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Is charter school necessary?

To the editor:

Can the Copper Country afford to fund an experimental Finnish-themed K-8 charter school in addition to supporting the existing public schools?

Proponents of the Copper Island Academy, a K-8 charter school to be located near the airport, say they intend to attract an unspecified number of students away from existing Hancock and Calumet elementary and middle schools along with the tax-supported state school aid dollars that would go along with them.

Since state authorized charter academies must follow virtually the same set of rules and regulations as regular public schools, I wonder why the progressive Finnish educational techniques promoted can’t be implemented in existing schools?

I’m pretty familiar with Finnish educational practices having spent twenty years studying educational innovation as the Director of Michigan Technological University’s Center for Teaching, Learning, and Faculty Development. Most often, the challenge of importing educational techniques from another culture is that aspects of that other culture must be present for those techniques to work.

For example, Finnish educators are required to have Master’s degrees and educational degrees in Finland are among the most rigorous courses of study. Finns see schools as a means of addressing social inequities; American educators emphasize sorting out the “brightest and the best” from the rest of us, early on.

Finnish kids start school at seven years of age and choose their own academic path forward at age sixteen. Three years of prepping for university or three years learning a trade. No kids left behind, with teeth.

Finnish schools start at 9 a.m. and dismiss by 2 or 2:30 p.m. Teachers stay with the same group of kids for several years. Embed these practices in a society that offers free lunches, universal medical care and counseling, and a host of other ongoing social services and you begin to get a sense of what it’s like to be a student in Finland.

The Copper Island promotional materials highlight giving students fifteen minutes of outdoor play for every forty five minutes in class. Not sure what the message is there, beyond the realization that class can be tedious and recess is fun. With our climate, putting on winter gear every 45 minutes may unintentionally prepare students for careers in firefighting?

COVID-19 has stressed our teachers, students, and parents for a year. In my view, it’s not the best time to add financial stress to our school system.

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