David Warlick Firing Up My Thoughts

David Warlick (2 Cents) most always comes up with something to set my mind to working.  This week I read two of his postings this week.  Both have sent me into conversations with friends and co-workers.  While attending Educon 2.4, David wrote Sustaining an Innovation-Friendly School.   He had attended a session with Chris Emdin.  David Warlick makes an interesting point while listening to Emdin.
But innovation for innovation’s sake risks going
down the same confusing road of technology for
technology’s sake.  It gets taken apart,
sequenced, classified, curriculumized — and it
simply stops making sense.  Chris Emdin pointed
this out when he suggested that innovations can
get cooped, branded, and become dogma.  One
of the many threads that I rode throughout the
day was that there is no one-size-fits-all “vision”
for schooling.

This is an issue I have wrestled with for years.  When I was working for a large district in Washington State our fortunes were tied to bond issues.  (Unfortunately, they still are.)  Every election session there were endless debates on “The Solution to the School Problem”.  Longer hours, shorter  hours, more students per class, less students per class, phonics driven reading, whole language driven reading, raising the bar, more testing, and on and on as to THE solution to seeing more students graduate with an education that would see them through their future.  I particularly like the one about testing at certain grade levels.  If the child doesn’t pass, he/she must be retained.  No accommodation for the child that freezes up at the words “Standardized Test” or any number of reasons that a child’s progress might be less than hoped.  The entire time I was in the States, I never heard a district address an innovative way for helping these children to succeed on the next test – or how to pass without a standardized test score.

Even now, education is such a political football that I find myself grateful for being thousands of miles away from the US during election season(s).  Despite the rhetoric, I don’t see people focused on the CHILD.  They seem to be looking for the one-size fits solution.

Warlick goes on to say, “I think that innovation does not necessarily come from outside the box, but from having access to other boxes that rearrange our perspectives and enable us to come at a problem from a different angle.”

This makes great sense to me.  Over the 20+ years in the business, I have seen schools acquire many different teaching methods, materials, and teachers become proficient in a great many areas.  If we could combine our boxes, I feel that most students could find success.  Some boxes might be old, others very new, and some boxes not yet invented.  Designing their learning could be a new challenge for students.

Finnish Miracles & American Myths

The second post I read of David Warlick’s was Finnish Miracles & American Myths. Warlick list several highlights that Sahlberg mentions in his book.


▪ Education has long been important in Finland.  For hundreds of years, according to Sahlberg, literacy has been a requirement for matrimony.  You can’t get married without proving that you’re literate.  (In the US, rhetoric has told us education is important.  It is interesting how the Finns put it into practice.)

▪ Education in Finland is free – everywhere for everybody. (Again, US has free educaton.  The difference must be in the equality in each school, not the difference between “rich schools” and “poor schools” as found in the US).

▪Students track down two branches, starting around year 10, with about 55% of students going to upper secondary school and on to university or polytechnic and 40% going to vocational schools and apprentice training. (The mere mention of vocational schools or apprentice training in many school districts brings hyperventilating.  Arguing that while each student that wants to try for college shouldn’t be allowed, but pushing kids into college that have vocational talents into school seems backward to me.)


▪Contrary to the “more is more” approach being promoted here in the U.S., Sahlberg said that Finland has followed a less is more strategy, with
Less per-pupil spending,
–Teachers spending less time in instructional supervision and
–Students spending less time being taught than in the United States and other industrial countries.
–Also less attention is paid to grades (it is apparently illegal to apply any grade to students before 5th grade) and NO reliance on standardized tests. (Sahlberg, 2011)

I am definitely going to investigate the Finnish system.  I don’t see America giving into many of these items, but I would like to know what it looks like in the schools.  Perhaps a trip north is in order.