Senior Policy and Research Analyst at the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE)
While researching public education reforms in Cuba, Finland and Canada in your recent book “Global Education Reform” what did you discover to be lessons that American educ can learn from schools in those countries?
The big lesson to take away from Finland is the investment in teacher preparation. The government pays for teachers to go to graduate schools and get Master’s degrees before they teach in classrooms. In terms of a more political environment, Canada is a great example, specifically Ontario, because initially the government did attempt to privatize the education system through vouchers in the mid 90’s but parents and teachers didn’t like the way the system was working. The entire government was democratically voted out on an education platform in 2003 and a public investment model was put in place that has been quite successful in the last decade. Cuba is a great example also because despite being a poor country from a GDP perspective, they too have invested heavily in their teacher labor force.
The main message here is that the countries can invest in teachers and that’s what most privatization models don’t want to do. They are seeking to have efficiency by de-professionalizing the teacher labor force, bringing uncertified or emergency credential teachers in the classroom because they are cheaper and taking home the profit from the difference of what the public pays or in tax dollars.
What advice would you give to students in the audience who relate to Thomas’s frustration in the show? How can students, teachers and parents take control of public education?
The show does a great job of capturing local politics at the school board level. School Board Elections in the United States are becoming very expensive because the money interest has seen that the school board influences who gets elected as Superintendent. Superintendents are the ones who control school closure in different districts. School closure is the initial way “along with austerity” to pave the path way for privatization models such as charter schools. The local control of the school board is pivotal in the direction of public education so there is an opportunity at the local level for teachers, parents and students to get involved in education politics.