They had to go clear to Estonia to find out???

Oct 24, 2023 | 1 comment

Oysterville Schoolhouse — Grades 1 -8, 1-10, or sometimes 1-6 — 1905-1957

This morning a friend sent me a NYT Opinion piece titled “What Most American Schools Do Wrong.”  After 39 years in elementary classrooms in California and Washington I could hardly force myself to read on.  What indeed?  I could think of dozens of things right off the bat.

But when I read a little further I wanted to scream and shout: I KNEW THAT!  I TOLD YOU SO!  I TOLD YOU SO!  So, too, would three other teachers (of the hundreds I worked with over the years) know.  Maybe more, but only four I can name for sure — Tom Davis, John Snyder, and Miki Frace.

Multigrade Classroom Ocean Park School

Said the article:  Since 2000, every three years, 15-year-olds in dozens of countries have taken the Program for International Student Assessment — a standardized test of math, reading and science skills. On the inaugural test, which focused on reading, the top country came as a big surprise: tiny Finland. Finnish students claimed victory again in 2003 (when the focus was on math) and 2006 (when it was on science),   And then, the article continued:  Just over a decade later, Europe had a new champion. Here, too, it wasn’t one of the usual suspects — not a big, wealthy country like Germany or Britain but the small underdog nation of Estonia.

Later, in a study of 7,000 classroom in North Carolina, the answer popped out as clear as clear.  It wasn’t more accomplished teachers or smarter students or a better curriculum.  It was the fact that students in the highest achieving schools spent at least two years with the same teacher.

Multigrade Baking Project

I could have told you that even if I had not spent more than half of my 39 teaching years in multigrade (1st/2nd/3rd/ grades) classrooms and, except for rare cases in which a child transferred in during 2nd or 3rd grade, I had the great good fortune of having kids all three years.  We became family.  The “elders” helped the “youngers” and vice-versa.  You can’t imagine what it does for a kid’s self esteem to show a “math trick” to an older child having a hard time.  Or to have kids request the same stories (The Nickel Plated Beauty comes to mind) year after year because they want their new classmates to hear it!

And, if my testimony isn’t enough and North Carolina’s isn’t enough, ask anyone who was lucky enough to go to six or eight grades in a one-room schoolhouse.  They learned to cooperate and to entertain new ideas and to appreciate different points of view — right along with the math and science and reading.  Everyone?  Probably not.  But enough that their test scores were higher and their self-esteem more solid.  And truly, you don’t have to go to Finland or Estonia to see how that works!  In fact, there are probably a number of people right here on the Peninsula who could give you a testimonial or two.  But in case you want to read that NYT article, here’s the link:


1 Comment

  1. Michele Frace

    Well, Sydney, as you know, I do tours for the cruise ships that dock down by the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria. Most of my clients are above 60, and the median age is probably 75. I often mention that I am a retired teacher and I am often asked what my favorite grade was. To which I reply my favorite assignment was the nine years I taught a multi grade 1/2/3. That is received with wide eyes. And then often a recounting of a story of their experience in a multi grade or one room school house. It’s lovely to hear the perspective which usually aligns with mine. It’s only classrooms of children and eggs that are graded!


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