What Would Finland Do?

Matthew di Carlo, a senior fellow at the Albert Shanker Institute, couldn’t help but notice how often pundits and self-styled school reformers lately have been making unflattering comparisons between the U.S. public schools and the educational system of Finland. Students in Finland, we are told, consistently outperform American kids on international comparison tests. So di Carlo got to wondering–what would U.S. education be like if our school system were a lot more like Finland’s? His answer is quite instructive.

First of all, Finnish teachers are highly unionized–a fact that doesn’t fit the dominant media narrative (see coverage of the “Waiting for Superman” film, which demonizes U.S. teachers’ unions). Second, privately operated charter schools, proposed as a panacea by ill-informed American policymakers, are not part of Finland’s educational system. Di Carlo also found that Finland relies on small class sizes, requires state-funded master’s degrees for all teachers, has relatively high teacher salaries, sets aside at least one afternoon each week devoted to joint planning and curriculum development among teachers, and has a uniform, highly selective program for entry into the profession. Finland also has clear and rigorous career and technical pathways; widely available, publicly funded kindergarten and preschools; free access to higher education; school-based health care; and formal, early interventions for struggling students. On the other hand, di Carlo notes, Finland doesn’t emphasize standardized test-based accountability. Finnish national tests are administered to random samples of students, and results are published only for the whole nation, not individual schools. Finland also “does not formally evaluate teachers after they are placed in schools,” says di Carlo.

In other words, Finland’s system turns out to be pretty much the antithesis of the policy choices offered by many educational entrepreneurs and their allies who pontificate about our U.S. public schools. You can read di Carlo’s full report at http://www.shankerblog.org, under the heading: “Talking About But Not Learning From Finland.”