Well worth examining and thinking about is a recent New York Times interview with Andreas Schleicher, a special advisor on education to the secretary general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the group under whose aegis the PISA tests of national (or, in the case of some Asian cities, municipal) accomplishment are administered. Items:
• Education does not automatically founder in an urban environment: Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Singapore are big cities with big groups of poor families, and their schools are, by and large, successful.
• “Quality and equity [don’t] seem to be opposing policy objectives”: In Finland’s schools, the best of any non-municipal “nation” in PISA’s ambit, there is only a 5% performance variation. It is often said that Finland is homogeneous, but it is not that homogeneous.
• An industrial model of education administration is less successful than a professional model, and the best education systems work along professional, not industrial, lines. It is not a question of unionism vs. non-unionism either: some countries with strong unions do very well, the unions being fundamentally professional rather than industrial.
• In the best school systems accountability is horizontal, not vertical: teachers work together to plan and debrief on lessons, and they advise, counsel, and evaluate each other.
• All other things being equal, smaller classes are better, but it is even better to have good teachers than to have small classes. (The sticking-point, not discussed by Schleicher in this interview, is in how to determine quality. But in another New York Times article, a Finnish administrator said that Finnish teachers would not tolerate “value-added metrics.” It is a sign of the advanced state of Finland’s education system that what teachers will tolerate matters, and that they have not been gulled or victimized by this preposterous hoax.)