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In some states, like Michigan, most of the charters are for-profit, with big dividends to the investors; their profits come right out of the public school budget and into the pockets of shareholders. In some states, like Ohio, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, virtual charter schools are making millions of dollars for their owners, while children sit home alone in front of a computer. These cyber charters get full state tuition, but they have no buildings, no playgrounds, no library, no custodian, no nurse, and few teachers. They often have one teacher to monitor 100 screens.
For investors, it’s a great business, but the educational results are awful. In Colorado, for example, only 12% graduate from the Virtual Academy, compared to a statewide graduation rate of 78%.
We have had a full decade of No Child Left Behind, and we now know that the law has been a disaster.
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In September, I visited Finland and I want to share with you what this tiny nation has accomplished. It regularly scores at the top of international tests in reading, mathematics, and science. It has the least variance from school to school, meaning that almost every school is a good school.Students in Finland never take a standardized test until they complete high school. Teachers in Finland are required to have a master’s degree. Teaching is a highly respected profession. Parents trust teachers. Teachers have autonomy to exercise professionalism.
Every child has regular medical checkups and healthcare, at no cost. Schools have health clinics. Whereas more than 20% of our children live in poverty, less than 4% of Finnish children do. Higher education is tuition-free.
Finland has no charter schools, no vouchers, no merit pay, no standardized testing. Instead, every teacher is trained to take care of the needs of individual children. If children are having learning problems, there are specialists and social workers in every school to take care of them early and provide whatever assistance is needed. Nearly half of all Finnish students get extra attention and services in the early years of schooling. Finland has no tracking. All children get the education and support they need to succeed in school. Finland does not have a longer school day or a longer school year. Finnish schools emphasize creativity, ingenuity, problem-solving, the arts, projects, activities, physical education, and risk-taking.
By the way, Finnish teachers and principals belong to the same union. It doesn’t seem to be a problem.