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The 2009 results of the OECD Programme for International Student Assesment or PISA were released in November. My colleague, Cherrie Kilby, wrote a good analysis of the results that would be helpful for background information. In a nutshell, Finnish students consistently place first or second out of member countries in the PISA assessment. My question is what the school system in Finland is doing that school districts in the United States are not.
"As recently as 25 years ago, Finnish students were below the international average in mathematics and science. There also were large learning differences between schools, with urban or affluent students typically outperforming their rural or low-income peers." (BG) So what exactly did the Finns do to turn around their education system? The list below contains the big ideas/differences between the educational system in Finland and the United States garnered from the references listed at the end of this article without venturing into a comparison of basic socioeconomic differences between our societies.
So, what can we take away from all this? During the 1970's the US unquestionably had the best education system in the world...and then non-educators became involved. Now some of this was in response to desegregation oversight required under the Supreme Court's 1971 decision in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Desegregation of our schools was a priority...and rightly so. But then...the testing began and as the Federal government became more and more involved in the performance of local school districts they began to interfere with the ability of US teachers to teach.
For those of you who attended school during the 60's and 70's think back to what you learned...and to what your peers were working on. Although all US History students in a school district were expected to know the same material at the end of the year...how many did the same assignments, worked on the same projects, or took the same tests as their peers? Teachers were given the leeway, just as Finnish teachers are today, to take a very basic core curriculum and to teach the material in their own way with techniques geared to their teaching style AND the learning style of their students. In short...teachers taught; students learned; and most importantly parents respected and supported the job that their children's teachers were doing. Isn't this truly the focus of all of the differences listed above?