Oakland teacher goes to Finland to research school system

This piece by Skyline High School teacher Dave Orphal was originally published on TransformED, the group blog for the Center for Teaching Quality, and is being posted here with his permission. You can read more from Dave and other teacher leaders at TransformED.

David OrphalIf you are like me, you have been following Barnett Berry’s posts about his recent trip to Finland. (Find all of Berry’s entries, including the six-part Finland Travel Log, here.)

Barnett, along with Linda Darling-Hammond, union leaders, and other educational reform heavy-thinkers spent about a week together with Finnish education leaders and Pasi Sahlberg, the author of “Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn form Educational Change in Finland?”

I am also heading to Finland. On Monday, I step onto the airplane. Organized by PDK International and EF Professional Development Tours, about forty American educators are going to meet with Finnish teachers, university professors, and the Ministry of Education.

Some folks reading this post might ask, “Why Finland?”

For the past decade, the educational reform community has lauded Finland (along with Singapore, South Korea, and Hong Kong) as a model system. This is due to Finland’s top performance on the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) exam. In each of the last three cycles of the PISA exam (2003, 2006, and 2009) Finland has scored at or near the top of the international ranking in reading, math, and science. The PISA exam is designed to measure 15-year-olds in reading, math, and science.

What fascinates me about Finland is both the national top-performance on the PISA exam, but also the narrow achievement gap. Finland’s poorest schools perform nearly as well on the exam as their most well off. Within a school, the children from the poorest backgrounds do nearly as well on the exam as their classmates from wealthier socio-economic circumstances.

I’ll be writing while I am there, but for now, let me tell you a little bit about my trip. There will be a couple of days for site-seeing, but mostly, I’m going to be in meetings with Finnish educators and education officials talking shop:

  • On one day, I’ll get to visit a high school in the capital city of Helsinki and talk with teachers there.
  • Another day, I’ll get to visit teachers in another school to talk specifically about how the country prepares its children for the PISA exam. I wonder if the Finns teach to the test?
  • I’ll get to visit the Finnish National Board of Education to see what educational policy and reform have helped shape the Finnish education system today.
  • I’ll be visiting a university in Helsinki to talk to professors about how teachers are trained and credentialed. I wonder if there is a Teach for Finland fast-track alternative teacher training program?

In my next posts, I’ll share with you the lesson plans that I’ve got for my students for while I am gone. As a teaser, let me write this…

Many of you know I teach a career/technical education elective class called “Introduction to Education.” This class is starting a special unit on international education and education reform next week. While I’m in Finland, they will be studying about the Finnish education system and comparing it to the education they are receiving in Oakland.

After I return, my classes will draft two to four school-reform proposals based on their study of Finland that they will present to our school leadership team.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Nextset

    Heard this one before.

    American Welfare policy pre civil-rights movement was that there was no entitlement to welfare, and people had an obligation to carry their own weight and should live down to their income. It was something about laying in the bed you made – with your kids I suppose..

    Then the Democrats perhaps with the acquiescence of the Republicans decided that if the welfare state worked so well with the white girls of Scandinavia it would work with the blacks and poor whites of the USA too. Divorce on demand as a norm was thrown in for good measure because people should really be able to do whatever they please.

    The rest is history. Black bastardy rates went from below 20% perhaps to 80%. And with that came the black crime wave (and every other pathology) like never before. Good luck running school districts full of fatherless kids.

    So in 2012 the thought of an Educrat running off to Finland to get some more bright ideas for how to teach our Negroes doesn’t exactly inspire me. Apples to Oranges.

    Save us from White Liberals (especially the ones with beards).

    I know the race commentary rankles some of the dear readers but face it, USA public education policy in 2012 is ALL about race and our segregated schools. The whites have fled the urban school districts and nationally are largely in segregated white schools – schools that actually are schools. Meanwhile the Educrats are running the segregated black schools only to keep the chillun pacificied and to tell them how wonderful they are – long enough to dump them into the Brave New World as unemployables. These are generalizations and there are outliers who do well, but the stats and averages are clear as a bell.

    Finland is not going to be the answer.

    The solution is to toughen up our normal schools segregated or not and create a sifter that selects out the failing students so that the superior ones can maintain standards and avoid loser pathology.

    Like we used to do.

  • Nontcair

    Organized by PDK International and EF Professional Development Tours, about forty American educators ..

    Finland. Really.

    Who exactly is paying for this? If it’s coming out of their own pockets, I wouldn’t care it they seminar on Mars.

    My experience with out-of-town conferences is that the attendees use them not so discreetly for their affairs.

    Yep. Teachers, too.

  • Nontcair

    Hey, spouses!

    No doubt you’ve heard that the Scandanavian countries are *very* liberated.

    I could tell you stories ..

  • makeitgoaway

    Finland? hahahhahaha… yes Finland and Oakland are very close in their ethnic and socio economic makeup. “Ah yes, we are from a failing inner city school district filled with dropout factories, and students who read far below grade level! Where English is not their first language in a district filled with crime, one parent homes, declining property values, and tax rates to support our schools. how have you solved this problem in your country?

    These teachers are out of the classroom in their failing schools whils substitutes teach the OUSD kids. If he had said, “we are traveling to Piedmont to see how a successful school system works” there would have been a firestorm of controversy.

    Are you telling me that an OUSD principal approved this “bridge to nowhere” trip and authorized the disrtrict to pay for a sub? My theory is that the principal at Skyline doesn’t know where Finland is…

    let’s make this a math lesson too- how much does this cost the district in sub costs? who gets the frequent flyer miles? let’s plan the next trip- recruiting students from China to come to OUSD- oh wait, the Peralta Diatrict already did that. Thailand? Mali?

  • J.R.

    Very humorous post, it’s just too bad that the true situation is so very sad. When I see districts doing pointless things like this(or hiring new bureaucratic paper pushing consultants) I remember the phrase that’s often used in Sacramento these days “we’re cutting into bone now”!!! I just have to say “Yeah, right….I believe you”.

  • Nextset

    Which is why people are voting against all the state tax increase measures. Any funds needed to operate the state could first be pulled from all the boards and commissions – starting with the Golden Gate Bridge commission and all the other democrat party operative sinecures.

    City councils should be run by town fathers serving at $100/month, not be full time jobs with benefits.

    Including Los Angeles.

    School Boards also.

    It will be interesting what happens when the money train to Sacramento is shut off.

  • Nextset

    Interesting Business Insider article on new stats that say even when controlled for other factors, a Catholic High School education produces greater earning power:



    I remember when working in Downtown Oakland as a teen my employer only hiring blacks from the Catholic Schools – saying they were the only ones that worked out…

    I would argue the discipline as well as the attention to English and writing/penmanship skills created the dramatic differences between the candidate pools for the entry level white collar jobs.

    These conditions could be replicated in a black public school if OUSD cared to do so. Of course, the chillun might not like it. So OUSD won’t. It’s all about making the chillun happy and feeling good about how wonderful they are, not about getting them ready for the Brave New World.

    Back to the thread – this Finland trip is as usual only about finding new ways to make the chillun here happy and to boost their already overinflated “self esteem”. A good school would knock that down to the floor and build the students up to a realistic level.

    So I’d suggest we look to Texas for ideas not Finland.

  • Michael-David Sasson

    I, for one, am glad to see that active teaching staff in OUSD are prioritizing learning about best practices wherever they might be found.

    To Nextset: I agree with you that the fair-skinned people of Finland missed out on the sustained history of moral depravity that white folks in the US perpetrated but I refuse to lose hope in the possibility for effective moral education of white people in Oakland. Perhaps the good people of Finland have something to teach us there as well.

  • http://www.skylinehs.org David Orphal

    Despite the vitriol from Nextset, he and Michael-David bring up a good point. What can Oakland, with our diversity, really learn from Finland. I’ll ask the Finnish Ministry of ED that exact question.

    From my own reading about Finland of the past several months, I can say this one thing for sure – Finland is a lot more serious and rigorous about teacher training than America. There is no Teach for Finland program to fast-tract teachers into the classroom. Instead, all Finnish teachers are university trained and earn an MA before they are offered job. Finnish teacher-training programs are also very difficult to get into. Only about one in ten applicants are accepted.

    PS: Fear not, Nontclair. My wife is on this trip with me and neither of us are “liberal” enough to stray. :-) We paid for her trip from our own pockets and won grants from several non-profit foundations to pay my way.

  • Nextset

    David O: Have a good time in Finland..

    They can show you nothing about educating blacks.

    Try Texas, or some other such diversified US state that isn’t interested in Pacification.

  • Nextset

    Here’s an article about Finland and “diversity” – Not!


  • http://www.skylinehs.org David Orphal

    Nextset – you’re exactly right about the lack of diversity. The few immigrants they have, primarily from Russia and Africa, have a difficult time in Finnish schools. There is even a “Pure Fin” political movement determined to keep foreigners out.

  • Nextset

    Japan is also deadly serious about maintaining racial stability. They are not about to allow other groups including other asians into Japan to alter the ethnicity.

    As is their right.

    Diversity is fine if that’s what a population wants. It’s wrong for a government to fire the people and replace them with another people more to the government’s liking. And diversity is not a good thing as practiced currently in the USA. We are importing crime and third world diseases then refusing to control either when they arrive. It’s a problem for educational policy and it’s a problem with maintaining quality of life in the cities.