Are U.S. schools in serious need of an attitude adjustment?

Finland has a 100 percent literacy rate. Seems impossible, right?

The Scandinavian nation consistently tops world lists for literacy and educational success. Its accomplishments in the classroom have garnered the country much praise in the international press, especially as schools in the United States and elsewhere struggle to show consistent progress.

Finland’s academic track record is unquestionably impressive. So much so that it has attracted the attention of school leaders across the globe, especially here.

But, as Robert Shumer points out in an article for the Minnesota Star Tribune, the same techniques and programs that have garnered so much applause in Finland, won’t necessarily translate to achievement in the United States.

Here’s why:

  1. Finland is tiny. Its population of a little over 5 million people is smaller than that of New York City.
  2. It’s ethnically homogeneous—the vast majority of citizens are of Finnish decent. Compare that with the United States—nearly 300 languages are spoken here.
  3. Its education system is rich. Finnish schools have a 4 percent poverty rate. That’s compared with a 20 percent school poverty rate in the states.

The differences between the countries are vast, to be sure. But that doesn’t mean we should completely discount what’s happening there, posits Peter DeWitt on the Education Week blog Common Ground.

While Finland’s programs and initiatives might not work here, DeWitt says, the country’s attitude and enthusiasm toward public education is worthy of emulation.

Says DeWitt, “We need to change the dialogue we are having around education in our own country, fund it with equity, and focus on the social-emotional aspect of learning as well. We shame and blame when they seem to foster growth and stay positive.”

To achieve that attitude adjustment, DeWitt suggests it’s time to make some serious changes in our schools.

Among them:

More respect for teachers
Every day, parents send their children to school with the understanding they’ll come home more knowledgeable and better-prepared for the future than the day before.

And yet, as readily as we often are to hand that responsibility to public educators, we’re just as easy to criticize these professionals for the hard work that they do in schools.

The teaching profession is often disrespected, billed as a plan B for many American professionals. This underlying disrespect for teaching has led to a decline in interest among college graduates and teaching candidates. The numbers are nothing short of alarming.

It comes down to attitude, says DeWitt. “Creating as much positive dialogue around the benefits of being a teacher could go a long way to negate the negative rhetoric that has been out there,” he writes.

More opportunities for students
Here in the United States, we tend to emphasize student academic performance above all else. Students and teachers who fail to keep pace are often branded as failures.

According to DeWitt, we need to consider students’ entire social-emotional well-being, rather than just how they perform on tests. “Maybe we need to look at why [students] aren’t learning and reflect on whether it’s them or our teaching strategy,” posits DeWitt

More celebrations of our schools
It’s a privilege to get up in the morning and work in a place that is dedicated to the promotion of knowledge and learning. Yet, many school professionals lament the bureaucracy, complain about lack of resources, and too often let pessimism and frustration blunt their love of the K12 mission.

DeWitt urges educators and others who work in our schools to celebrate their careers and reconnect with the reasons they got into education in the first place.

Summer break is drawing to a close. Are you itching to get back to school? Are your students? You should be—and so should they.

What steps are you taking to promote enthusiasm and passion for public education in your school community? Tell us in the comments.

Looking to change misguided attitudes and perceptions about public education in your district? Don’t be afraid to engage your community, be it parents, teachers or students, in candid conversations about their feelings and frustrations.

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