in the collection
Why Finnish Schools Score #1 and What Our Corporate Politicos Could Learn--If They Wanted To
Here's the full article (no longer available at the LA Times website):
EVERYTHING I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN HELSINKI
By W. Norton Grubb
Los Angeles Times
June 5, 2005
One of the many complaints about schooling is that we are failing to
prepare students for the technical demands of the global economy. We
import computer specialists from India, outsource our engineering and
fear China and its competitive education system.
Meanwhile, the U.S. ranks about average on math and science tests
administered to 15-year-olds in 41 countries by the Program for
International Student Assessment, or PISA.
Our literacy scores are also average, and highly unequal. California
is worse. Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress,
the "nation's report card," place us 47th in eighth-grade math and
tied for last in both science and reading. This kind of performance
doesn't prepare us for the global economy.
The decline of California's education system has taken several
decades, and so will a revival. The nation - and California - will
have to spend more on education, schools and personnel, but it also
desperately needs a vision and a stable plan to guide this investment.
I have just returned from studying Finland's education system.
According to PISA scores, this country of 5 million people ranks
second (to South Korea) in math, third (to Japan and South Korea) in
science and first in literacy by a substantial margin. Variations
among Finnish students on these tests were the lowest or near the
To accomplish this, Finland has developed interlocking practices that
foster both high and equitable performance. If a student starts
falling behind his peers or grade norms, the teacher works with him
one on one, or in small groups. Another approach involves a school
assistant who may sit beside the student in class to provide help and
encouragement, or work one on one or in small groups with him. The
third approach involves a special-needs teacher - not a
special-education teacher, but a credentialed teacher with additional
preparation in learning difficulties. The fourth line of attack is to
send in a multidisciplinary team, including school personnel, social
workers, representatives of the health and mental health systems as
necessary and perhaps individuals from public housing. If non-school
problems are solved by other professionals, teachers are free to
concentrate on instruction.
This four-pronged approach depends on other features of the Finnish
system: Small class sizes and small schools make it easier to
diagnose learning problems. Teachers keep the same students for
several years and get to know them. Thorough training develops
teachers with expertise in their subject matter and pedagogical
alternatives. A strong welfare system - nutrition, housing,
healthcare and family services - complements schooling.
The Finns do not rely on excessive low-level testing, as the U.S.
does. They have explicitly rejected the "naming and shaming" that
goes on in American schools through the publishing of test scores.
Test scores are never made public. They are used for diagnosis and
improvement only, not for invidious comparisons or to excoriate
teachers, demean students or identify the worst performing groups.
Obviously, California cannot simply copy Finnish values and
practices, or its small size, or its strong welfare state. But it can
use some of its educational practices as guides. Until we start
moving in this direction, California and the nation will lag behind
our competitors in subjects crucial to the global economy, and our
children will be left behind.
Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times
FAIR USE NOTICE
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.