New Mission

New Mission


My idea is to explore how other countries around the world are dealing with education and special education issues. I’d like to see different successful schools, wherever they may be, up close. I’d like to sit down with directors and administrators. I’d like to speak with government officials who keep a pulse on the education affairs of their communities. I want to learn more about education around the globe through speaking with locals, seeing the schools, and shaking hands with the people responsible for implementing the systems. If you know of any outstanding (public or private) special needs schools in other parts of the world, I’d love to hear about them. If you know any education experts from around the world, I’d love to be introduced to them. Please do not hesitate to share your thoughts or ideas. Read more about my mission.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Speaking Engagement - Wednesday, May 27

I will be speaking at the Sephardic Academy of Manhattan on Wednesday, May 27 regarding the special education process for preschool and school-age students. Please find the relevant information below, and feel free to forward to anyone else who might be interested.


Special Education Services from the Department of Education

Date: Wednesday, May 27th 1:15PM

Location: Sephardic Academy of Manhattan
1274 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10065




Educational Technology - The Nordic Way

I recently attended Education Technology - The Nordic Way, an event that was part of the Oppi Festival (http://2015.oppifestival.com/), which happened in New York earlier this month.  I like to think of as an ed-tech version of Shark Tank with a Nordic twist.  A panel of judges critiqued business pitches from education-minded entrepreneurs from Finland and Sweden.  The range of business ideas included exam taking software, an animation application, a cloud-based math curriculum, a platform for project-based learning, gamification, interactive three-dimensional teaching software, and a music learning application.  The presentations were interesting, and helped me think differently about how to utilize technology to improve education.

See also: https://storify.com/yangbodu/nordicedtech

Finland: Exceptional Programs

In this last blog post, I wanted to highlight three exceptional programs that I visited in Helsinki.


The Resonaari Music School is an amazing program that offers a variety of programs and opportunities for people of all ages and abilities. The directors of the program have incredible passion for their work, and the combination of their passion and the music thumping in the background entranced me. What struck me most about Resonaari was how the school supports people with special needs. While it is not exclusive to people with special needs, it provides a warm, nurturing environment in which they are able to discover abilities they never knew they had, connect with others through musical collaboration, and develop their sense of self-worth. Resonaari also provides extra support and modified instructional materials to those who require them. Observing one group of students, some of whom had special needs, while they practiced for an upcoming concert performance was one of the highlights of my visit.

I was also impressed by the program’s reach and influence. Resonaari has collaborated with the Finnish National Board of Education regarding the development of a national music curriculum. Resonaari is also engaged in ongoing music research, including how to adapt music for people with special needs. In addition, Resonaari has influenced the creation of similar music programs in other parts of the world, and is part of a global movement to connect people with music.

More information available at: http://www.resonaari.fi/


The Ruskis Center is a state-operated, publicly funded special education school for children with the most severe disabilities. The intensive level of support provided at this school includes very small classrooms, 1:1 instruction, and various related services. Additional resources include augmentative and alternative communication devices, wheelchairs and related equipment, a sensory gym, a state-of-the-art swimming pool for instructional aquatics, residential accommodations for students living away from home, and a trial apartment-living program for students transitioning to independent living. Students participate in non-academic activities such as music, cooking, and woodworking with specially designed equipment to meet their physical and developmental needs. Ruskis is well-known throughout Finland, and services students from all over the country. The staff is committed to the well-being of its students, and assists parents through the process of obtaining the supports and services that they require from the government.

More information available at: http://www.ruskis.fi/in-english.html


The Keskupuisto Vocational School is exclusive to students with special needs, whose issues range from attention to autism to severe psychiatric disorders. Keskupuisto offers a wide array of vocational programs including mechanics, photography, audio visual, technical design, music, dance, and cooking. Classrooms are small and structured, one-to-one support is available where necessary, and students are expected to complete a significant amount of on-the-job training in order to apply their in-classroom learning to real-life settings. The school offers both certificate and non-certificate programs, as well as unique opportunities for immigrant students. The facilities are immaculately clean and beautifully designed, and located just a few steps away from Helsinki’s Central Park. I toured some of the classrooms, and spoke with students and staff, and was impressed by the students' work.

More information available at: http://www.keskuspuisto.fi/en.php

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Finland: Public Schools

Part of me was expecting to visit Finland and immediately be blown away by a radically different approach to education. I visited several schools in Helsinki and Espoo, and that wasn't exactly what I found. What stood out to me was how well Finland is addressing the basic things that you would expect from a school.

The first thing that struck me was the physical appearance of the schools. The buildings were beautiful and new. Outside spaces were vast with lots of room for students to roam. Indoor spaces were filled with natural light. The classrooms were clean, organized, and colorful.

I was impressed by the teachers. The teachers I spoke with came across as intelligent, serious, committed, and engaging, and they were enthusiastic about their work. I was also impressed by the amount of independence that the teachers possessed. Teachers were in charge of their classrooms without being accountable to a higher school authority, which I think promotes ownership. Since principals do not spend time monitoring their teachers in class, they can focus on broader school issues such as budget and development, which benefits the school and, in turn, the students. Teachers still obtain professional development throughout the year, but when it comes to their classroom teaching, they are trusted and respected as professionals, and given substantial freedom.  

I was impressed by the level of attention to each child. Teachers and staff meet frequently to discuss the needs of all students in the school - both general and special education. Based on those meetings, the school staff can respond to each child's needs in whatever manner is appropriate. For example, schools may provide extra academic support for students who need it, or reach out to social service agencies when children need the kind of support that would extend beyond the school day. Schools have designated special education teachers who move from class to class, and since they do not have their own classrooms to teach, they can provide varying levels of support to students from different classrooms, as needed. This allows school to be flexible about meeting students' needs as issues arise, and does not require a formal diagnosis or a complicated administrative process.

I also got the feeling that schools in Finland focus on the whole child. All students receive a free lunch, irrespective of family income, which has the positive benefit of (1) making sure that no students go hungry, and (2) not singling out students who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford lunch. In addition to the regular academic curriculum, students must fulfill demanding language requirements, which require them to master Finnish, English, and Swedish. Students also benefit from non-academic specialties such as sewing and woodworking. In general, the schools were warm and nurturing environments, and the students seemed happy, well-behaved, and engaged.

I think it's also worth noting that I did not detect concerns about onerous accountability standards or compliance requirements.  

All in all, the schools I saw seemed like nice learning environments that were committed to their students' success.  

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Finland: University of Helsinki

I had the pleasure of meeting with several people from the University of Helsinki. First I want to note that, unlike the U.S. where teacher education programs abound, Finland has just a few teacher education programs, which are highly competitive and difficult to get into. I was impressed by the selectiveness of the schools, and the quality of the students who are admitted. It's no surprise that those students who gain admission and succeed in becoming teachers are highly respected in Finnish society.

Some of the points that stand out most in my mind from my conversations with people at the University have to do with inclusion, equity, high-stakes testing, and immigration.

Three-tier model – Finland’s three-tier inclusion model calls for escalating levels of support to meet the needs of those with special needs. Most students in Finland, at some point in their education, receive special education support, which could range from just a few hours of academic tutoring for a child with mild needs, to consistent academic interventions for a child with moderate needs, to a full-blown individualized learning plan for a child with severe needs. My impression was that these supports are implemented without a whole lot of red tape – i.e., it’s pretty easy for parents to access these supports. Teachers and administrators seemed to be laser-focused about helping the child, and less concerned about compliance and accountability. Resources are deployed to schools accordingly. In many schools, for example, part-time special education teachers who do not teach classrooms of their own are available to provide additional academic support on an ad hoc basis to any students in the school who require it.

Equity - Finland emphasizes equity a great deal. That’s not to say that every school is perfect, but the percentage of inferior schools in Finland is smaller than in most other countries around the world. Finland works hard to maintain a balance that allows parents to feel confident that their local school is as good as any other. In the U.S. there seems to be a much larger disparity between our good schools and our poor or mediocre schools. Our schools need to be more balanced.

High-stakes testing - High-stakes testing basically does not exist in Finland. There is only one high-stakes exam at the end of high school, and a number of low-stakes subject tests that students are required to take in certain subjects. These low-stakes subject tests are generally used to develop “best practices” for schools and teachers; they do not impact the students themselves. Since Finland doesn’t emphasize high-stakes testing, more time can be devoted to actual learning. In the U.S., there has been a lot of debate about the consequences of students losing out on classroom learning time because of test preparation. Maximizing in-class learning time makes sense, and I was impressed by Finland's emphasis on this.

Challenges - Finland has its share of challenges as well, including: (1) Budget - Even in a small country of 5 million people, resources are limited and decisions have to be made about where to give services and where to cut them, which can result in certain demographics being underserved; (2) Staff – Some teachers may have more traditional teaching styles and be less inclined to adopt new learning approaches; (3) Immigration - Immigration in Finland is increasing, and the government is grappling with questions about who to admit into the country and how to educate new immigrants. How the government addresses these issues in the future could have important implications for the Finnish education system.