The Disappeared: Finland, Singapore, et. al.

from Yrjö Engeström, "Activity theory and individual and socal transformation," in Reijo Miettinen, and Raija-Leena Punamaki, Perspectives on Activity Theory (Cambridge, 1999) 

Any conceptual framework that postulates a predetermined sequence of stages of sociohistorical development will easily entail suspicious notions of what is "primitive" and what is advanced, what is backward and what is good.  Such notions reduce the rich diversity of sociocultural forms of life to a one-dimensional scale.  This problem was already evident in Luria's classic studies in Central Asia (Luria, 1976), carefully and sympathetically criticized by Cole and Griffin (1980; see also Cole, 1988).

It is surely appropriate to avoid imposing rigid, one-dimensional sequences on social reality.  But especially among Anglo-Saxon rresearchers adhering to the ideas of Vygotsky, the standard alternative seems to be to avoid history altogether.  Differences in cognition across cultures, social groups, and domains of practice are thus commonly explained without seriously analyzing the historical development that has led to those differences.  The underlying relativistic notion is that we should not make value judgements concerning whose cognition is better or more advanced--that all kinds of thinking and practice are equally valuable.  Although this liberal stance may be a comfortable basis for academic discourse, it ignores the reality that in all domains of societal practice value judgements and decisions have to be made everyday.  People have to decide where they want to go, which way is up.  If behavioral and social sciences want to avoid that issue, they will be unable to work out useful yet theoretically ambitious intellectual tools for practitioners making those crucial decisions.

The less obvious reason for the neglect of history has to do with the . . . underdevelopment of models of the structure of an activity system.  Historical analysis must be focused on units of manageable size.  If the unit is the individual or the individually constructed situation, history is reduced to ontogeny or biography.  If the unit is the culture of the society, history becomes very general or endlessly complex.  If a collective activity system is taken as the unit, history may become manageable, and yet it steps beyond the confines of individual biography.  pp. 25-26
a sample of the public discourse in the US press

At Forums, New York State Education Commissioner Faces a Barrage of Complaints  

Passi Sahlberg, What the U.S. can’t learn from Finland about ed reform  (Washington Post, April 17, 1012)

The Shanghai Secret    NYT Friedman

Shanghai Dreams, huff post

The United States, Falling Behind    NYT Editorial

‘An Industry of Mediocrity’   NYT (hedge fund education, Amanda Ripley)Deborah Kenny, the founder of the Harlem Village Academies charter schools

Children Thrive in Rural Colombia's Flexible Schools  NYT

Dewey Y La Escuela Nueva  

Pedagogía progresista   (WIKI)

Another “Miracle School” Debunked: Harlem Village Academies   Seattleeducation blog

World Class Standards for Prepariing Teachers of Mathematics  report cited in above

What’s the Matter With Kansas’ Schools?
  NYT  1-7-14

The Gap Between Schooling and Education  NYT  10-18-13

Singapore Politics: Under the People's Action Party. MSU Culture (socialism); development (socialism)

Another Singularity: Finland: what is left out in american news comments on Finland (see Sahlberg)
Common Core Standards for Mathematics: The Real Issues   HuffPost   EDWARD FRENKEL AND HUNG-HSI WU

Here we will discuss three critical issues that have to be addressed for the CCSSM to succeed: math textbooks, assessment, and teachers' preparation.

Before the CCSSM were adopted, we already had a de facto national curriculum in math because the same collection of textbooks was (and still is) widely used across the country. The deficiencies of this de facto national curriculum of "Textbook School Mathematics" are staggering. The CCSSM were developed precisely to eliminate those deficiencies, but for CCSSM to come to life we must have new textbooks written in accordance with CCSSM. So far, this has not happened and, unfortunately, the system is set up in such a way that the private companies writing textbooks have more incentive to preserve the existing status quo maximizing their market share than to get their math right. The big elephant in the room is that as of today, less than a year before the CCSSM are to be fully implemented, we still have no viable textbooks to use for teaching mathematics according to CCSSM!

The situation is further aggravated by the rush to implement CCSSM in student assessment. A case in point is the recent fiasco in New York State, which does not yet have a solid program for teaching CCSSM, but decided to test students according to CCSSM anyway. The result: students failed miserably. One of the teachers wrote to us about her regrets that "the kids were not taught Common Core" and that it was "tragic" how low their scores were. How could it be otherwise? Why are we testing students on material they haven't been taught? Of course, it is much easier and more fun, in lieu of writing good CCSSM textbooks, to make up CCSSM tests and then pat each other on the back and wave a big banner: "We have implemented Common Core -- Mission accomplished." But no one benefits from this. Are we competing to create a Potemkin village, or do we actually care about the welfare of the next generation? What happened in New York State will happen next year across the country if we don't get our act together.

The current situation with the CCSSM puts math teachers in a precarious and unenviable position. They are being asked to implement a CCSSM-based curriculum that requires content knowledge that they, through no fault of their own, do not possess. The education establishment -- including institutions of higher learning -- is seemingly uninterested in teaching teachers this much-needed content knowledge. This is a critical moment when educators and mathematicians must rise to the occasion and work together to give teachers the means to acquire this knowledge.

Teacher slams scripted Common Core lessons that must be taught ‘word for word’  Wash Post

BBC News, "How China is winning the school race"

"In the late 1990s we moved to all-graduate [teachers]. If we want to have high achievement, subject expertise is very important for secondary schools," said Catherine KK Chan, deputy secretary for education in the Hong Kong government.

Hong Kong, like Singapore, now recruits teachers from the top 30% of the graduate cohort. By contrast, according to the OECD, the US recruits from the bottom third.

The “China winning the school race” headlines are misleading

Republicans  Should  Love  'Common  Core', WSJ Opinion By EDWARD FRENKEL AND HUNG-HSI WU

Mathematical  education  in  the  U.S.  is  in  deep  crisis.  The  World  Economic  Forum  ranks the  quality  of  math and  science  education  in  the  U.S.  a  dismal  48th.  This  is  one  of  the reasons  the  2010  report  "Rising  Above the  Gathering  Storm"  by  the  National Academies  warned  that  America's  ability  to  compete  effectively  with other  nations  is fading.  The  crisis  is  caused  by  the  way  math  is  currently  taught  in  schools.  Today,  most students  are  forced  to  learn  mathematics  through  textbooks  that  are  often incomprehensible  and  irrelevant. These textbooks,  which  are  widely  adopted  across the  states,  create  mediocre  de  facto  national  standards—and,  worst of  all,  alienate students  from  the  material.  The  Core  Standards  address  these  issues  head-­on  and finally  offer hope  for  a  better math  education.

Marc S. Tucker, ed., Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Eduction Built on the World's Leading Systems (Harvard Education Press, 2011)

The idea of grade by grade testing has no takers in the top performing countries.  176

Whereas these countries have placed a high value in their national policies on the mastery of complex skills and problem solving at a high level, the United States has in recent years emphasized mastery of basic skills at the expense of mastery of more advanced skills.  176

The United States is now about to get the least-capable candidates applying to our education schools when we need the best. 181

Taken together--highly qualified college educated women and minorities abandoning teaching as a career, the drop in admission standards following the baby boom,  and the decision by many capable students to avoid teaching because of the widespread teacher layoffs--we can see the danger ahead for the United States.  All we need to do to acquire a very poor teaching force is to do nothing. . .  We canot afford to continue bottom-fishing for prospective teachers while the best performing countries are cream skimming.  182

At a meeting of representatives from countries involved in designing tests and research studies, "One of the Americans made a pitch for including a background question in the research instrument that would have asked how many teachers of mathematics and science in each country were teaching subjects they had not been prepared to teach.  There was an expression of astonishment from the representatives of all the countries, except those from the United States.  It simply was not done.  Teachers were not permitted to teach outside their subject.  There was no need to ask this question . . .  Evidently, among all the industrialized countries, only the United States allows  its teachers to teach subjects they have not been highly trained in.  186

The typical clinical experience of American candidate teachers is usually of poor quality, too brief, unconnected to the rest of their instructional program, and provided by classroom teachers who cannot, on the whole, reasonably be called "master teachers".  Once graduated from teachers colleges and hired by their first school district, American teachers are typically put in a sink-or-swim situation with little or no support from experienced teachers or supervisors and often in the most demading classsroom situations.  Once again, the contrast with the experience of their Shanghai and Finnish colleagues could not be more stark.  188

The prevailing view in the United States is that our teachers need not come from the more able strata of the college educated population.  We behave as if we believe that only a few weeks of training  is needed to do what they have to do, a sure sign that we do not believe teaching is a profession at all.  If they do get more training, it can certainly be done in very low-status institutions; and if they do not get much training, it's no big deal.  If there is a shortage of teachers, we quickly waive the very low standards we insist on in boom times.  We congratulate ourselves on offering $10,000 signing bonuses to teachers when we worry about the qualifications of the ones we are getting, and then wonder why we cannot attract a better quality of candidate or simply more candidates.  We do little or nothing about starting salaries that will not permit a young teacher to support a small family in the style to which college graduates are accustomed in this country. . . .   We talk a lot about getting rid of the worst teachers--as if that was our biggest problem--but not at all about doing what is necessary to get better ones, thus acomplishing little but the destruction of teacher morale.  And we do all of this while talking a lot about teacher quality.   190-91

It turns out that neither the researhers whose work is reported on in this book nor the analysts of the OECD PISA data have found any evidence that any country that leads the world's education  performance league tables has gotten there by implementing any of the major agenda items that dominate the education reform agenda in the United States, with the exception of the Common Core Standards.

We include in this list the use of market mechanisms such as charter schools and vouchers, the identification and support education entrepreneurs to disrupt the system, and the use of student performance data on standarized tests to identify teachers and principals who are then rewarded on that basis for the value they added to a student's education or who are punished because they fail to do so. 209

Many countries worry that using standardized test data as a major basis for evaluating and rewarding teachers will create perverse incentive of many kinds, and they worry that there is much in student performance that is important that standardized tests are unlikely to capture and that great student performance is the result of the work of many adults working in collaboration rather than individal teachers working alone.  209

It has taken from thirty to one hundred years to build the national and provincial education systems on which these recommendations are based.  None was built in one or two decades.  If the United States is to catch up, it will have to get started soon, and it will have to work very hard at it for a long time.  214

See also this critical review of Surpassing Shanghai by Bruce J. Biddle University of Missouri
artices on finnish education

from Passi Sahlberg, "A Model Lesson: Finland Shows Us What Equal Opportunity Looks Like," American Educator, Vol. 36, No. 1, Spring 2012.

Michael Fullan, a Canadian educational change scholar, speaks about “drivers of change,” such as education policy or strategy levers, which have the best chances of driving intended change in education systems. “In the rush to move forward,” writes Fullan, “leaders, especially from countries that have not been progressing, tend to choose the wrong drivers.”   “Wrong drivers” include accountability (vs. professionalism), individual teacher quality (vs. collegiality), technology (vs. pedagogy), and fragmented strategies (vs. systems thinking). The Finnish experience shows that a consistent focus on equity and shared responsibility—not choice and competition—can lead to an education system where all children learn better than they did before.

Understanding Finnish educational success needs to include an awareness of sociocultural, political, and economic factors. Indeed, there is more to the picture than meets the eye. An external OECD expert review team that visited Finland observed that “it is hard to imagine how Finland’s educational success could be achieved or maintained without reference to the nation’s broader and commonly accepted system of distinctive social values that more individualistic and inequitable societies may find it difficult to accept.”  Another visiting OECD team confirmed that the Finnish approaches to equitable schooling rely on multiple and reinforcing forms of intervention with support that teachers can get from others, including special education teachers and classroom assistants. Furthermore, Finland has shown that educational change should be systematic and coherent, in contrast with the current haphazard intervention efforts of many other countries.

The conclusion was that “developing the capacities of schools is much more important than testing the hell out of students, and that some nonschool policies associated with the welfare state are also necessary.” Scores of news articles on Finnish education have concluded that trust, teacher professionalism, and taking care of those with special needs are the factors that distinguish Finnish schools from most others.

Importing a specific aspect of Finland’s education system, whether it is curricula, teacher training, special education, or school leadership, is probably of little value to those aiming to improve their own education systems. The Finnish welfare system guarantees all children the safety, health, nutrition, and moral support that they need to learn well in school. One lesson from Finland is, therefore, that successful change and good educational performance often require improvements in social, employment, and economic sectors. As described by theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman, separate elements of a complex system rarely function adequately in isolation from their original system in a new environment.
from Ulla Härkönen (University of Joensuu, Finland),  "Current Theories Related to Early Childhood Education and Preschool as Frames of Reference for Sustainable Education," in Institute of Sustainable Education, conference, 2004

In Finland, for thirty years, theoretical frames for early childhood education and preschool have been outlined through Bronfenbrenner's ecological approach, Vygotsky's developmental theory, didactic theories and the psychological theories of learning, among which the latest is the constructivist theory of learning.

The importance of the theory of ecological development lies in the fact that personal development is seen in relation to different kinds and different levels of systems. This has introduced to the methodological principles of educational research a systems approach, according to which an object is studied as a system of its structural and functional relations.

Early childhood education and preschool have received strong theoretical stimuli from developmental psychology. This is true of Finland even today and evident also in this article. Developmental psychology theories are represented here by the often referred to theories of Bronfenbrenner and Vygotsky. They both focus their attention on human development and both have introduced a systems dimension to their ideas.

from Richard M. Lerner's Forward to Making Human Beings Human: Bioecological Perspectives on Human Development, Urie Bronfenbrenner, ed. (Sage Publications, 2005): 

The contemporary scientific study of human development is characterized by a committment to the understanding of the dynamic relationships between the developing individual and the integrated, multilevel ecology of human development.  This approach to development is marked by a theoretical focus on temporally (historically) embedded person-context relational process; by the embracing of models of dynamic change across the ecological system; and by relational, change-sensitive methods predicated on the idea that individuals influence the people and institutions of their ecology as much as they are influenced by them. (ix)

Especially in its early phases, but also throughout the life course, human development takes place through processes of progressively more complex reciprocal interaction between an active, evolving biopsychosocial human organism and the persons, objects and symbols in its immediate external environment. (xviii)

Within the bioecological theory, develoment is defined as the phenomenon of continuity and change in the biopsychological characteristics of human beings both as individuals and as groups.  The phenomenon extends over the life course across successive generations and through historical time both past and present. (3)

 from Hartmut Giest, "The Formation Experiment in the Age of Hypermedia and Distance Learning," in The Transformation of Learning: Advances in Cultural-Historical Activity Theory, edited by Bert van Oers, Wim Wardekker, Ed Elbers, and René van der Veer (Cambridge University Press, 2008)

 . . . the basic idea [of activity theory] is not "evolution," that is, the idea of adaptation to the environment, but "revolution," that is, change of the environment.  The dialectical analysis of human history, as it was done, for example, by Hegel and particularly by Marx, showed not only that humans adapt to the environment but also that they change it in accordance with their demands . . .  Activity is not an active adaptation to the environment but the transformation of the environment and--in interrelation with it--of humans themselves.   Although  this  idea  is  not new, it has only begun to prove its explanatory potental.  Among the first to apply this idea to psychology were Vygotsky and one of his closest students, Leontiev.  (pp. 103-105)
from Making Human Beings Human: Bioecological Perspectives on Human Development, Urie Bronfenbrenner, ed. (Sage Publications, 2005)

The contemporary scientific study of human development is characterized by a committment to the understanding of the dynamic relationships between the developing individual and the integrated, multilevel ecology of human development.  This approach to development is marked by a theoretical focus on temporally (historically) embedded person-context relational process; by the embracing of models of dynamic change across the ecological system; and by relational, change-sensitive methods predicated on the idea that individuals influence the people and institutions of their ecology as much as they are influenced by them. (ix)

Especially in its early phases, but also throughout the life course, human development takes place through processes of progressively more complex reciprocal interaction between an active, evolving biopsychosocial human organism and the persons, objects and symbols in its immediate external environment. (xviii)

Within the bioecological theory, development is defined as the phenomenon of continuity and change in the biopsychological characteristics of human beings both as individuals and as groups.  The phenomenon extends over the life course across successive generations and through historical time both past and present. (3)
all the articles are epiphenomena, effects that follow in the wake of an event that has already occured (in the same way that the reformation or the industrial revolution are "events" that have already occured): the tremendous work of decognificiation has already been accomplished, although worse is sure to follow. Worse because, unlike any functioning national system of education, in the united state hedge funds and similar entities have taken over the leading role in the politics of education (in alliance, of course, with the stupid party).  One ses this in what is left out in the very selective references to Finland, in how the work of Passi Sahlberg is sometimes referenced but not only never taken into acount.  it is rejected in its entirety. These articles are themselves indicators of the decognification of America, of the destruction of the public sphere.

Here are the major points of difference between the United States and all other advanced nations that are critical but unmentioned within the elite media discursive field:

from James R. Flynn, What is Intelligence?  Beyond the Flynn Effect (Cambridge Univesity Press, 2009)

the gulf that separates our minds from those of our ancestors a century ago p. i

Our advantage over our ancestors is relatively uniform at all ages from the cradle to the grave.  Whether these gains will persist into the twenty-first century is problematic, at least for developed nations.  But there is no doubt that they dominated the twentieth century and that their existence and size were quite unexpected.  pp. 2-3

thee gains are huge. . . .  How can our recent ancestors have been so unintelligent compared to ourselves? p. 9

If we prject IQ gains back to 1900, the average IQ score aggainst the current norms was somewhere between 50 and 70.  If IQ gains are in any sense real, we are driven to the absurd conclusion that a majority of our ancestors were mentally retarded. p. 9-10

Our ancestors in 1900 were not mentally retarded.  Their intelligence was anchored in everyday reality.  We differ from them in that we can use abstractions and logic and the hypothetical to attack the formal problems that arise when sience liberates thought from concrete situations.  Since 1950 we have  become more ingenious in going beyond previusly learned rules to solve problems on the spot.  pp. 10-11

 . . .  our ancestors were not mentally retarded; yet they could not cope with a huge number of Raven's itens; nor could they, as recently as those born in the 1930s, cope with the large number of Similarities items--and that we must seek an explanation in new habits of mind, rather than talk about test sophistication. p.  34

The scientific ethos, with its vocabulary, taxonomies, and detachment of logic and the hypothetical from concrete referents, has begun to permeate the minds of post-industrial peoples.  This has paved the way for mass education on the university level and the emergence of an intellectual cadre without whom our present civilization would be inconceivable.  p. 29

Science altered our lives and then liberated our minds from the concrete.  This history has not been written because, as children of our own time, we do not perceive the gulf that separates us from our distant ancestors: the difference between their world and the world seen through scientific spectacles. . . .  As use of logic and the hypothetical moved beyond the concrete, people developed new habits of mind.  They became practiced at solving problems with abstract or visual content and more innovative at administative tasks. p. 172-174

from Alan S. Blinder, Center for Economic Policy Studies, Department of Economics, Princeton University, "CEPS Working Paper No. 163," May 2008

At the risk of some (but not much) exaggeration, the nation’s K-12 education system never adapted to the Second Industrial Revolution. Yet we are now, I believe, in the early stages of a Third Industrial Revolution, often called the Information Age.  p. 6

Applying the Bioecological Approach to the U. S.:
Understanding Figure 1: the Importance of "Culture"

A striking difference between the United States and all other advanced nations is the presence of a quasi-hegemonic fundamentalist, anti-intellectual culture of ressentiment in the United States.  This culture is mobilized and intensified by powerful political and economic elites for political and economic purposes, dominating some and permeating all media, and shaping the semiotic contours of public discourse.  One of the major expressions of this American exceptionalism is the Stupid Party.  This negative developmental force is entirely absent in the top performing nations.   Their proximal cultural systems of family, neighborhood and school embody values antithetical to that culture.  This should be obvious, yet so pervasive are the forces so inadequately captured by the word stupid and the concept of party that we ignore the single most significant variable affecting a nation's cognitive development: the sets of proximal forces subsumed under the all too vague term culture.  

from Making Human Beings Human: Bioecological Perspectives on Human Development, Urie Bronfenbrenner, ed. (Sage Publications, 2005)

When culture is conceived of in terms of zones of proximal development, one has to, following Ceci an recognize the importance of motivation.  For the latter, Alcorn's account of identification is essential.  Cognitive development involves the construction of an inner discipline, a governance of self (Foucault, power is productionve)which is quite different fromn self-government, where the self itself is unproblematized.

 (The Intel Finalists, on the other hand, are immunized against this highly organized culture of anti-intellectualism and ressentiment.)

the stpid complex

We should think more of a web of cultures, of the financial institutions at the center of educational reform organizations, of school boards, and of state party organizations that together form the dominant force in shaping educational policy: the stupid complex.
The inadequacy of the word stupid becomes apparent.  To call the statement "poverty is no excuse" stupid is to miss the big picture--that is why my opening title--"The GOP as the Stupid Party?  An Inadequate Conceptualization"--problematizes at the outset the all too easy and casual use of the word stupid.

From stupid party to stupid complex to stupid semiosphere: see below (from what is to be done to the recognition that it has already been "done" decades ago: that there is no other doing that is possible for America)

Consider Michelle Rhee's famous shibboleth "poverty is no excuse." Articles such as this one report test scores for whites and black,  and use school lunch elligibility as a measure of poverty, but the social scientific discussion of the effect of poverty on educational outcomes is virtually taboo in the United States, whereas it is a fundamental concern of the OECD. Not only does the OECD take cognizance of the effect of socio-economic differences on cognitive development; they evaluates the effectiveness of OECD member nations' educational systems in narrowing the effects of such differences.  

Anyone with a college education should know the terms dependent and independent variable, even if they never took a course in statistics.  Educational leaders, especially those who yak about test scores, should be expected both to understand
regression analysis and to be able to explain it in public.  Indeed, this is contained in the Common Core Standards (see Mathematics » High School: Statistics & Probability » Introduction).  When education leaders commit gross violations of the standard mathematics of the entire world, they ought to be called to account.  When well-know personnel on our major media outlets demonstrate a blatant failure to understand high school math, the critique of this failure should be the subject of school projects as well as journalistic criticism.

When instead this whole kit and kaboodle of reformers, business leaders (e.g., Bill Gates), politicians, and media prominenti demonize long-established mathemetical methods--poverty is no excuse--they not only demonstrate ignorance and irresponsibility; they play a major role in undermining respect for science.  Alcorn and Bronfenbrenner
from OECD (2010), PISA 2009 Results: Overcoming Social Background – Equity in Learning Opportunities and Outcomes (Volume II)

The weak relationship shown in Figure II.1.3 [click on above link and go to page 31] suggests that countries with similar levels of income inequality distribute learning opportunities very differently.  This finding is important as it shows that equity in educational opportunities can be achieved even where income is distributed highly inequitably. For example, in Iceland and Hungary, two OECD countries with a gini coefficient of around 0.29, close to the OECD average of 0.31, the proportion of the variation in student reading performance explained by the variation in students’ socio-economic background is 6% and 26%, respectively. A wide range of countries sits between these two extremes. Finland and Norway appear with Iceland in the top-right corner with below-average impact of socio-economic background on performance and below-average underlying inequality. Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Luxembourg join Hungary in the bottom-right quadrant with above-average impact of socio-economic background and below-average underlying inequalities. Estonia, Greece, Israel, Italy and Japan appear in the top-left quadrant, with above-average underlying inequalities and a below-average impact of socio-economic background; while Chile, new Zealand, Portugal, the United States and Turkey appear in the bottom-left quadrant, where income inequalities are large and the impact of socio-economic background on learning outcomes is also large. p. 32.
The Suppressed History of Finland and Singapore

The roots of Singapore's educational achievement are to be found in the popular radical culture of Bildung; in the Left-wing coalition that took power in the early 1950s following the defefat of Japan and the success of the Chinese Revolution; and in the progressive-authoritarian state capitalism under the leadership of the Peoples Action Party (PAP).  All of the policies pursued by this authoritarian one-party regime would be called "socialist" by contemporary American commentators: subsidized public housing for the vast majority of the people; a collectivist developmentalist culture; a militantly secular progressive scientific management administration; state-hegemony over issues of strategic planning, which included creating the human capital that would attract high tech multinational investment.  In this regard Singapore resembles Finland, the difference being that Finland could be described as a genuinely Social-Democratic society, whereas Singapore might be better described as an authoritarian Social developmental society.

In Finland, which in 1918 had its own unsuccesful "Bolshevik" revolution, a dynamic working class and agrSocial Democratic Party, and th Agrarian Center Party comrpsied the governing calition after the fall of Hitler, and laid th foundation for the strong institjtions so misleadingly referred to as the "Welfare State."