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Monday, February 22, 2010
California vs. the World: Comparing Educational Standards
By Matt Kokkonen

Since children are the future of our society, it is imperative that they are educated well. The global economy is very competitive and if California expects to develop jobs, be a research center, provide manufacturing and have a vibrant economy, our schools and students must be well prepared. How then does California’s high school graduation requirement stack up against the high global standards?
 
State law requires students in public schools to pass the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) to receive a diploma. The purpose of the CAHSEE is to improve student achievement in high school and make sure students who graduate from high school can demonstrate competency in English language arts and mathematics but not in other subjects. The English language test consists of multiple-choice questions and a writing task. The mathematics test consists of multiple-choice questions that cover number sense, algebra and other basic functions.
 
Here is one comparison with the 2004 high school graduation exam in Finland. The questions presented are only a small portion of the exam.
 
While the California language exam tests a student’s use of the correct case of a pronoun that follows a preposition such as “for”, the exam in Finnish language consists of having to read articles and then write an essay, such as, “Based on the article, describe and critique the author’s idea of a perfect society.”
 
These other sample questions cover the following subjects:
 
Religious studies: “Explain the problem of the Hindu religion in relation to India’s democracy.”
 
Philosophy: “Explain utilitarianism as foundation of ethics.”
 
Psychology: “Evaluate the impact of sleep in relation to concepts of knowledge and emotions.”
 
History: “The ancient Roman Empire had spread widely during the first centuries. How did Rome’s economy function and why did it subsequently collapse?”
 
Social Studies: “The nation of Israel was established in 1948. At the same time, a preliminary agreement was made to also form a Palestinian nation. Why has the creation of a Palestinian nation not been successful during the subsequent decades?”
 
Physics: “ E= -13.6eV/n² represents the total energy of the hydrogen atom.

 A) Graph the energy level diagram of the hydrogen atom, B) A photon collides with a hydrogen atom at rest. What happens, assuming the photon has energy of a) 1.89 eV, b) 3.4 eV, c) 10.2 eV, d) 15.6 eV?“
 
Chemistry: “How does the structure of hydrocarbon molecules affect its chemical and physical properties?”
 
Biology: “Discuss the use of microbes in handling waste.”
 
Geography: “The physical locations of information technology enterprises differ clearly from those of classical steel industry. Explain this in relation to a) raw materials b) workforce c) markets d) transportation of energy sources e) environmental services and entertainment.”
 
Mathematics: “Define the point of the parabola: y = x² - 2x – 3, whose tangent line has an angle of 45º .”
 
Students in Finland study several foreign languages, such as Swedish, English, German and sometimes French. The English language test has several sections, one being comprehension. The test requires the student to read three articles and write out answers to questions regarding them. They are from “Newsweek”, “Sunday Times” and a one and half page article from “The Economist.”
 
There are twenty-five questions on English grammar. A sample question: “Blinded at the age of three in an accident, he would never have any memory of being a) seen b) seeing c) sighted d) in-sight.”
 
Finally, the exam calls for a short composition of 150 to 200 words in English on the topic: “Prepare a speech to try to sell a Finnish invention – new, old or imaginary, to a group of potential foreign customers at a sales promotion event.”
 
The failure rate of the students taking the exam was 6.5%. It is given once a year.

Our schools permit very polarized results. On the one hand we have schools and teachers producing excellent results while our system also graduates illiterates. In a schizophrenic manner, we insist on the exit exam measuring students’ English language skills yet we permit the student to get the test instructions in another language. How is this possible? Unfortunately, many students have not only been left behind, but they have been left in the educational gutter. And instead of racing to the top they are sliding to the bottom.
 
The exit exam is a low beginning. Regrettably, as far as worldwide high school graduation exams go, it will merely draw criticism and derision as being more suitable for junior high graduates.
 
Finland spends $7,500 per year per student while California spends $11,000. Obviously, money is not the issue. Throwing more money at a broken system might solve some financial problems of the organization but certainly has not solved the educational needs of our students. In spite of California’s much lower educational standards, 97 school districts which educate nearly one-third of California’s public school students have continuously failed to make adequate progress even under Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program. The new slogan from Obama, “Race to the Top” is no different. The Federal government should not be involved with education at all. Parents must assume more responsibility. Our educational system needs to embrace choice and free competition and reduce the power of the unions whose singular goal is the advancement of its own influence and benefits rather than the education of students. The results so far prove this. Our teachers are capable, so leave them alone and let them teach. Set the standards high. The young minds can and will rise to the occasion.
 
Matt Kokkonen was born in Finland and did graduate studies in philosophy and political science at the University of Helsinki in Finland. He ran against Lois Capps for Congress
in 2008 and received over 80,000 votes. He is currently a candidate for the Republican nomination for the 33rd Assembly District. He can be reached at 805-886-1880.
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