Pasi Sahlberg Blog

Finnish education reform

How can research help educational change?

Educational research and data are often used in a selective manner in policy-making and education reform designs. Some employ PISA data to shame and blame public education systems but not in educational change architecture to overcome the designated problems. For example, in the United States, some education reformers use PISA rankings to make their point that the U.S. public school system is falling behind the others and at the same time offer solutions that go against the evidence available in these same studies. Evidence from successful countries and how they have reformed their education systems is ignored, or used selectively.

It shows little imagination and even less understanding of educational change knowledge to continue to adopt outdated corporate world operating models as means in education reforms. I was in an event recently to hear the Nobel economist Paul Krugman explaining how many of today’s popular market-based ideas in public school systems, like standardization or pay per measurable results, are not used in modern businesses anymore to improve productivity as they are in education.

I think we need to rethink a couple of things. First, we don’t necessarily need new schools like charter schools to develop innovative educational changes in our school systems. What we need is more flexibility, enhanced leadership, and more trust in schools and teachers to find ways to make learning inspiring and productive for all. Charter schools may have their place as educational alternatives but not as a solution to the system-wide problem.

Then, we should make better use of all those pedagogical innovations that have been developed during the last century or so. I think the real problem is that in education we tend to develop innovation after innovation without really solving the problem of implementation. We know enough about powerful teaching, purposeful assessment, effective schools, and insightful leadership to make our public school systems work better. Much of this knowledge has been produced, ironically, by American researchers and innovators starting from John Dewey in early 20th century.