Good schools: How to do it. It’s the teachers, stupid!
Worth a read: Our friends in the north, a thought-provoking article in the Economist that explores the policies and philosophies that make the education system in Finland “the best in the world.”
Finnish schools are compared to schools in Sweden and it’s interesting to read about the successes and struggles of a national voucher model, market-based school systems, personalized curricula, segregated versus mainstream special education policies, and differing beliefs about the purpose of a public education system.
But of most interest to me, and the reason Finnish schools are so good: Teacher recruitment and quality of instruction. As noted by a professor of pedagogy at Helsinki’s teacher-training facility, “The root of the Finnish education system’s success is its extraordinary ability to attract the very best young people into teaching: Only around 10% of applicants are accepted for teacher training.”
At the National Board of Education, I ask Irmeli Halinen what other countries should learn from Finland. The most important lesson, she says, is to develop excellent initial training for teachers. Second, start education late and gently—Finnish children are seven before they start formal school. And she offers a third lesson: “We don’t waste energy or money or time on inspections or national testing.”
The ministry of education is “obsessed” with maintaining and improving the status of educators as an elite and respected group in Finnish society. Says its minster, “We will do anything possible to keep the profession attractive.”
I’d love to hear the same commitment from U.S. representatives, legislators, and policy makers. But even if we increased teacher recruitment and retention efforts, drawing teachers and administrators from a select pool of the smartest and highest-achieving college graduates, how much more would students learn? Teacher quality, while a necessary (and even if the most important) input for a public school, is just one piece of the dynamic and complicated education puzzle. Students and their families have to buy into and believe in the system… They have to believe that education will empower them to achieve their own best promises.
Do our schools help to lift-up the children of low-income families? It’s a complicated question that the concept of “inter-generational income elasticity” makes a bit more messy. This is “the technical term for the correlation between people’s income and that of their parents.”
In the United States, parental income is a major influence on earning. It is difficult for children to move among — especially up — economic classes. In Finland, inter-generational income elasticity is low, meaning, “Finns trust teachers and schools… and for a reason.” A strong education system makes economic ladder climbing easy. “What Finnish schools do is genuinely effective.”
How is this possible? High standards of success from all students:
“Between-student” variation in Finland is extremely low, meaning a narrow gap between the scores of the most able and least able groups. This trick is easy to pull off if standards are uniformly low, but Finland’s average is the world’s highest, meaning it does almost unbelievably well by its weakest students.
How are high standards achieved? Not by mandated national or state testing. But by getting the best and brightest people to work in education.
Finland’s secret is simple: its teachers are so highly regarded that the very best young people compete for this coveted job. The successful few study for at least five years and are actually taught how to teach (you would be surprised how rare this is on teacher-training courses). And then, once they start work, their students pay attention and work hard (when I asked Finns whether there were some families who despised education and resented schools, they seemed puzzled by the question).
I have seen what works. But I don’t know how my country—where anti-intellectualism is rife, and where, sadly, all too often those who can’t do, teach—could replicate it.
Hat tip to MH for the link.
Entry filed under: etc, think. Tags: between student variation, education, Finland, Finnish schools, inter-generational income elasticity, international education, pedagogy, philosophy of education, schools, standards, Sweden, teacher quality, teacher recruitment, teacher retention, testing, vouchers.