Friday, March 12, 2010

What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?

Speaking of other countries and national standards, here's an article about Finland from the WSJ two years ago.

High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don't start school until age 7.

Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world's C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they're way ahead in math, science and reading -- on track to keeping Finns among the world's most productive workers.

So what accounts for Finland's success?  Teachers are drawn from the top 10% of the population, not the bottom third as is the case here: "the profession is highly competitive: More than 40 people may apply for a single job. Their salaries are similar to those of U.S. teachers, but they generally have more freedom."  There are national standards, but teachers and schools can innovate in how to meet them: "Finnish teachers pick books and customize lessons as they shape students to national standards. "In most countries, education feels like a car factory. In Finland, the teachers are the entrepreneurs," says Mr. Schleicher…"


Yet as I pointed out in my email at the time (, the article leaves many questions unanswered:


I found this article about the extraordinary success of Finland's schools interesting but also frustrating because it left so many questions unanswered: Can parents choose which school to send their child to?  Is there competition from private schools and does public money follow the student?  How are principals and teachers evaluated?  Are they unionized?  Is there tenure?  Is there differential pay or is it all seniority driven?  Are good teachers paid more?  Are certain types of teachers (such as math or science) paid more?  How hard is it to identify and remove an ineffective principal or teacher?  Is there good professional development?  What do schools look like in poor or remote areas?  How does Finland attract good teachers to remote areas?

  • FEBRUARY 29, 2008

What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?

Finland's teens score extraordinarily high on an international test. American educators are trying to figure out why.


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