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What is right with Finnish schools?

Jan 06 | What is right with Finnish schools?

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.

Follow up:

"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.

  1. Children in Finland do not take standardized testing. Sample based learning tests are given to provide politicians and administrators with benchmarks of student performance and...
  2. There are no tests given to compare the performance of the Finnish teachers. Finnish students  and teachers have been freed of the stress and anxiety of the "teaching to the test" mentality so pervasive in US school districts.
  3. Parents and teachers work together as the best judges of student performance. The ongoing fight between teachers who are trying to teach and parents who spend much of their time making excuses, just does not exist.  In part, this is because...
  4. Teachers are required to hold three year, advanced degrees. The Finnish population regards teachers with the same level of respect and trust that they do doctors and lawyers and police. The best students compete to become teachers with only the top 10% of students selected to pursue teaching careers. It is important to note however that the government pays for the advanced education of its teachers and, with the current budgetary problems faced by our government US teachers are not likely to receive this type of support any time soon.
  5. Teachers are autonomous and play an integral part in curriculum planning using national standards as guidelines only. Curriculum planning is generally free of political manuevering.
  6. Educational leaders in Finland are all former teachers allowing them invaluable insight into what does...and doesn't work.
  7. The Finnish school system depends on equity and cooperation rather than choice and competition as US schools have done.
  8. Primary and secondary schools are combined eliminating the necessity of students changing schools.
  9. Finnish students don't begin attending school until the age of seven and they study in a relaxed and informal atmosphere.
  10. Finnish students spend the fewest number of hours in class in the developed world.

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 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?


Categories: Standardized Testing, Curriculum, Building Better Schools | PermalinkPermalink |