Many educators who are frustrated by U.S. educational trends – including some commentators on this blog – point to Finland as a model we might considering following. Finnish students do not take standardized tests until graduation, yet they score very high on international examinations such as PISA ( Program for International Student Assessment.) Moreover, most Finnish students graduate from either an academic or a vocational high school.
Finnish teachers have considerable leeway to design lesson plans and assessments, albeit within the structure of a national curriculum. Finland also recruits its teachers from among its top university graduates: A teaching career is both sought after and admired.
It’s an interesting model, and I agree that Finnish education deserves a closer look. But there are some elements of the Finnish system that might give some teachers pause . . . and all of us food for thought.
First, that final test is a biggie. Fewer than a third of Finnish students go on to university, and university admission is determined almost entirely by a single matriculation test.
Perhaps in part because of these high stakes,
“while there are no standardized tests in grades 1-9, there are many internal assessments and pressures in the upper secondary school. As Sahlberg [a researcher who has published a much-cited book on Finnish education reform] notes on p. 25, teachers assess student achievement at the end of each 6-7 week period, or five or six times per subject per school year. Further, the high-stakes matriculation examination, paid for by student fees and often retaken for a higher score by students determined to get a place at a university, has a “notable effect on curriculum and instruction.”
(The source is actually a review of Sahlberg’s book, written by an education professor at the University of Arkansas.) Here’s the link:
Tests also have a lot to do with who becomes a teacher. From the same book review:
Now let’s look at those who become teachers. As all sources indicate, they must be graduates of an academic high school. They must get a place at a university (which means they are in the top 9% of their grade 9 cohort). Those who seek to teach grades 1-6 must complete a five-year program at a university consisting of a three-year BA degree program, followed by a research-based two-year M.Ed. degree program, both in the Department of Educational Sciences. Those who seek to teach a subject in grades 7-12 complete a program lasting from five to over seven years. The longer program consists of a three-year BA degree program with a major in the subject, a master’s degree program in the subject, both under the auspices of faculty in the arts and sciences, and a research-based M.Ed. degree.
I think many teachers would embrace more demanding criteria for entering the profession. But let’s not fool ourselves. This would require a seismic shift in our university education schools. Right now, alas, education majors rank at or near the bottom in SAT/ACT scores, and education courses notoriously lack rigor – as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, among others, laments. (See the link below.)
So yes, we probably have a lot to learn from Finland. But are we really ready for the lesson?