issued its first set of results. We can now see that the difference between Finland’s weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the world. Part of their success is an overarching “whatever it takes” attitude: teachers are selected from the top 10% of the nation’s graduates and required to get a master’s degree, following which they’re given the responsibility and trust to do whatever they feel is necessary to ensure their students’ success. On top of this, all schools are publicly funded, and the people running them are educators, not business people or politicians. There are no school rankings or comparisons, and there’s no competition between schools. As a result, Finnish children can get the same quality education no matter where they’re from, at the same cost.

Further Reading

18.1.2012sciencesociety

Culture-Bound Syndromes

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is currently undergoing an update and one specific section causing some controversy is an appendix on culture-bound syndromes: mental illnesses that, in theory, occur only within a specific society.

One of the more well-documented culture-bound syndromes is Hyperstartle Syndrome, widely observed in Malaysia, where its sufferers are referred to as latahs. When startled a latah can go into a prolonged state of surprise, with uncontrollable physical tics, blurting out offensive phrases, and later remembering nothing. Another is known as “Amok” (and the orgin of the phrase “running amok”), where a person goes into a sudden and sometimes homicidal rage. Another, Koro, results in its sufferers believing their genitals are receding into their bodies or have been stolen.

These illnesses are controversial because they question the nature of the West’s notion of mental illness, which is largely based on a biological model — that is, it assumes mental orders arise from neurological disorder, and should be universal. Even in the West this model’s shortcomings can be observed in disorders like anorexia nervosa, suffered almost exclusively by Western women. Culture-bound syndromes suggest a person’s environment can breed mental illnesses specific to their culture, that can’t necessarily be treated with medication.

The current version of the DSM lists 25 known culture-bound syndromes, but some scholars believe as many as 175 could exist. If the critics get their way, the next version, expected in 2013, may not list any of them.

16.1.2012peoplesociety

(Image via Playboy)

Writing about Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The idea of a federal holiday marking the birth of Martin Luther King began as a bill in Congress and was passed only after a petition that collected six million signatures, which The Nation called “the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. history.”

Here is TIME’s profile of Luther King, written after naming him Person of the Year in 1963, following the March on Washington, where he delivered the famous “I Have A Dream” speech.

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail" is the open letter Luther King wrote after being arrested for his part in the Birmingham campaign. It was a response to a letter published in a Birmingham newspaper titled “A Call for Unity,” which argued the battle against racial segregation should be conducted in the courts, rather than in the streets. 

“A candid conversation with the nobel prize-winning leader of the civil rights movement.” This interview with Luther King in Playboy, first published in January 1965, was the longest he ever gave to any publication, as well as one of the most relaxed and candid.

(Image via Playboy)

Writing about Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The idea of a federal holiday marking the birth of Martin Luther King began as a bill in Congress and was passed only after a petition that collected six million signatures, which The Nation called “the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. history.”
  • Here is TIME’s profile of Luther King, written after naming him Person of the Year in 1963, following the March on Washington, where he delivered the famous “I Have A Dream” speech.
  • Letter from a Birmingham Jail" is the open letter Luther King wrote after being arrested for his part in the Birmingham campaign. It was a response to a letter published in a Birmingham newspaper titled “A Call for Unity,” which argued the battle against racial segregation should be conducted in the courts, rather than in the streets.
  • A candid conversation with the nobel prize-winning leader of the civil rights movement.” This interview with Luther King in Playboy, first published in January 1965, was the longest he ever gave to any publication, as well as one of the most relaxed and candid.