I have been reading Pasi Sahlberg’s book on the lessons to be learned from Finland’s successful education program. Dominant in the PISA assessments since their inception in 2000, this Scandinavian country which set out deliberately to improve its educational system in the 1970’s is used by reformers and politicians alike as the exemplar of high academic standards. And yet, we have largely failed to learn from their experience and methodologies. Increasing the competition among schools, assigning letter grades to schools based upon high stakes testing for a handful of subjects, and denigrating the profession as a group of inadequate part-timers is neither productive nor factual.

Ifinnish lessonsf we cannot learn from Finland’s success, then we should not use the PISA scores as evidence that our educational system is in need of reform. If you decry our mediocrity in international testing, then learn from the international leaders. Emphasize the importance of all subjects, not just those that are tested. Treat our teachers as professionals and compensate them accordingly. Do not hold back those students who have mastered the content. Apply special education as a resource to all students who have difficulty and apply it immediately. Personalize the delivery of learning to each student, not simply through software, but through empathetic personal connections to caring adults.

It’s time to offer practical help and solutions, not just criticism. Take Finland as an example. Take it to heart.


Passive Listening – a rant

owlActive listening is a technique used to make the person speaking believe you understand their message. Many practitioners use the tools  – the knowing head nod, the slight smile, the “So what you are saying is…” (actually reflective, not active, but frequently used), and mirroring the body language. I was recently subjected to this from a professional active listener. She was so good at the technique, I almost forgot what was happening as I spoke. Then came the response. It was clear she was good at the active part, but lousy at the listening part.

Listening is an exercise in empathy and understanding. It is not an exercise in forming a contrasting argument. Next time you have occasion to hear someone speak, try passively listening – listening for learning, not retort. The speaker will thank you for it.

Thank you for listening!


Personalized Learning

In her February 24 commentary in Education Week, Jenifer Carolan, co-founding partner of Reach Capital makes a solid point about personalized learning.

…personalization does not mean isolation, and it doesn’t mean sitting our students down in front of laptops all day. Personalization is a strategy that allows us to adapt to the needs of all children, preferably after giving them a powerful, shared learning experience that motivates them to dive deeper.

The most productive PL is collaborative – a group of three or four students working together to solve an “impossible” problem, or a student working diligently with a teacher/coach nearby prodding and praising. While the technology provides the access to the information, the social connection is the all-important ingredient that creates the knowledge.

When Mathematicians play Football

I am currently helping Weldon City Schools with their strategic plan. One student we surveyed said he wanted to play in the NFL. My first reaction upon reading his comment was that I wasn’t sure that was a reasonable goal.

But researchers tell us that most of our current K-12 students will work at jobs that currently do not exist. I think there is a place for everyone and and every talent in today’s marketplace. It’s about finding or developing your niche based upon your strengths.

There was a noon press conference in Charlotte NC today with Ron Rivera, head coach of the (now) NFC champion Carolina Panthers. During the press conference he was asked why in Sunday’s game against the Phoenix Cardinals he had decided to go for a two-point conversion even though his team led by 19 points. His answer was very straightforward and to the point. His statistician told him it was the right thing to do, and he listened.

Maybe that student will get to the NFL …one way or the other.

Little Steps

This series is going to be great. I have seen some of the work in progress.

Patricia Steele Raible

“What We Carry,” detail, 18″ x 24″

This first finished (or is it?) piece from Storycatcher is called What We Carry. If you looked carefully at the journal photo from the last posting, I was already writing about this one.

I was inspired by a photograph of my grandson taken a couple years ago. He is walking away, concentrating on ….well who knows. It caught him in mid-swing with a plastic bucket. The photo is a detail.

For those of you that love mixed media this painting includes collage (fabric and paper), transfers, and white charcoal on a substrate of limestone paste


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Graduation Question

This is obviously graduation season. The latest commencement addresses are on the news. Families and happy college and high school graduates are out celebrating with their families and friends at local restaurants. Groups of young men and women with gowns and tasseled mortar boards seem to be at every arena in town.

Since I regularly work with superintendents and their staffs all over the United States, I have to ask…

Do you know how many of your former high school graduates obtained a post-secondary degree this year?

Questions, not many answers.

Here is an example in The Atlantic of how data is used for analysis that changes strategy. Sabermetrics correlates statistical data to outcomes and has been used for strategy in baseball since Billy Beane began using them in Oakland (Moneyball). It is now as unthinkable in baseball to build a strategy without using this tool as fielding a team without a pitcher. The current controversy is about who should really get credit for the win. What if the pitcher didn’t have a single strike out for the entire game? What if the catcher made every close pitch look like a strike? Does it matter? Only if you are responsible for outcomes.

How do we develop sabermetrics for education? Do we measure outcomes for teachers or students? What’s the educational equivalent of winning the World Series? What’s the equivalent of winning a division title? How about the equivalent of winning one of the 162 games in a season? How about the outcome for each inning of each of those games?

I love baseball, the great American pastime, and the correlation of data to outcomes that sabermetrics has brought to the game make all the more effective and exciting.

More importantly I also love education, the great American ask time. A time of inquiry and discovery. The current correlation of data to outcomes is that a child’s family income is a good predictor of their test scores. Is that as deep as we can go? And once we have the data, can we use the information to change outcomes?