Category Archives: Book Beat

What Americans Keep Ignoring about Finland’s School Success

As I was researching for information about education, I saw this older piece in The Atlantic written by Anu Partanen. Anu is a Finnish journalist based in New York City. She also wrote a book about what America can learn from Nordic societies. After reading it, I thought why not learn from our neighbors. Can we focus on equity and cooperation in our current system? Another similar article: Educating Americans for the 21st Century at; Why are Finland’s Schools so Successful? is also an excellent overview of Finland schools.
The Scandinavian country is an education leader because it values equality more than excellence.

Everyone agrees the United States needs to improve its education system dramatically, but how? One of the hottest trends in education reform lately is looking at the stunning success of the West’s reigning education superpower, Finland. Trouble is, when it comes to the lessons that Finnish schools have to offer, most of the discussion seems to be missing the point.
The small Nordic country of Finland used to be known — if it was known for anything at all — as the home of Nokia, the mobile phone giant. But lately Finland has been attracting attention on global surveys of quality of life — Newsweek ranked it number one last year — and Finland’s national education system has been receiving particular praise, because in recent years Finnish students have been turning in some of the highest test scores in the world.
Finland’s schools owe their newfound fame primarily to one study: the PISA survey, conducted every three years by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The survey compares 15-year-olds in different countries in reading, math, and science. Finland has ranked at or near the top in all three competencies on every survey since 2000, neck and neck with superachievers such as South Korea and Singapore. In the most recent survey in 2009 Finland slipped slightly, with students in Shanghai, China, taking the best scores, but the Finns are still near the very top. Throughout the same period, the PISA performance of the United States has been middling, at best.
Compared with the stereotype of the East Asian model — long hours of exhaustive cramming and rote memorization — Finland’s success is especially intriguing because Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play. All this has led to a continuous stream of foreign delegations making the pilgrimage to Finland to visit schools and talk with the nation’s education experts, and constant coverage in the worldwide media marveling at the Finnish miracle.
So there was considerable interest in a recent visit to the U.S. by one of the leading Finnish authorities on education reform, Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education’s Center for International Mobility and author of the new book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? Earlier this month, Sahlberg stopped by the Dwight School in New York City to speak with educators and students, and his visit received national media attention and generated much discussion.
And yet it wasn’t clear that Sahlberg’s message was actually getting through. As Sahlberg put it to me later, there are certain things nobody in America really wants to talk about.
* * *
During the afternoon that Sahlberg spent at the Dwight School, a photographer from the New York Times jockeyed for position with Dan Rather’s TV crew as Sahlberg participated in a roundtable chat with students. The subsequent article in the Times about the event would focus on Finland as an “intriguing school-reform model.”
Yet one of the most significant things Sahlberg said passed practically unnoticed. “Oh,” he mentioned at one point, “and there are no private schools in Finland.”
This notion may seem difficult for an American to digest, but it’s true. Only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland, and even they are all publicly financed. None is allowed to charge tuition fees. There are no private universities, either. This means that practically every person in Finland attends public school, whether for pre-K or a Ph.D.
The irony of Sahlberg’s making this comment during a talk at the Dwight School seemed obvious. Like many of America’s best schools, Dwight is a private institution that costs high-school students upward of $35,000 a year to attend — not to mention that Dwight, in particular, is run for profit, an increasing trend in the U.S. Yet no one in the room commented on Sahlberg’s statement. I found this surprising. Sahlberg himself did not.
Sahlberg knows what Americans like to talk about when it comes to education, because he’s become their go-to guy in Finland. The son of two teachers, he grew up in a Finnish school. He taught mathematics and physics in a junior high school in Helsinki, worked his way through a variety of positions in the Finnish Ministry of Education, and spent years as an education expert at the OECD, the World Bank, and other international organizations.

Now, in addition to his other duties, Sahlberg hosts about a hundred visits a year by foreign educators, including many Americans, who want to know the secret of Finland’s success. Sahlberg’s new book is partly an attempt to help answer the questions he always gets asked.
From his point of view, Americans are consistently obsessed with certain questions: How can you keep track of students’ performance if you don’t test them constantly? How can you improve teaching if you have no accountability for bad teachers or merit pay for good teachers? How do you foster competition and engage the private sector? How do you provide school choice?
The answers Finland provides seem to run counter to just about everything America’s school reformers are trying to do.
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.
As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg shrugs. “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.”
For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master’s degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal’s responsibility to notice and deal with it.
And while Americans love to talk about competition, Sahlberg points out that nothing makes Finns more uncomfortable. In his book Sahlberg quotes a line from Finnish writer named Samuli Paronen: “Real winners do not compete.” It’s hard to think of a more un-American idea, but when it comes to education, Finland’s success shows that the Finnish attitude might have merits. There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland. The main driver of education policy is not competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation.
Finally, in Finland, school choice is noticeably not a priority, nor is engaging the private sector at all. Which brings us back to the silence after Sahlberg’s comment at the Dwight School that schools like Dwight don’t exist in Finland.
“Here in America,” Sahlberg said at the Teachers College, “parents can choose to take their kids to private schools. It’s the same idea of a marketplace that applies to, say, shops. Schools are a shop and parents can buy what ever they want. In Finland parents can also choose. But the options are all the same.”
Herein lay the real shocker. As Sahlberg continued, his core message emerged, whether or not anyone in his American audience heard it.
Decades ago, when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity.
* * *
Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.
In the Finnish view, as Sahlberg describes it, this means that schools should be healthy, safe environments for children. This starts with the basics. Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance.
In fact, since academic excellence wasn’t a particular priority on the Finnish to-do list, when Finland’s students scored so high on the first PISA survey in 2001, many Finns thought the results must be a mistake. But subsequent PISA tests confirmed that Finland — unlike, say, very similar countries such as Norway — was producing academic excellence through its particular policy focus on equity.
That this point is almost always ignored or brushed aside in the U.S. seems especially poignant at the moment, after the financial crisis and Occupy Wall Street movement have brought the problems of inequality in America into such sharp focus. The chasm between those who can afford $35,000 in tuition per child per year — or even just the price of a house in a good public school district — and the other “99 percent” is painfully plain to see.
Pasi Sahlberg goes out of his way to emphasize that his book Finnish Lessons is not meant as a how-to guide for fixing the education systems of other countries. All countries are different, and as many Americans point out, Finland is a small nation with a much more homogeneous population than the United States.
Yet Sahlberg doesn’t think that questions of size or homogeneity should give Americans reason to dismiss the Finnish example. Finland is a relatively homogeneous country — as of 2010, just 4.6 percent of Finnish residents had been born in another country, compared with 12.7 percent in the United States. But the number of foreign-born residents in Finland doubled during the decade leading up to 2010, and the country didn’t lose its edge in education. Immigrants tended to concentrate in certain areas, causing some schools to become much more mixed than others, yet there has not been much change in the remarkable lack of variation between Finnish schools in the PISA surveys across the same period.
Samuel Abrams, a visiting scholar at Columbia University’s Teachers College, has addressed the effects of size and homogeneity on a nation’s education performance by comparing Finland with another Nordic country: Norway. Like Finland, Norway is small and not especially diverse overall, but unlike Finland it has taken an approach to education that is more American than Finnish. The result? Mediocre performance in the PISA survey. Educational policy, Abrams suggests, is probably more important to the success of a country’s school system than the nation’s size or ethnic makeup.
Indeed, Finland’s population of 5.4 million can be compared to many an American state — after all, most American education is managed at the state level. According to the Migration Policy Institute, a research organization in Washington, there were 18 states in the U.S. in 2010 with an identical or significantly smaller percentage of foreign-born residents than Finland.
What’s more, despite their many differences, Finland and the U.S. have an educational goal in common. When Finnish policymakers decided to reform the country’s education system in the 1970s, they did so because they realized that to be competitive, Finland couldn’t rely on manufacturing or its scant natural resources and instead had to invest in a knowledge-based economy.
With America’s manufacturing industries now in decline, the goal of educational policy in the U.S. — as articulated by most everyone from President Obama on down — is to preserve American competitiveness by doing the same thing. Finland’s experience suggests that to win at that game, a country has to prepare not just some of its population well, but all of its population well, for the new economy. To possess some of the best schools in the world might still not be good enough if there are children being left behind.
Is that an impossible goal? Sahlberg says that while his book isn’t meant to be a how-to manual, it is meant to be a “pamphlet of hope.”
“When President Kennedy was making his appeal for advancing American science and technology by putting a man on the moon by the end of the 1960’s, many said it couldn’t be done,” Sahlberg said during his visit to New York. “But he had a dream. Just like Martin Luther King a few years later had a dream. Those dreams came true. Finland’s dream was that we want to have a good public education for every child regardless of where they go to school or what kind of families they come from, and many even in Finland said it couldn’t be done.”
Clearly, many were wrong. It is possible to create equality. And perhaps even more important — as a challenge to the American way of thinking about education reform — Finland’s experience shows that it is possible to achieve excellence by focusing not on competition, but on cooperation, and not on choice, but on equity.

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Short Stories for the Summer

Since the summer is moving at a fast pace, how about a quick read for a lazy day. This collection offers eight timeless short stories—by Chekhov, Fitzgerald, Poe, and others—for readers who want to rediscover the pleasures of the past. This collection was created exclusively for DailyLit by a well-regarded literary magazines: Poets and Writers.


A Doctor’s Visit by Anton Chekhov
A Respectable Woman by Kate Chopin
The Jelly-Bean by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville
The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe
Ivan the Fool by Leo Tolstoy
Author! by P. G. Wodehouse

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Name That Tune!

Want to try a play on words (songs) holiday game!  Maybe you can use this a fun family activity!

This was taken from Humor

Version 1.0  Have Fun!!

The following are alternate titles for well-known Christmas carols. Fill in the proper title in the

space provided. If you get 100% correct, you will be assured a full Christmas stocking! Have fun!!

1. Quadruped with crimson proboscis _______________________________________________

2. 5 p.m. to 6 a.m. without noise ____________________________________________________

3. Miniscule hamlet in the far east __________________________________________________

4. Ancient benevolent despot ______________________________________________________

5. Adorn the vestibule ____________________________________________________________

6. Exuberance directed to the planet ________________________________________________

7. Listen, aerial spirits harmonizing _________________________________________________

8. Monarchial trio _______________________________________________________________

9. Yonder in the haystack _________________________________________________________

10. Assemble, everyone who believes _________________________________________________

11. Hallowed post meridian ________________________________________________________

12. Fantasies of a colorless December 25th _____________________________________________________________________

13. Tin tintinnabulums ____________________________________________________________

14. A dozen 24-hour yule periods ___________________________________________________

15. Befell during the transparent bewitching hour ______________________________________

16. Homo sapien of crystallized vapor ________________________________________________

17. I merely desire a pair of incisors __________________________________________________

18. I spied my maternal parent osculating a fat man in red _______________________________

19. Perambulating through a December solstice fantasy _________________________________

20.Aloft on the acme of the abode __________________________________________________

For the answers visit:

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Kindred Spirits by Sarah Strohmeyer

Even though it’s only October, educators are in the full swing of reading and researching the next best strategy.  If you would like to take a break from the education treadmill, try an easy read book that you can place on your night stand.  This book is about four women that discovered they had more in common then they ever thought possible.  Let’s toast to the power of female friendship.

I am in the process of reading this book and would welcome your comments.

“Opening a book by Sarah Strohmeyer is like opening a box of chocolates-sweet, a little nutty and absolutely irresistible.” Meg Cabot



Professional Books Recommended by the ASCD

October 2012

A Handbook for Classroom Instruction That Works, 2nd edition

by Howard Pitler and Bj Stone

A Handbook for Classroom Instruction That Works, 2nd edition

Perfect for self-help and professional learning communities, this handbook makes it easy to apply the teaching practices from the best-selling Classroom Instruction That Works, 2nd Edition. The book includes a series of learning activities about the refined Instructional Planning Guide so you understand the nine research-based strategies and know how and when to apply them with confidence.

Common Core Standards for High School English Language Arts: A Quick-Start Guide

by Susan Ryan and Dana Frazee

 Common Core Standards for High School English Language Arts: A Quick-Start Guide

This close-up look at the structure and content of the Common Core high school English language arts standards is designed to kick off implementation at the classroom level. Teachers will find information on how the standards work together across strands and grade bands to prepare students for the next level of study, college, or career; practical guidance on lesson planning, including a process for making the best use of the effective instructional strategies explored in Classroom Instruction That Works, 2nd ed.; and sample lessons that illustrate how to approach content likely to be new to their curriculum.

November 2012

100+ Ways to Recognize and Reward Your School Staff

by Emily E. Houck

 100+ Ways to Recognize and Reward Your School Staff

This book provides school administrators with practical, easy-to-use, and inexpensive ways to reward and recognize the efforts of their staff. More than 100 ideas are divided into three categories based on the amount of effort they require. This invaluable guide will help principals and superintendents everywhere bring out the best in their teachers and staff members.

Overcoming Textbook Fatigue: 21st Century Tools to Revitalize Teaching and Learning

by ReLeah  Cossett Lent

 Overcoming Textbook Fatigue: 21st Century Tools to Revitalize Teaching and Learning

Overcoming Textbook Fatigue shows how loosening the grip on textbooks can boost student achievement while revitalizing joy in teaching and learning.

Recently Published Books

September 2012

Assignments Matter: Making the Connections That Help Students Meet Standards

by Eleanor Dougherty

 Assignments Matter: Making the Connections That Help Students Meet Standards

Drawing from her extensive experience as a teacher coach, author Eleanor Dougherty shows teachers and administrators how to craft high-quality assignments and helps them   understand the powerful impact that assignments can have on teaching and learning.

August 2012

Understanding How Young Children Learn: Bringing the Science of Child Development to the Classroom

by Wendy L. Ostroff

 Understanding How Young Children Learn: Bringing the Science of Child Development to the Classroom

Ostroff highlights the processes that propel learning—play, confidence, self-regulation, movement, mnemonic strategies, metacognition, articulation, and   collaboration—and distills the research into a synthesis of the most important, takeaway ideas that teachers will need as they design their pedagogy and   curriculum.

Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, 2nd Edition

by Howard Pitler, Elizabeth R. Hubbell and Matt Kuhn

 Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, 2nd Edition

In this updated edition of the ASCD best seller, authors Howard Pitler, Elizabeth R. Hubbell, and Matt Kuhn offer a multitude of strategies for using social networks, mobile devices, web-based multimedia tools, and other technology applications in the classroom. Each chapter of the book is aligned to the nine categories of effective instructional strategies of McREL’s Classroom Instruction That Works framework.

The Core Six: Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core

by Harvey F. Silver, R. Thomas Dewing and Matthew J. Perini

The Core Six: Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core

Drawing on their extensive research and practice in schools across the United States, the authors of this indispensable guide offer six research-based, classroom-proven strategies that every K-12 teacher needs to respond to the Common Core State Standards. This practical book includes sample lesson plans and checklists to ensure effective implementation of each strategy in the classroom.

July 2012

Teaching Reading in the Content Areas: If Not Me, Then Who? 3rd Edition

by Vicki Urquhart and Dana Frazee

 Teaching Reading in the Content Areas: If Not Me, Then Who? 3rd Edition

This 3rd edition draws from new research on the impact of new technologies, the population boom of English language learners, and the influence of the Common Core State Standards. You’ll learn which instructional strategies best support reading in specific subjects and how you can optimize your classroom for reading, writing, and discussion.

Learning Targets: Helping Students Aim for Understanding in Today’s Lesson

by Connie M. Moss and Susan M. Brookhart

 Learning Targets: Helping Students Aim for Understanding in Today's Lesson

Drawing on their extensive research and professional learning partnerships with schools across the United States, instruction and assessment experts Connie M. Moss and Susan M. Brookhart explain how using student-centered learning targets enables schools to raise student achievement and create a culture of evidence-based, results-oriented practice. This practical guide includes reproducible planning forms to help teachers implement learning targets in their classrooms.

Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day

by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams

 Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day

It started with a simple observation: Students need their teachers present to answer questions or to provide help if they get stuck on an assignment; they don’t need their teachers present to listen to a lecture or review content. From there, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams began the flipped classroom: Students watched recorded lectures for homework and completed their assignments, labs, and tests in class with their teacher available.

May 2012

How to Create a Culture of Achievement in Your School and Classroom

by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey and Ian Pumpian

 How to Create a Culture of Achievement in Your School and Classroom

No school improvement effort can be effective without addressing school culture,  and in this book you’ll learn how to put in place the five pillars essential to building a culture of  achievement.

Minding the Achievement Gap One Classroom at a Time

by Jane E. Pollock, Sharon M. Ford and Margaret M. Black

 Minding the Achievement Gap One Classroom at a Time

Designed for both classroom teachers and specialists and featuring many authentic   voices from the field, this companion to the ASCD best-seller Improving Student   Learning One Teacher at a Time focuses on small, specific adjustments to planning,   teaching, and assessment practices that will help raise the achievement of students at   risk of academic failure, English language learners, and students receiving special   education services.

April 2012

Inference: Teaching Students to Develop Hypotheses, Evaluate Evidence, and Draw Logical Conclusions: A Strategic Teacher PLC Guide

by Harvey F. Silver, R. Thomas Dewing and Matthew J. Perini

 Inference: Teaching Students to Develop Hypotheses, Evaluate Evidence, and Draw Logical Conclusions: A Strategic Teacher PLC Guide

Part of a series of PLC Guides designed to help teams of teachers learn, plan, and implement strategies from the ASCD book The Strategic Teacher, this complete professional development resource focuses on inference, a foundational ability that underlies higher-order thinking and 21st century skills.

When Teaching Gets Tough: Smart Ways to Reclaim Your Game

by Allen N. Mendler

 When Teaching Gets Tough: Smart Ways to Reclaim Your Game

When Teaching Gets Tough offers practical strategies for teachers who need help sustaining  their energy and enthusiasm for teaching. Written with a deep understanding of the issues that teachers  face every day, the book also includes sections for administrators who want to help teachers stay at the  top of their game.

Site you can read more about these books….