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Why Finland’s schools are great (by doing what we don’t). (washingtonpost.com)
223 points by ABR on Oct 16, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 115 comments



Perhaps "they did not understand the idea of 'merit pay'" because many of the teachers in Finland are of a different breed than many of the people who end up teaching in the US:

"McKinsey's work with school systems in more than 50 countries suggests this is an important gap in the U.S. debate, because the world's top performing school systems--Singapore, Finland, South Korea--make a different choice. They recruit, develop and retain what this report will call 'top third+' students as one of their central education strategies, and they've acheived extraordinary results. These systems recruit 100% of their teacher corops from the top third of the academic cohort, and then screen for other important qualities as well. In the U.S., by contrast, 23% of new teachers come from the top third, and just 14% in high poverty schools, which find it especially difficult to attract and retain talented teachers. It is remarkably large difference in approach, and in results." [1]

Taking this into account, it's silly to argue that since they have tenure, too, tenure isn't the problem here. They already have the right people teaching. We need to fire many of the people who are currently teaching.

Also, the U.S. spends a higher percent of GDP on education, so blaming spending seems odd. [2]

Finally, I'm really sick of the way Diane Ravitch constantly slams Teach For America. The U.S. needs better people teaching. TFA makes some of those people think about teaching. It's getting teaching in the same ballpark of prestige as consulting, banking, law school, medical school, etc for students coming out of top colleges. Nothing else comes close to doing that on the same scale. Even if it is true that TFA teachers aren't noticeably better in years 1-2 than a typical experienced teacher (and I don't believe that is the case), it's still a great program.

[1] http://www.mckinseyonsociety.com/downloads/reports/Education...

[2] http://www.mckinseyonsociety.com/downloads/reports/Education...


>Taking this into account, it's silly to argue that since they have tenure, too, tenure isn't the problem here. They already have the right people teaching. We need to fire many of the people who are currently teaching.

If you want to fire a big chunk of your teachers, that's fine. You just need to ensure the people you are replacing them with are better, and you do that by having higher requirements, paying them more, and giving them a better environment to work in. That means smaller classes, more autonomy, not relying on standardized tests for compensation, and a whole host of other things the US fails at.

Let's say you had a big tech company with thousands of mediocre programmers. You want to fire them and hire better ones, but before you do that you have to ask why you had so many lousy programmers in the first place. Why did good programmers decide not to work for your company, and how will you both attract them and convince them to stay? The US seems to think it can get highly qualified teachers by providing working environments akin to code monkey cubicle farms, and they're simply wrong.


you do that by having higher requirements

Actually, the problem is that we can't predict what makes good teachers. Studies have consistently shown—see my post below for more—that Master's degrees, for instance, don't predict success. Malcolm Gladwell writes about this issue here: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/12/15/081215fa_fact_... .

That means smaller classes, more autonomy, not relying on standardized tests for compensation, and a whole host of other things the US fails at.

The first doesn't measurably improve outcome either. The second sounds good. The third is a bit of red herring: I don't know any serious reformer who says that performance should be measured entirely based on testing or that testing is perfect. It isn't. But if you don't have some standardized measure, you can't even make comparisons.


Great post. I actually assembled a compendium of articles about the teacher / school situation: http://jseliger.com/2009/11/12/susan-engel-doesnt-get . It's virtually impossible to read the New Yorker piece on New York City's "Rubber Rooms" or the L.A. Weekly on the "Dance of the Lemons" without realizing how perverse educational incentives in the U.S. really are.


I think it's hard to overemphasize how much of an effect the respect accorded to teachers in Finland draws in the most motivated and skilled. Teachers in the US are all but regarded with contempt, and in many cases deserve it. Teaching hasn't been an aspirational profession since the women's rights movement made it possible for intelligent women to aspire to more than nursing or teaching.


I would think that people in Singapore and South Korea considers education very important and thus students in these countries try very hard to get really good grade.


Whereas in Finland students don't appreciate their top-of-the-notch, free education. According to research, they feel negative about the school and the teachers, they are unmotivated, they underperform and they have mental health problems. Makes their test results doubly impressive, I would say, and shows that there's still room for a lot of improvement in the world of education.


Ironically, I greatly admire the Finnish system. They got something very, very correct if their teachers can get a bunch of "unmotivated Finnish children and teenagers" to score so well in so many exams.

As a Singaporean, I would amend the original statement to say 'we treat our schooling very seriously'. But, yes, we do treat our academics very seriously - in fact, I personally believe we take it too seriously to the point of obsession.


You can lead a horse to water but you can not make it drink.

Without the water the horse dies for sure, with the water at least it stands a chance.

If those students are that unmotivated then that's one more feather in the cap of the teachers that they hold on to what they are doing in spite of such resistance.


Finland's schools are great because they are full of Finns, in the same way that schools with many Finns in the US do very well.

Hong Kong and Singapore's schools are great because they are full of Chinese, in the same way that schools with many Chinese in the US do very well, even in poor neighborhoods:

  http://articles.latimes.com/2008/jul/16/local/me-lincoln16

  To begin with, the eight students agreed on a few 
  generalities: Latino and Asian students came mostly from 
  poor and working-class families.

  According to a study of census data, 84% of the Asian and 
  Latino families in the neighborhoods around Lincoln High 
  have median annual household incomes below $50,000. And 
  yet the Science Bowl team is 90% Asian, as is the Academic 
  Decathlon team.
It is thus not likely to be the schools. It is more likely to be culture or (more controversially) genetics. But most articles don't even consider such explanations, preferring to keep looking under the streetlight for that quarter.


This article does consider that though:

  They insist that Finland cannot serve as a model because it
  lacks racial diversity; but they fall silent when one 
  points out that Finland has the same demographics as 
  Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, and Norway, yet gets superior
  results. I am troubled by this “lacks diversity” argument, 
  because it implies that African-American and Hispanic 
  children cannot benefit by having highly experienced
  teachers, small classes, and a curriculum rich in the arts 
  and activities.


Wow.

I looked it up. You're right, Finland does much better internationally than most of the other Scandinavian nations. I would not have expected that result.

One of the reasons I like HN is because sometimes, reading through comments, I see things that just blow my perceptions out of the water. I enjoy going back and reformulating my arguments.


There is a huge difference between Denmark and Finland both in the quality of the education a coming elementary school teacher goes through and perhaps more important in the level of applicants that are accepted for the education. In 2010 for many of the schools in Denmark where you can become a teacher there were no requirements on your grades from "gymnasiet" (equivalent of high school), you only had to have passed gymnasiet. In Denmark, coming teachers choose 2 or 3 subjects that will be there main subjects. For these subjects there are some requirements, unfortunately these are ridiculously low. In gymnasiet all subjects have a level A, B or C which indicates how deeply the subject is covered. Some subjects eg. Danish and history are mandatory and exists only in the highest level A form while others eg. languages, biology, physics, math, exist in usually at least two of the levels and depending on your choice of line you can choose different levels with the requirement that when finishing you must have had 2 non-mandatory A level subjects. To choose eg. nature & technique, a subject supposed to encompass physics, chemistry, biology and geography, as one of your main subjects when becoming an elementary school teacher, it is sufficient to have the medium grade in just a single of a list of subjects that are related to natural sciences and this only had to be on the middle B level.

Another problem is that until 2007 the "seminars", the schools for educating teachers, were mainly relics from the late sixties, this having all the obvious implications given the hippie state of DK in those years.

Also in DK through all levels of the educational system from elementary school through university, the main focus is on the students who are at the bottom of the skill spectrum.


Not to steal HN's thunder but that was a direct quote from the article.


According to Wikipedia, the percentage of ethnic Finns in Finland is 97.5%, while the percentage of ethnic Swedes in Sweden is "probably much lower than 85%". Now, some of these are Finns living in Sweden and vice versa, which complicates the picture, but it seems like Finland has very different demographics from Sweden.


I read a paper by a Swedish researcher about this. Even if you compare schools with a similar proportion of immigrant descendants, Finnish schools tend to do well compared to Sweden.

I think the biggest difference overall was a lower amount of underachievers in Finland.

I don't know if the Finnish school system is that super great. Maybe you get some knowledge of this and that, and gain a work ethic, but one could teach the kids so much more about life than that would help them a lot later on.

Also I've heard that talented / energetic people have more opportunities to go extra far elsewhere (I've heard positive stuff from California), while here it's more egalitarian, at least at normal schools.

Our kids start school the year they turn seven and the school days are shorter than elsewhere.


"Superior" is only one bit of information, in that it only says "x is greater than y"...but not by how much, and with no measure of statistical significance.

Finland's technological and industrial output clusters with Sweden, Denmark, and Norway to a far greater extent than it does with countries outside Northern Europe.

In the same way, when you look at the TIMSS, intra-European variance exists and is nontrivial, but European and East Asian nations do tend to cluster together quite a bit:

http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2009/2009001.pdf

See Table 3 on page 19. Top 5 countries in grade 8 in math: Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan. The very top European countries are towards the lower end of the East Asian distribution in math, and are only close in 4th grade (before puberty onset).


Finland does so much better than Sweden that Swedish newspapers semi-regularly feature the same article as the parent of this discussion, i.e. "our schools are crap, Finland is right next to us, they're awesome, how do they do it, why can't we?".

Of course, nothing ever happens.


> It is thus not likely to be the schools. It is more likely to be culture or (more controversially) genetics.

But finns are less smart than say, Asia, most of Europe and North Korea :( (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IQ_and_the_Wealth_of_Nations)

There is likely a multitude of reasons. And yes, stuff like ethnic diversity do cause problems. But that shit is not unsolveable.

In Finland, there are schools & classrooms with very diverse ethnical backgrounds and yes, they rank worse than your average, homogenous classrooms. But the system still manages to achieve significant improvement with the individuals, even though the end-results are sub-average. And we are talking about students that often do not even know any local languages (or English, Swedish, German or French, which are in some rare cases available as teaching languages) and start their primary education years later than their Finnish peers.

The shit is, you don't need perfection. You need improvement. Sure, it's theoretically possible that genetics or culture gives you edge on some stuff, but it is about as likely that they don't. In any way, that stance is incredibly counterproductive against any kind of thinkable improvement. It is also pretty bloody likely, that Finns and Chinese have figured out something right and there are lessons to be learned.


Afro-caribbean and first generation American chiming in here. I can assure you it is a cultural and institutional racism here. Being colleagues with other 1st generation Ghanaians, Nigerians, Haitians, and Jamaicans it is a recurring issue amongst the black community. Where 1st gen children who keep their culture of origin do well academically (if their culture demands it) but subsequent generations absorb more of the african-american culture which shuns academia. An example, my neighborhood highschool had enough left in the annual budget to fix the leaking roof in the science wing. The parents petitioned the schoolboard to have the money used to buy new football bleachers. This is the type of culture the students and teachers are up against.

The US has a long, and controversial, history with genetics and eugenics research. Most researchers have been wise to avoid it because, realistically, it is a career ender. Unless you enjoy your research being lumped in with propaganda spouted by racist and facist you'd be wise to not go there.


>subsequent generations absorb more of the african-american culture which shuns academia

If you're referring to the oppositional culture hypothesis, there's a whole body of research that show it isn't nearly as common as widely perceived - most recently there is this: http://www.amazon.com/Kids-Dont-Want-Fail-Oppositional/dp/06... but I also linked to some other research in this post: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2046616

Certainly using school money to buy more football bleachers rather than invested in academics is not just something you'll find in poor minority schools - see pretty much any US university with a Div I or II basketball, football or hockey program.


>Where 1st gen children who keep their culture of origin do well academically (if their culture demands it) but subsequent generations absorb more of the african-american culture which shuns academia.

You can't really change a culture though. Is there any way you think it can be fixed?


You can't really change a culture though.

Changing cultures happens all the time. I am a fifth-generation descendant of my family living in this state, but I think and act considerably differently from my great-great-great grandfather and his son who first settled in this state before the Civil War. I differ pretty substantially culturally from my late dad, really, as does America as a whole from his generation to mine.

One thing that promotes cultural change is interchange and communication among different cultures. Individual human beings are acculturated by their upbringing in one culture or another, but also pick and choose what cultural practices they desire to follow among the cultural practices they know about. Leadership of a school system (or of a country) involves urging people to follow cultural practices that will be to their long-term advantage, and setting up incentives so that individual human beings are nudged into following those practices.

(Basis of knowledge: many-generations European-American who has lived overseas in east Asia twice in his life, married to a spouse who grew up in east Asia of east Asian ancestry since earliest historical times. We have a pick-and-choose blended culture in our family, and note that we have genuinely multicultural relatives, friends, neighbors, clients and work colleagues who pick and choose what cultural influences they follow.)


Hey, they have to sit in those bleachers ...


> It is more likely to be culture or (more controversially) genetics.

Perhaps not genetics, but (also controversially) perhaps 'diversity' is over-rated. Many of the least diverse countries enjoy such positive results. The U.S. slips further and further as it gets more diverse.


Canada's got at least the diversity the US has, and yet regularly ranks quite high in worldwide educational standards.

Edit: added the following link

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/dec/07/world-ed...


Canada is far less diverse than the US. Canada is about 90% white, the US is about 68% white. And most minorities in Canada are screened for education/intelligence before arrival, whereas in the US most minorities are a byproduct of the transatlantic slave trade/illegal immigration


I guess it depends on what you consider 'diverse'. You seem to only consider skin colour.

Besides, Canada is more like 80% 'white' vs 72% in the US.

An interesting tidbit you may not know is that less then 60% of Canadians speak English as their mother tongue, vs 82% in the US.


Right, but a majority of those non-English speakers in Canada are in Quebec speaking French. I can't imagine there's that much of an IQ difference between French- and Anglo-Canadians...


Actually the non-english speakers are split evenly between french speakers, and speakers of other languages.

The discussion was about diversity (and the imagined lack thereof in Canada), not about IQ ...


Also, Finns speak a Finnish, a Finno-Ugric language, which is said to be really easy to learn. It's phonetic, and technical words tend to be built out of simple Finnish words, not a weird mash of Latin, Greek, and other words. This makes it easy to do sciences, as you don't have to teach as much wacky vocabulary. (Note, I don't speak Finish, this is just what I've read).

I've also heard that Lithuanians (who also speak a Finno-Urgric language) do relatively well in school, while Swedish Finns (who are richer than Finnish Finns) who go to Swedish-language schools do worse.

Of course, in Education, there's never just one factor.


Lithuanian is not a Finno-Ugric language, but a Baltic one. Perhaps you are thinking of Estonian?

Personally I think using the metric system is more important for learning science than the instruction language. When you get down to it, the "simple Finnish words" are just as alien to everyday life as the Latino-Greek words. A word like "jännite" does not confer any more insight than "voltage". In advanced topics Finnish also uses loan words for things like electrons, momentum, grammatical cases and so on.


I beg to differ. Jännite has the same word base as "jännitys", which translates to tension or suspension. And that is a natural concept that is related to voltage and thus helps internalize the concept.


I don't know anyone who's said that Finnish is an easy language to learn. In fact, I think it's generally considered one of the hardest languages in the world (along with Hungarian, which has similar grammar). You are right, though, that the phonetics are easy and highly consistent.

Also, in practice, most technical terms are borrowed from English, instead of inventing native, Finnish words for them.


The language isn't easy to learn, but easy to write and read once you've learned to talk with it. This is the distinction usually made regarding the language differences. Also most of the professional vocabulary is lent from other languages. I prefer to speak English when talking about programming or tech in general. Then again this starts to take affect, at the earliest, in high school.


Most say it's hard to learn. Putting that aside, I know Finnish contains many borrowed words. Take church, which in Finnish is "kirkko", Swedish is kyrka, and in Scottish English, kirk. This form almost certainly comes from the Norse "kirkja".

For a more technical term, consider "democracy", which is "demokratia". The Greek roots are obvious.


This form almost certainly comes from the Norse "kirkja".

It actually comes all the way from a Greek word that means "the Lord's," short for a term for churches that means "the assembly of the Lord" or "the house of the Lord."

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=church

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Church#Etymology

(Basis of knowledge: student of Biblical Greek, native speaker of English, sporadic student of various Germanic and Ugro-Altaic languages.)


Certainly. But here I mean that the flow probably came through the Norse. The Scotts definitely got their term from the Norse. Since "Christianity gained a foothold in Finland during the 11th century. It was strengthened with growing Swedish influence in the 12th century and the Finnish "crusade" of Birger Jarl in the 13th century." [Wikipedia] and since the Swedes were often trading and plundering along the Finnish coast, then I strongly suspect that the current Finnish word came from the Swedish one, which comes from the same Germanic root as in English.

The only etymology I could find is: kirkko [from Germanic. Compare Estonian kirik, Karelian kirikkö, Lapland girku, Swedish kyrka] : church

A quick scan of http://www.freeweb.hu/etymological/finnish.htm shows many words of Germanic origin. I like how "kihlat" (dowry) compares to the Swedish "gisslan" (hostage).


The only part of education where the language matters is when it comes to spelling, and the key factor there is the distance between the spoken language and the written language. In Finnish, these are close, i.e. words are spelled "as they sound", the rules are simple and consistent and there are few special cases, and as a result Finnish children have a much easier time learning how to spell compared to Danish or English children.


The Finnish language is one theory. There's lots of derivative words and it's really easy to know the meaning of a new word. Look from here: http://finnish-and-pisa.blogspot.com/

There's one example of the derivation:

'kirja' - 'book'

'kirjailija' - 'writer'

'kirjailla' - 'to embroider'

'kirjailu' - 'embroidery'

'kirjaimellinen' - 'literal'

'kirjaimellisesti' - 'literally'

'kirjaimisto' - 'alphabet'

'kirjain' - 'letter' (of the alphabet)

'kirjallinen' - 'written; literary'

'kirjallisuus' - 'literature'

'kirjaltaja' - 'typographer'

'kirjanen' - 'booklet'

'kirjasin' - 'font' (in typography)

'kirjasto' - 'library'

'kirjata' - 'to write down, to make a note of'

'kirje' - 'letter' (document)

'kirjeellinen' - 'by letter' (adj.)

'kirjelmä' - 'letter, note, message'

'kirjelmöidä' - 'to complain (by means of writing)'

'kirjoitella' - 'to write' (now and then)

'kirjoittaa' - 'to write'

'kirjoittaja' - 'writer' (person who performs a writing work)

'kirjoittaminen' - 'writing' (action)

'kirjoittautua' - 'to get enrolled, to log in'

'kirjoittelu' - 'writing' (now and then)

'kirjoitus' - 'writing' (result)

'kirjoituttaa' - 'to have ... written' (factitive of 'kirjoittaa')

'kirjuri' - 'scribe'


You don't consider language important in conveying ideas, thinking, etc?


What are you talking about?


> The only part of education where the language matters is when it comes to spelling

What about differences between languages in their ability to convey ideas.


We're talking about elementary school education here, I find it extremely difficult to believe that some languages are "better" than others at conveying the ideas at this level of education.


Don’t downvote this guy. I don’t agree with him but it is an interesting point that should be addressed. It could be true. Science should advise.


Few more points that might interest you http://hardwick.fi/blog/?p=2097


Whee, Finland is at the top of an international ranking. How groovy! It makes my white-and-blue heart beat with pride.

Except it doesn't, really. The purpose of a school, any school, in any country, is to prepare the students for the road ahead. "We do not learn for the school, but for life."

So while it is fascinating to study the performance of teenagers in a small selection of topics, the test does not tell whether they will grow up as happy and/or fulfilled adults. If the PISA tests measured presentation skills or perhaps essay writing, I'd bet USA would just leave Finland in the dust.

However, some parts of the article just fill me with dread. Child-poverty rate of 22%? That's disgraceful. Merit pay? I just can't wrap my head around that.

Also, sounds like you've gone bonkers with the standardized testing. The common complaint here is that the last year (or year and a half) of high school is too focused on the matriculation examination. I can only imagine what happens if you're tested once a year or every two years or so. You'd get nothing of substance into the young minds, only tricks and tips for the next test.


>> So while it is fascinating to study the performance of teenagers in a small selection of topics, the test does not tell whether they will grow up as happy and/or fulfilled adults

According to some studies [1] the 20 happiest nations in the World are:

  1. Denmark 
  2. Switzerland 
  3. Austria 
  4. Iceland 
  5. The Bahamas 
  6. Finland 
  7. Sweden 
  8. Bhutan 
  9. Brunei 
  10. Canada 
  11. Ireland 
  12. Luxembourg 
  13. Costa Rica 
  14. Malta 
  15. The Netherlands 
  16. Antigua and Barbuda 
  17. Malaysia 
  18. New Zealand 
  19. Norway 
  20. The Seychelles
[1] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/11/061113093726.ht...


I taught English in the public school system in South Korea last year. There were a few stark differences that I couldn't help but notice and I feel they shed light on our failing education system here in America. They have a curriculum that is set forth on a national level. This accomplishes two important things: One, teachers can now collaborate and share resources on topics that all teachers around the country are preparing for (I did this with my fellow Native English Teachers and ended up saving a lot of time not having to reinvent the wheel for every lesson). Secondly, it helps eliminate the unnecessary spending that accompanies the insanely large amount of school districts that we have scattered around our country. Washington State alone has almost 300 school districts! The board members of these schools districts are in charge of determining the curriculum for their specific locality, mean while others are doing the same exact thing in the next town over. Furthermore, the majority of those board members have a Masters or PhD and require a hefty salary - which could be going towards funding intelligent, passionate teachers. I'd love to be a teacher but you won't see me entering a public school classroom anytime soon.

If we can eliminate the redundancy of our school district issue and provide the framework for a nationalized curriculum, we could pay teachers more (thereby attracting a higher talent pool), lower class sizes, increase spending on classroom necessities (pens, pencils, paper, books, COMPUTERS!), and allow teachers the opportunity to share resources on predetermined, upcoming lessons. Tackling these issues will put us on the right track towards getting our school system out of this steady decline we've been on for the last couple of decades.


I've always wondered why the US has a Department of Education but it doesn't produce a national curriculum. It's mission isn't directly tied to teaching itself [1]. Looking at the rise of sites like the Khan Academy and other services, it seems clear to me that content creation and delivery of core subjects could be centralized, and tutoring, homework, testing, and assessment could be localized. I know that would threaten some politically powerful interest groups (teacher unions and publishers), but I think it's a logical progression if we want to provide students across the country the same learning materials.

[1] http://www2.ed.gov/about/what-we-do.html


Well, look at the figures for percentage of people who believe something really whacky: creationism. Something like 40% (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/20/40-of-americans-sti...).

It's going to be hard to have a national curriculum without either watering down subjects like biology or US history to the point that they're totally useless, just rote memorization of falsehoods.


Really, simply believing in creationism does not conflict with most science, even biological science, and certainly not with US history. Of the 40% who believe in creationism (accepting your claim, though the source I'd certainly not consider unbiased), most have mainstream religious beliefs about the origin of the universe, earth, and life, but do not dismiss most of what science has learned in fields like medicine, biochemistry, genetics, etc.

For example, I myself have certain "creationist" beliefs but also accept the scientific evidence that evolution/natural selection happens, and I don't see any conflict there.


Within the article the definition of creationism in the context is clearly defined in the first paragraph:

"A new Gallup poll, released Dec. 17, reveals that 40 percent of Americans still believe that humans were created by God within the last 10,000 years."

There is another 40% thinking like you claim, but there still is that 40% who are about as anti-scientific as you can get.


simply believing in creationism does not conflict with most science, even biological science,

To the contrary, taking the Sunday school story (it's not really the Bible story) of creation seriously as an explanation for the world's origin or the origin of species requires willfully massive amounts of scientific evidence.

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/

http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/geotime/age.html

http://www.astro.ucla.edu/~wright/age.html

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-playing-field/201005...

If someone who takes the Sunday school story of creation seriously has sole influence on a school curriculum, that will be a lousy school curriculum about most areas of science. That said, I support the liberty of parents to direct the education of their own children while their children are minors, believing with John Stuart Mill that "A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another: and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by a natural tendency to one over the body. An education established and controlled by the State should only exist, if it exist at all, as one among many competing experiments, carried on for the purpose of example and stimulus, to keep others up to a certain standard of excellence." On Liberty (1859), pp. 190-91. But within the framework of pluralism in provision of primary education, I strongly support government-funded schools using the best available evidence in designing curricula in science, mathematics, history, and really any subject, and that takes creationism out of the science curriculum.

(Basis of knowledge: I grew up in a religious denomination that promoted belief in creationism, and had a childhood friend, an all-but-Ph.D. electrical engineer, who grew up in a denomination that demanded belief in creationism. He took me to "creation science" conferences beginning at high school age, and I have read much from all sides on theories of the origin of humankind, the earth, and the universe. Creationism simply has no leg to stand on scientifically. I don't require my homeschooled children to believe in creationism, but rather read aloud to them books like Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne and The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins, so that they are more familiar with scientific evidence than most of their neighbors who attend the local public schools.)


As a Finn, I restrain myself comparing us to others but I just want to say that most schools here are not well suited for non-superficial learning.

I would hope the future brings a system that is driven by the need of individual pupil and by her potential and interests rather than giving equivalent, non-inspiring curriculum for all. Also, learning should have more meaningfulness in it; something along the lines of what Papert talks in his Mindstorms book http://www.papert.org/

What I have observed is that people are not much interested in learning in schools; those with passion get bored and creativity is not encouraged, at all.

In my opinion, it's a horrible state what we are in but I don't think many will do anything about it. And in universities, it's even worse. Studying e.g. Computer Science is much of theory without not enough practical learning, as departments lack proper funding (e.g. assistants for helping with assignments). People learn basic concepts barely, and are not excited by them. It's just something to get through so that they get the diploma which is too highly appreciated by companies' HR.

Also, the content what is taught, is not what should be. The whole culture is short-sighted, and people who get out of universities are not well-equipped but are suited for trivial web-development of current age, i.e. what the industry is in need of.

This makes me sad as learning and teaching should be fun, and could be much more effective. I see some hope with interactive, visual tools that let people learn by themselves but I am not so sure the people responsible for these kind of things really are multitalented and experienced enough to do the proper thing.


You seem to mainly address universities, which were out of scope for this article. OECD PISA is measuring 15-year-old students. There is a huge difference in the level of teaching at compulsory schools and universities in Finland.

"People are not much interested in learning in schools" is a gross overstatement and generalization. There are those who are very motivated, those who are not motivated at all and the majority who fall somewhere in between. I saw firsthand how even the least motivated students were engaged by one really good biology teacher. Everyone was interested when the teacher did his job well. On the other hand, with terrible teachers even the best students tended to zone out. I imagine this is the same everywhere in the world.

As for the needs of individual pupils, I couldn't agree more. When I first entered school I already knew how to read and add numbers together. I was not allowed to progress at my own pace, and subsequently got really, really bored twiddling my thumbs during those first few years.

I think this catering to the lowest common denominator and lack of individual care is something that the Finnish school system really suffers from. Sadly with all these articles out many observers seem to think the Finnish school system is infallible, and they're only aiming at replicating the success of Finnish schools instead of thinking how to do even better.


"You seem to mainly address universities, which were out of scope for this article. OECD PISA is measuring 15-year-old students. There is a huge difference in the level of teaching at compulsory schools and universities in Finland."

Actually the opposite. The university system follows pretty much the same paradigm of equality and fair quality. There really is no shitty universities (at least within the institutions which claim the label...) nor spectacular ones. You get average quality. The university rankings tend to have an apex-fallacy (we are only interested on the ones at top), whereas the primary-education studies focus on national averages.

E.g. US has some spectacular private primary education facilities and some amazing higher education. But the quality varies highly across institutions. Finland has a very few private schools and even the best ones do not really perform significantly better the worst ones. The same is apparent in higher education. You get about the same degree from any university willing to give the education.

And whereas I used to think like you guys on catering for the individuals and the talented: I'm no longer quite sure on how it should be done. I've seen a fair share of different systems and products of those systems - some of which claim to address the problem of the gifted better than others. Yeah, you could do better to give greater challenges for the gifted. But there are so much other good and useful stuff people-who-get-bored-in-math-class could be doing. If you got the capacity, usually you end up using it, despite on how you are instructed to behave. You could be doing vector-calculus on the first grade: or you could be assisting your friends with the standard calculus. You could qualify for deeper math in high-school, but you could also spend your extra-time with arts, philosophy, student activities or just living your life if you don't have to worry about your school performance.


Hey, I remember you from HUT circa 2006.

I was comparing the level of primary and upper secondary school teaching with university teaching, not different universities. Seems like university rankings have little to do with that.

For what it's worth, I maintain that the quality of teaching drops by a whole lot in universities, if only because there are way fever universities around in Finland. My personal experience (some of which you share) is that in some common subjects (like maths) the group size in lectures more than quadrupled in the first year—way too many students for the lecturer to spare any individual attention, apart from answering some questions that came up in the class. Even the word changes from teacher to lecturer, reflecting quite well on the changed focus.

This duty of individual attention falls on TAs in smaller student groups, who usually have no pedagogical studies behind them and often resist taking any share of responsibility in how their students perform. The lack of attention to students is known and acknowledged, even marketed as 'academic freedom' and 'having to take responsibility for one's own studies'. While it's imporant to learn how to do that, the quality of teaching should not suffer as markedly as it does. Some struggling students banded together to overcome the steeply increased difficulty curve and others dropped out from the courses, often after the very first few weeks.

Speaking of catering to individuals, it would not take much to improve the life of an advanced upper secondary school student by a whole lot. Let the advanced students advance to freshman level concepts. Instead we faced the "it's not in the teaching plan" paralysis. It feels stupid to do three years of upper secondary level physics without touching vectors or calculus. Or bring out the matrices and linear algebra in maths (instead of showing a small glimpse in one elective course during the third year). Allow and even recommend some more advanced books on the topic. It must be better than playing Tetris on your Ti-83 calculator all day. Many currently bored students would regain some of the lost morale and momentum this way.


All true.

That is to say, that the average standards around the world are not that great either. Higher education could be better, but it is far from worst of what I've seen.


My main concern is for the young as that has a lot of influence how each develops in later age, and how they feel about school.

Universities was just afterthought; I wanted to say that it does not get better even when the students have selected the subject (I gave CS as example as that is what I know of).


Brazil here, I always have been trying to get excited with subjects that i learn. Thats when it gets easier to be an autodidact.

So, my way to get things cool its to visualize them. from my entire hight school i've been doing that, for example: http://wonderfl.net/c/o5vy http://wonderfl.net/c/OskM http://wonderfl.net/c/veRP http://wonderfl.net/c/oD09 http://wonderfl.net/c/kkNQ yet, still doing that on computer college http://wonderfl.net/c/jkiG

on hight school days, i even got an friend on C++ who used to compete with me. not really compete, because we would won nothing for it. instead, we colaborate. because when you compete, you can just bring your 'enemy down', to get better than him.

ok, khan's struct is well-known. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTFEUsudhfs

I really always wanted to make an website where you could just do apps, basead on your classes, doodling or whatever. if i do that, i would aim on education, website internally. really running for it.

and, wolfram's about programming + education http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60P7717-XOQ

cheers!


Here is my worthless .02c:

One sure way to know you have failed at managing a process is when you measure employee performance by their adherence to rules rather than their record on delivering results.

NCLB is all about rules...

... as are most US institutions, public and private....

It isn't that rules and standardized processes don't have their place, but (1) if rules have to be enforced regularly, you have totally f'ed your incentive structure and (2) if you build "standardized processes" the right way, employees "naturally" follow (and contribute to) them because they are the best way to deliver results (see above), not because some hardass is enforcing them.

So, we should reward teachers who have good results, collectively and continuously make their best processes into standards, and punish the teachers with bad results (by which I mean fire them, and eliminate tenure, at least in the extreme).

Not so easy to do, but I think we need to get away from more and more rules, while never rewarding individual results.


There are a lot of people bouncing around ideas about how we can magically improve the U.S. school system, but I think fundamentally the problem is that we expect unreasonable results. We want to be able to pay $5000/pupil/year for a quality of education that properly costs at least $10,000 if not $15,000.


Somehow the Finnish school system costs less per pupil per year than the U.S. one. I don't see why a suggestion to concentrate on more important things is responded to by demanding more money.

Money can improve some things, some things can be improved without money.


I suspect an abundance of social infrastructure (4% of children living in poverty vs 15%, per the article) acts as an unaccounted for subsidy for education - and for much else as well.


Living poor but having dignity seems to be impossible in the US?


There is little correlation in the US between per pupil spending and academic results. More so, increasingly public school expenditures are going not to teachers and basic supplies but administrative staff. The problem is not that we aren't spending enough money. The problem is that we aren't spending money on the right things.


Personally, I think our fundamental problem comes down to having a monopoly that gets paid whether they have to educate any particular student or not, which makes competition extremely difficult. Regardless of what education you choose, the unused public education slot still gets paid.

What kind of quality do you think we'll get when we still pay regardless of quality or need?

Increasing tuition won't help without solving that problem.


Everything I have heard says that the US spends a lot more per pupil than most of the developed world, and yet... has shitty schools.


The problem is that the $5000 isn't being distributed evenly. The schools that rich kids go to, public or private, get orders-of-magnitude more funding than the ones poor kids go to.


Do you have figures? I very much doubt if that is the case.


Just checked for Pennsylvania (2009-10 academic year), and while the biggest spenders are over double the lowest spenders, there are no order-of-magnitude-difference pairs. Also, only two of the top ten spenders (per student) were in the top 10% academically.


From TNR:

Today, teaching is such a desirable profession that only one in ten applicants to the country’s eight master’s programs in education is accepted. In the United States, on the other hand, college graduates may become teachers without earning a master’s. What’s more, Finnish teachers earn very competitive salaries: High school teachers with 15 years of experience make 102 percent of what their fellow university graduates do. In the United States, by contrast, they earn just 65 percent.

-- http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/82329/education-reform-F...


Gaining a master's degree doesn't automatically make you a better teacher. I'd much rather be assured that a teacher has other basic abilities (e.g. good communication skills, patience, fairness, organization skills, and even some creativity).


To get masters from "teaching track" in Finland (which is _very_ appreciated during job interviews) you need quite hefty load of padagogy and sosiology studies on top of your usual master's.


no, but its a good way to gate on intelligence


In the US, getting a master's in education probably says more negative than positive things about your intelligence - there are a ton of degree farms handing out paper.


That's why you check what school the degree is from.


This article is right to the point but the discussion easily clings on some misconceptions that are hard to let go.

Here's some of the facts:

* No, the system in Finland doesn't cost much more. Depending on how you measure, it can actually be said to be cheaper: the US spends more of its GDP in education.

* No, the teachers in Finland are not paid a big salary to motivate them. They earn more or less the average salary of workers with a university degree.

* No, it's not just about Finland being more culturally and ethnically homogeneous, or just about child poverty being more rare. There are many other countries like this and they don't automatically get good results in education.

* No, the Finnish children are not highly motivated to go to school, to learn and to achieve. Actually, Finland gets its results despite worse than average motivation, attitude towards school etc.

* No, it's not about the Finnish language being "easier" to learn: Being "easy" is subjective and it takes the Finnish children the normal time to learn to speak.

* No, it's not about the written Finnish being highly phonemic and thus easy to learn to read and write. Many other languages (such as Spanish, Swedish) are highly phonemic as well. The time saved in not having to learn the spelling of each word in the Finnish dictionary separately is spent on the efforts to learn the completely different vocabulary and highly different phonetics and grammar of English as a second language.

* No, it's not just about Finnish being a highly agglutinative language where you can guess e.g. from the word for voltage that it has something to do with some kind of tension. Or maybe it is, I don't have good evidence about this... But there are other agglutinative languages, learning e.g. maths problem solving is little about guessing what words mean, the linguistics mainline theory doesn't support languages having a big effect on how people think.

* No, it's not about the Finnish women having nothing else to do than concentrate on teaching. Finland ranks highly in gender equality and e.g. technology industry.

* No, you don't have to come up with metrics and subject teachers to evaluations to get a good system or to improve on one. Finland doesn't have such evaluations. You can do scientific research on the issue without letting office politics in on the individual numbers.

What plausible explanations remain? Clearly you need to consider many issues when designing or improving an educational system and there's no silver bullet, but perhaps you want to read the original article again to get some good ideas from an expert in the field :-)


" I am troubled by this “lacks diversity” argument, because it implies that African-American and Hispanic children cannot benefit by having highly experienced teachers, small classes, and a curriculum rich in the arts and activities."

I don't agree with this. The "lacks diversity" argument doesn't imply that minorities can't benefit from experienced teachers - it means that teachers have more trouble with a heterogeneous population compared to a homogeneous one, which is reasonable if you consider the diversity of backgrounds in a classroom and how they impact the mental models that children have.


This is why discussing issues involving racial or cultural diversity is so hard: indignation temporarily destroys people's reading comprehension and ability to think straight.


Every time I read an article about why XYZ's schools are so great, I cannot help but think, wouldn't it simply be because XYZ's children are great?

At least I think that's a factor we fail to control for. Designing a good school for well brought-up children is far easier than designing it for children who grew up in a hostile environment watching TV all day long.


A good reality check on several of the assertions made in the article, or in the comments here, about Finland is to look at another country high in international educational rankings, namely Singapore. I have known people from Singapore (mostly students at my state's flagship university) since the mid-1970s. Always, they have been amazingly smart people. I have been curious about how schooling is done in Singapore since well before the first time that Singapore was included in an international education study.

Chapter 1: "International Student Achievement in Mathematics" from the TIMSS 2007 study of mathematics achievement in many different countries includes, in Exhibit 1.1 (pages 34 and 35)

http://pirls.bc.edu/timss2007/PDF/T07_M_IR_Chapter1.pdf

a chart of mathematics achievement levels in various countries. Although the United States is above the international average score among the countries surveyed, as we would expect from the level of economic development in the United States, the United States is well below the top country listed, which is Singapore. An average United States student is at the bottom quartile level for Singapore, or from another point of view, a top quartile student in the United States is only at the level of an average student in Singapore. I have lived for years in one of the other countries that regularly outperforms the United States in those studies, Taiwan, and will also comment on the Taiwan educational experience as a reality check on the comments on Finland in this thread.

I am amazed that persons from Singapore in my generation (born in the late 1950s) grew up in a country that was extremely poor (it's hard to remember that about Singapore, but until the 1970s Singapore was definitely part of the Third World) and were educated in a foreign language (the language of schooling in Singapore has long been English, but the home languages of most Singaporeans are south Chinese languages like my wife's native Hokkien or Austronesian languages like Malay or Indian languages like Tamil) and yet received very thorough instruction in mathematics. Singapore is very diverse linguistically--the MAJORITY of the population in my generation spoke NONE of the four official languages (Mandarin Chinese, Malay, Tamil, or English) in standard form at home, and certainly not the main language of school instruction, English, but Singapore has become part of the "outer circle" of use of English internationally and now maintains a high degree of multilingualism. I hope that all of us here in the United States can do at least that well both in language learning and in mathematics learning in the current generation.

The article "The Singaporean Mathematics Curriculum: Connections to TIMSS"

http://www.merga.net.au/documents/RP182006.pdf

by a Singaporean author explains some of the background to the Singapore math materials and how they approach topics that are foundational for later mathematics study. The key aspect of Singapore's success is a MUCH better curriculum in primary school mathematics than is used in the United States. Homeschoolers in the United States, including quite a few parents of top-scoring students on the American Mathematics Competitions tests, have become aware of the Singapore curriculum materials,

http://www.singaporemath.com/Primary_Mathematics_Stds_Ed_s/1...

and those are generally helpful for American families who are looking for something better than the poorly organized, often mathematically incorrect materials used in United States schools.

Professor Hung-hsi Wu of the University of California--Berkeley has written about what needs to be reformed in United States mathematics education.

http://math.berkeley.edu/~wu/Lisbon2010_4.pdf

http://math.berkeley.edu/~wu/Lisbon2010_2.pdf

http://math.berkeley.edu/~wu/NCTM2010.pdf

http://math.berkeley.edu/~wu/NoticesAMS2011.pdf

http://math.berkeley.edu/~wu/CommonCoreIV.pdf

Other mathematicians who have written interesting articles about mathematics education reform in the United States include Richard Askey,

http://www.aft.org/pdfs/americaneducator/fall1999/amed1.pdf

http://www.math.wisc.edu/~askey/ask-gian.pdf

Roger E. Howe,

http://www.ams.org/notices/199908/rev-howe.pdf

Patricia Kenschaft,

http://www.ams.org/notices/200502/fea-kenschaft.pdf

and

James Milgram.

ftp://math.stanford.edu/pub/papers/milgram/milgram-msri.pdf

ftp://math.stanford.edu/pub/papers/milgram/report-on-cmp.html

All those mathematicians think that the United States could do much better than it does in teaching elementary mathematics in the public school system. I think so too after living in Taiwan twice in my adult life (January 1982 through February 1985, and December 1998 through July 2001). I have seen (and used) the textbooks from Singapore and from Taiwan. They are much more clear in their presentation and much more conceptually accurate than the typical United States textbooks. Moreover, elementary mathematics teachers tend to specialize in teaching mathematics while other elementary teachers teach other subjects, at much younger ages than when United States pupils typically encounter specialist teachers. The United States model of elementary education is to have teachers who are jacks of all trades and masters of none, and who do equally poorly (by reasonable international standards) in teaching reading, mathematics, science, and all other elementary subjects.

The United States could do a lot better and reach the level of Finland by staffing reforms

http://edpro.stanford.edu/hanushek/admin/pages/files/uploads...

and by using best practices

http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Gap-Improving-Education-Class...

in provision of elementary education.


This article contrasts well with the failure of No Child Left Behind in the U.S. That program has failed to deliver any statistically significant impact on the skills and knowledge of students. What is has done is pushed teachers towards teaching the test rather than teaching critical thinking.

Standardized tests are multiple-choice questions and don't leave room for critical thinking, or help demonstration how a child reached a certain conclusion.

The Finnish method of empowering teachers through education and training to allow them to teach and help their particular students seems to be a much better way to help individual students succeed as opposed to trying to stick everyone in a box defined by an academic or bureaucrat.


If you say No Child Left Behind pushed teachers to teach to a test (easy) rather than teaching critical thinking, etc. (hard) and then you say No Child Left Behind failed to deliver any statistically significant impact on test scores, aren't you just saying teachers can't even teach the easy stuff?

How do you think they can teach the hard stuff if they can't even move the needle on the easy things (in this scenario of yours)?


Yes, teaching to a test should be easy, and it is easy to your median 15-year-old. The gigantic problem with NCLB - and something I've not seen mentioned in this HN story - is that NCLB is a one-size-fits-all mandate, and there is NOTHING about education in the US or anywhere that is one-size-fits-all. Hundreds of factors influence the raw material (children) that teachers have to work with every day.

Countries like Finland do not try to graduate all of their children in the same way. 43% of Finland's HS graduates graduate from vocational schools (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/Why-Are-Finlands...). The US has slowly moved further and further away from this type of "tracking" since the 70's. Things like NCLB and the over-valued notion of a college degree has only accelerated this problem. I am not optimistic.


What makes you think teaching to a test is easy? If the sole motivation of teaching is to increase a students score on a narrowly defined set of metrics, how motivated do you think students are going to be? I'm curious because in my experience the hardest learning I've done is when it's been aimed at achieving some hurdle for a narrow externally defined subject.


I enjoy reading about education here in the US, and in other countries. It's all well and good to compare our system to others. But, I can't help but wonder what the chances will be that the system here will ever actually be reformed.


A great education system is a means to an end. The end being the host country gains a great economic engine and generally happy citizens. Does Finland have this? Singapore? South Korea?

Curious not disapproving...


So far the results have been fair. But Finland especially is somewhat prone for brain-drain. All that stuff is paid with hefty, progressive taxation which hurts the most skilled and salaried the most. Combining all the mandatory expenses, taxation etc, your wages easily end up to be less than half of what you could be gaining abroad.

Especially since the level of (tuition-free and gvment-sponsored on all levels) education, language-skills and the weather-back-home makes emigration fairly easy and tempting for most Finns. But so far the system does a pretty good job on keeping competitive. You might end up driving a smaller BMW than your neighbor, but the quality of education, health, stability etc. make it very attractive target for long-term settling down, making kids etc.


I am more familiar with Singapore and from all signs it seems they do not have the brain drain problem so they are capturing more value from the output of their great education system than Finland.


Sure about that? There is a nice graph at http://www.peoplemov.in/ . Don't know about their sources, but Finland and Singapore seem to have around the same amount of emigration/capita (6.2 - 6.3%). Granted, Finns go more to United States and wealthy Europe (probably a bit more weighted towards skilled labor moving...) than singaporeans. But I would not say those levels qualify yet for significant brain drain. From Hong Kong, the percentage is closer to 10% and S-Korea has only around ~5% of emigration.

I said Finland could be fairly prone for brain-drain if stuff would get significantly worse in the future. (Like what is happening at Greece these days.) But right now I'm pretty sure that the progress will be, though not outright good, less bad than most of the world. A safer bet, to say.

And healthy amount of emigration is good for a nation. People go abroad for a few years or decades to make money, gain experience and positive influences and then can bring 'em back home.


Seems == not sure. :) In light of this, it will be very interesting to watch Finland, Singapore and South Korea on a macro level in the coming years.

Another cool data point would be the GDP growth and citizen sentiment over the years.


It's funny that the article starts off criticizing standardized testing but immediately turns to international standardized test results (PISA) as the foundation for the rest of the article. It could well be that Finland has a better educational system, but - playing devil's advocate here - how do we know that it's not just (inadvertently) optimized for the PISA?


Well, the PISA testing started at 2000 and the current Finnish system was established back in the 1970's. Finland has always been pretty much at the top of the class with PISA studies. The fame came mostly as a shock for the nation, as we have always had pretty common lil'brother & grass-is-greener attitudes towards the rest of the world.

Also: the stuff measured by PISA (Math, sciences & reading) is only around 50% of the national curricula. The rest are about foreign languages, arts & excercise, religion, philosphy, history etc... There are more art, craft & music classes than say, mathematics. While wasting less time teaching and learning in classroom than most (http://blog.coreknowledge.org/2010/04/09/less-school-higher-...). If I were to engineer a PISA-breaking education system, I would probably not approach it like that.

(The curricula (.pdf): http://www.minedu.fi/export/sites/default/OPM/Koulutus/yleis...)


Just to be clear, I am not a proponent of standardized-test-based curricula. I just thought it was odd that they used an international standardized test as a basis for criticizing US standardized tests.

The curricula you linked to looks similar to the curricula that my children's schools use. The difference is in how the subjects are taught. I'm old enough to have gone to school before standardized testing was widespread in the US, and since my children go to school near where I grew up, I can compare the quality of education between then and now. The reading and writing requirements today (including vocabulary and grammar), are much weaker than I was exposed to. They rarely even read full books and do in depth reports. Instead, they simply read excerpts from anthologies and write in-class paragraphs. It's pretty sad, because writing teaches you a lot about how to think.

In all, I would say the science curriculum is broader and better. I was dismayed to learn that proofs are no longer taught in math, and I think that may be a result of the test-driven mentality of education.


Well, to quote from this article about Finland (which another commenter has linked to)

"Some testing is thus ultimately necessary, Louhivuori conceded, if only to prove that regular testing is not."

http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/82329/education-reform-F...


"Finnish educators were astonished ... made no sense to them... surprised ... did not understand the idea ... can’t understand ... don’t make sense to them. Nor do they understand ...."

Ignorance and stupidity are nothing to be proud of. Disagreeing with us is one thing - they could be right. Willful disingenuous bug-eyed goggling is something else altogether.


I don't think they are engaged in "willful disingenuous bug-eyed goggling".

I think the author is using the term "didn't understand" as in "I don't understand why you use LOC as a measure of a developer's productivity".

Being a little deliberately obtuse can be nicer, less judgmental, and less confrontational way of disagreeing with someone than saying outright "that's a bad way of doing it". And Finns do tend to avoid social confrontations, in my experience.


Is the Finnish educators' ignorance of the American education system any more a sign of "ignorance and stupidity" than American educators' almost certain ignorance of the Finnish education system?

Given that Finnish educators appear to be doing a better job, I'd argue the latter is the more "ignorant and stupid".


I think the biggest undisputable difference between the Finnish and American systems from the article is their high quality teachers and small engaged classes but I wonder if that is simply a direct result of their having a small population (less than 6mm). I can't see some of these methods (having a master's teach in schools, paying very competitive salaries) scaling well in the American system (more than 60-70mm+). There just aren't those kind of funds available anywhere.

Another thought that comes to mind is if we already know finish teachers are the best, then why don't we use the internet to scale their teaching. It might not be as good as in class teaching but I reckon it would be better than what we have now.


This is a Swedish guy examining the issue, resolves most of the questions in comments here:

"What is so special about education in Finland? An outsider’s view" By Peter Fredriksson in 2006. www.nek.uu.se/StaffPages/Publ/P949.doc

(Sorry, it's a doc file). Results over time (USA has worsened), immigration (it's not about it), underachievers (less of them in Finland).


Something out of whack..

Let me explain...about 24 years ago mid beginning 1980s the testing and tests for pre-engineering was the same level as most HS students face now for non-engineering....

I can remember taking additional tests on top of my HS standards tests to see if I could get qualified to enter engineering college classes..yes this was the USA..

my scores was 98 percentile range..

It would seem the author is comparing apples and oranges to display their political trappings rather than a factual article on what can be compared and contrasted.


The problem is that what works in Finland won't necessarily work elsewhere. For example in Finland teach is a high prestige job in a large part because Finland doesn't have the range or number of alternative professional careers available that countries like the US have.


What is this based on? For someone living in Finland, this seems very far from the truth.


http://www.stat.fi/tup/suoluk/suoluk_tyoelama_en.html

The education sector in Finland employs a disproportionately large number of professionals compared to many other countries. In comparison a male graduate in the uk chosen at random is more likely to be a software developer than a teacher.


I find that hard to believe, but even if true, so what? There are about half as many teachers in the US as there should be right now.


Competition for the top graduates is incredibly tough in many countries. In many countries the education system can't compete with the private sector (in terms of salaries and opportunities) in hiring the best, in Finland the competition is smaller due to fewer opportunities existing for top-tier graduates so they can afford to hire them.


"I was asked about current trends in U.S. education, and Finnish educators were astonished by the idea that our governments intend to evaluate teachers by their students’ test scores; that made no sense to them. They were also surprised that we turn children over to “teachers” who have only a few weeks of training and no masters’ degree. They did not understand the idea of “merit pay.” They are paid more if they do more work for the community, but they can’t understand why teachers should get a bonus to compete with one another for test scores. Since they don’t have comparative test scores for their students, our practices don’t make sense to them. Nor do they understand the benefits of competition among teachers who ought to be collaborating."

This will not last. The anglo corporatist cancer with its insanely frequent "performance reviews" and bogus metrics will eat them alive. Long live exacerbated competitiveness and backstabbing your peers. Long live natural selection and the annual culling of the herd.


Exactly, bogus metrics is one of the core issues here. Measuring the wrong things is worse than not measuring anything.

Importantly, the case of Finland shows that metrics are not required for reaching great results. As the article points out, the proven Finnish alternative is motivated, professional teachers and trust in them.


> ...will eat them alive

Why will it?

> Long live natural selection and the annual culling of the herd.

How does that occur in the Finish model?


Bogus metrics will distract the self-evaluation of the teachers. Further, being paid bonuses or being fired based on bogus metrics makes you afraid of mistakes as opposed to feeling trusted in experimenting with improvements and makes you try to optimise for those metrics as opposed to thinking how to best perform your work.

Natural selection and annual culling of the herd does not happen in Finnish schools - I think the OP was saying this of other systems. Selection does happen when you take the entrance exam for teacher training though.


Mindshare in the global age. Finland is a 5M country. The world is 1000 times larger. They can't go against the tide of globalization. They may have the better product, it doesn't matter. The global mindshare battle is already won by anglo capitalism.


The original comment used "anglo corporatism", which I understand, but why are you hopping to "anglo capitalism"?


Thanks for the attention to terminology detail. The anglo corporation is the finest outcome of the anglo capitalism. If you build a system around anglo capitalist rules, you end up with anglo corporations. The reason is that the anglo capitalism prides itself economic freedom and turns a blind eye to the political aspect of the economy. The fundamental problems with anglo capitalism are:

1. Money, an economic concept, and the freedom to accumulate as much money as one can possibly do, an economic freedom, wield real political power. The political power then acts as a positive feedback over the economic field resulting in an unstable polarized system.

2. The system assumes infinite resources. This is blatantly false both in the short term, economy grows only at X% annually, and in the long term, there is just one Earth and one Sun. This places people on the lower rungs of the economic system on an intrinsic inferior bargaining position, as their very existence is under question. This time the effect is that people on the top ownership rungs have more economic power, which acts as a positive feedback resulting in an unstable polarized system.

Historically, anglo capitalism has been controlled via a number of negative feedback loops:

A. Democracy, as a counterweight to point 1. The 99% used to have a significant share of the political power. Not anymore. There is no more democracy in America, it's a political market where the deepest pockets but the most representatives.

B. Trade unions, as a counterweight to point 1 and 2. Trade unions used to have enough money to match the 1% contributions to politics. Trade unions used to give the 99% some bargaining power. Thanks to Reagan and the modern Republicans, there are no more trade unions to speak of.

C. Taxes, as a counterpoint to 1 and 2. There used to be taxes, that both detracted from the ability of 1% to wield unfettered political power and served at building a safety net that improved the bargaining power of the 99%. Not anymore, we now raise about 25% less in taxes as a share of GDP as we used to (19& -> 15%), and the trend towards "smaller government" is only accelerating.

We observe how the finest anglo capitalism economic entities have more and more power, both economic and politic. These economic entities are called "corporations".




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