If you've been following my blogging over the past year, you'll know that I have a lot of concerns about the way teachers (often) assign homework in the U.S. The short version: I think that an awful lot of the work that is assigned is "crappy homework" that doesn't actually do what teachers think it does. We can do better, and I've been reading and thinking about this as I have time. Here are a few ideas for how we could improve homework.
I really appreciate that people are becoming more broadly aware of what Finland is doing in terms of education, and I truly appreciate the calls for looking to Finland for suggestions of education reforms in the U.S. as well. Finland does many things almost opposite of what we are doing in terms of education here in the U.S.--reducing homework, increasing recess time, revising curriculum to include more topics that connect to students interests, increasing teacher pay and requiring all teachers to earn a Masters degree.
Now that I've said that, there are a couple of problems with saying, "Let's just do it like Finland..."
- Finland has a much, much smaller population than the U.S. (About 5.5 million compared to 321 million in the U.S.) Why does this matter? It means Finland has about 1 million school-aged kids, while the U.S. has about 80 million, give or take a couple million. This is a problem of scale! Scale alone does not preclude making sweeping educational changes, of course, but there is a second problem we should consider...
- Finland is basically a mono-culture, and the U.S. is not. Finland has very small minority populations, very low poverty rate, and about 90% of the population speaks Finnish. (Less than 80% of U.S. residents speak English as their first language.) You can check out the detailed statistics for yourself from the CIA World Factbook: Finland and United States entries. This means that it is, again, not impossible, but much more complicated to make sweeping educational changes in the U.S.
- Okay, one more thing to think about: there is a strain of anti-intellectualism in the U.S. today that is simply not present in Finland. Remember what I mentioned about Finland's teachers before? Teachers in Finland have to compete to get into a teacher preparation program (there are only a handful in the whole nation), and it is a competition to get in. The programs are highly selective--they only take the brightest and best teacher candidates. And then they require them to earn a Masters degree. But then, they compensate their teachers very well, and treat them with a dignity and esteem all too often lacking for teachers here in the U.S. Why bring this point up? Well...I'm a little cynical...but I sometimes wonder if a nation like Finland can do away with homework and increase recess time for students...because they have better teachers overall? What if the teachers themselves are just that much more effective, that they really help the students learn the material?
Food for thought for you, I hope.
|"Welcome to Finland" by Timo Newton-Syms [CC BY-SA 2.0]|