21st century, achievement gap, alternative, American, children, classrooms, economy, education, finland, free, freedom, learning, policy, politics, rankings, reform, schools, social change, social welfare, standardized, student, teacher, teaching, test, U.S., welfare
So Finland has been ranked #1 in the world for literacy, math, and science. However, this was not always the case. In the 1970s, Finland was an agrarian society that scored low in global education rankings. However, the country was not ready to settle for this as a reality. Finland realized that a changing economy equated to a changing education system. They decided to switch to a knowledge-based society. Radically restructuring their education system meant implementing an integrative approach that included the following:
- Creating a National Standard
- Getting rid of standardized tests
- Integrating students of all ability types into one classroom (gifted learning with remedial)
- Putting 3 teachers in the classroom. The third teacher working exclusively with struggling students
- Requiring all teachers to have masters degrees
- Treating the teacher as the professional.
I think the last point is especially key so I will restate it in all caps:
TEACHERS ARE TREATED AS PROFESSIONALS
Finland has a distinct culture of trusting teachers to do their jobs, and to do them well. Essentially, the country created these national standards and told teachers: “These are the concepts your students should learn but it’s up to you how they learn it.” No 700 page teaching manuals to abide by. Also, compared to the U.S., Finnish teachers spend only 50 percent of their time teaching. Some may ask: “Well if they’re not teaching what the hell are they doing?”
They are lesson planning, reflecting on successes and failures, action planning, meeting with parents, and collaborating with other teachers. And get this: they have offices! In Finland, teaching is seen as a highly esteemed profession, similar to that of a doctor or lawyer. For all people who apply to teaching program, only 15 percent will actually enter the classroom. The teaching profession is treated like the big deal that it is.
I know some people would argue, “OK that’s Finland, but who cares? We’re not some small, homogenous Scandinavian country, we’re America.” True, Finland’s political, economic, and cultural landscape is quite different. However, I wonder what would happen if we implemented some of these practices in the U.S. Could you honestly say we would see no progress?
What if U.S. schools had:
- 3 respected teachers with masters degrees who had significant prep time along with use of their creativity.
- No standardized tests to freak out about.
- One National Standard to refer to (P.S. we currently have 50 state standards.)
- Teachers splitting their time between instruction, planning ,and reflection. (another fun fact, Finnish students receive less instructional classroom time than any other developed country in the world.)
Yes I realize Finland is a social welfare state, something our country cringes to be associated with.
Welfare=lazy, stupid, moochers…(well except for FHA loans during the New Deal. That was different.)
But I digress. Yes, we might need to have a political and economic system that genuinely supports the success of All of our nation’s children BUT….
Can’t we start somewhere? Can’t we start by treating our teachers as dignified professionals rather than incompetent technocrats? Why not put 3 strong and qualified teachers in the classroom (p.s. Finland spends less dollars per child in their school system so money is not an excuse.) And do we really need all of these damn tests?
Just things I’m mulling over on this Friday morning.