I visited seven different California schools in February as a visiting author and illustrator. These visits got me thinking about what makes a school successful—and the individual student successful. Heck, I've been thinking about what makes a country as a whole excel or sink academically. So it's no surprise that articles on successful schooling would catch my eye. I'd like to share two of them in particular.
The first is a Wall Street Journal article by Ellen Gamerman about why Finnish students score so high on international academic tests. Fact is, they are at the very top. In the end, the conclusions are somewhat muddled, but it's certainly interesting to examine some of the reasons why Finnish kids are at the top academically, while their America counterparts are mired in the middle of the pack. I found this part of the article telling:
"One explanation for the Finns' success is their love of reading. Parents of newborns receive a government-paid gift pack that includes a picture book. Some libraries are attached to shopping malls, and a book bus travels to more remote neighborhoods like a Good Humor truck...Many children struggled to read the last Harry Potter book in English because they feared they would hear about the ending before it arrived in Finnish. Movies and TV shows have Finnish subtitles instead of dubbing. One college student says she became a fast reader as a child because she was hooked on the 1990s show "Beverly Hills, 90210."
Hmmmm. Could these subtle cultural differences make a big difference on overall intellectual and academic achievement? You can read the article here.
The second piece I spotted in today's San Jose Mercury News. It's an editorial written by a high school teacher in Los Altos, CA named Robert Freeman. While discussing why he thinks the standard "fixes" like increased spending, more testing, better teacher training, enhanced technology and instituting a longer school year will not make our schools more successful, he says this:
"The reason is that all of these "fixes" assume that the student is a product, something to be built, tested and packaged for use. They overlook the two most critical things that matter in education: that character is more important than content; and that it is the student - much more than the teacher or school - who ultimately determines success."
The student must assume responsibility? Hey, now that's a radical idea! Certainly food for thought. You can read Mr. Freeman's editorial here.