I have been reading about Finland’s public school system for a number of years. Year after year, it is ranked near the top of school systems throughout the world (Schwab, 2016). Many people have asked, “Why?” and what can we (educational leaders in my country) do in order to emulate or exceed this success. See the video, Finland’s Formula for School Success (Edutopia, 1/25/2012).

If it were easy to emulate Finland’s successful approach, I believe it would have been done in many different school districts and school systems. My conclusion is that we can learn from Finland’s school system, but that its core reasons for success are not easily replicated.

Diane Ravitch’s Blog

Diane Ravitch writes a widely read blog about education (Ravitch, 2016). Quoting from the Wikipedia (Wikipedia, n.d.):

Diane Silvers Ravitch (born July 1, 1938) is a historian of education, an educational policy analyst, and a research professor at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Previously, she was a U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education.

While she originally supported No Child Left Behind (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_Child_Left_Behind) and charter schools (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_school), Ravitch later became "disillusioned," and wrote, "I no longer believe that either approach will produce the quantum improvement in American education that we all hope for." On her blog, she often cited low-performing charters, frauds, corruption, incompetent charter operators, exclusionary policies practiced by charters, and other poor results that diverted funding from public schools into private hands. High-stakes testing, "utopian" goals, "draconian" penalties, school closings, privatization, and charter schools didn't work, she concluded. "The best predictor of low academic performance is poverty—not bad teachers."

Diane Ravich’s Blog About Finland’s Schools

The following quote from Diane Ravitch provides a short summary of why Finland’s school system is so good (10/1/2016).

What’s their education secret? According to Fulbright Scholar and part-time Finland resident, university lecturer and public school dad William Doyle, it’s not just Finland’s culture, or its size and demographics, which are similar to some two thirds of American states. Says Doyle, “Finland has the most professionalized, the most evidence-based, and the most child-centered primary school system in the world.” Those three foundations, says Doyle, can inspire and be adapted by any school system in the world. He adds, “Until the United States decides to respect and train its teachers like Finland does (a highly selective masters degree program specializing in research and classroom practice, with two years of in-class training and maximum autonomy once they graduate), we have little hope of improving our schools.” emphasis.]

Please note that Finland has no charters, no vouchers, no Teach for Finland, and very low levels of child poverty. Grades K-9 are free of standardized testing. Children have recess after every class. Academic studies do not begin until age 7. Before then, play is the curriculum. [Bold added for emphasis.]

Comments from David Moursund

Ravitch’s comment misses one very important point. There is very little poverty in Finland. Contrast that with the United States in which a large percentage of children live in poverty conditions. Quoting from my IAE Blog entry, Hungry Children—America’s Shame (5/1/2014):

I have written about Finland’s schools in several previous IAE Blog entries. See, for example:

… one of the findings of those who compare Finnish education with U.S. education is that preservice teachers in Finland are all educated in the top research universities in the country. “Teachers in Finland are well-trained and highly respected, and recruited from the top 10% of graduates.” (Moursund, 6/29/2014).

“When Finland’s leaders sought to improve their students’ academic performance, they instituted measures that included reducing class size, boosting teachers’ salaries, and eliminating standardized testing. Teaching is now a highly sought after profession in Finland, and Finnish students top the world in academic performance.” (Moursund, 8/19/2011.)

In comparison to the United States and many other industrialized nations, the Finns have implemented a radically different model of educational reform—based on a balanced curriculum and professionalization, not testing. Not only do Finnish educational authorities provide students with far more recess than their U.S. counterparts—75 minutes a day in Finnish elementary schools versus an average of 27 minutes in the U.S.—but they also mandate lots of arts and crafts, more learning by doing, rigorous standards for teacher certification, higher teacher pay, and attractive working conditions (Moursund, 1/30/2011).

What You Can Do

Here are some topics to work on. None can be easily accomplished.

  1. Teacher preparation system, pay level, and working conditions that help ensure teachers are very well-prepared, high-level, well-respected professionals.
  2. Reduce emphasis on testing. REduce teaching to the tests and preparing for the tests.
  3.  Emphasize better balance in developing the physical, cognitive, and emotional capabilities of students.
  4.  Reduce poverty, and place special emphasis on reducing hunger among children.

References and Resources

Edutopia (1/25/2012). Finland’s formula for school success. (Video, 6:08.) Retrieved 10/15/2016 from http://www.edutopia.org/video/finlands-formula-school-success-education-everywhere-series.

Moursund, D. (6/29/2014). Adequacy of teacher preparation. IAE Blog. retrieved 10/15/2016 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/adequacy-of-teacher-preparation.html.

Moursund, D. (5/1/2014). Hungry children–America’s shame. IAE Blog. Retrieved 10/15/2016 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/hungry-children-america-s-shame.html.

Moursund, D. (8/19/2011). What’s the hurry? Show me the research! IAE Blog. Retrieved 10/15/2016 from http://i-a-e.org/component/easyblog/entry/what-s-the-hurry-show-me-the-research.html?Itemid=58.

Moursund, D. (1/30/2011) Education in Finland and the United States. IAE Blog. Retrieved 10/15/2016 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/education-in-finland-and-the-united-states.html.

Ravitch, D. (2016). Diane Ravitch’s Blog. Retrieved 10/15/2016 from https://dianeravitch.net/.

Ravitch, D. (10/1/2016). World Economic Forum names Finland’s public schools the best in the world. Retrieved 10/15/2016 from https://dianeravitch.net/2016/10/01/world-economic-forum-names-finlands-public-schools-the-best-in-the-world/.

Schwab, K. (2016). The Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017. World Economic Forum. Retrieved 10/15/2016 from http://www3.weforum.org/docs/GCR2016-2017/05FullReport/TheGlobalCompetitivenessReport2016-2017_FINAL.pdf.

Wikipedia (n.d.). Diane Ravitch. Retrieved 10/15/2016 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diane_Ravitch.