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Topic: [ncsm-members] What it takes to cross the Finnish line
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
[ncsm-members] What it takes to cross the Finnish line
Posted: Apr 20, 2012 3:30 PM
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From TQB Monthly Newsletter, Friday, March 30, 2012, pp. 1-2. See


Pasi Sahlberg's new book Finnish Lessons has garnered considerable
attention, ours included. That Finnish schools lead the pack in
student outcomes is not news, but Sahlberg's thorough examination of
the historical and cultural framework behind the Finnish system makes
for compelling reading for anyone wondering whether U.S. schools
could achieve similar success.

Historically speaking, two key developments of the last 40 years help
account for Finland's current educational progress -- and believe it
or not, they are not well known in spite of all the fawning over

First is the development in the late 1960s of the peruskoulu, or
comprehensive school serving students aged 7 to 16, that replaced
primary, grammar and civic schools. Second, and of more interest to
us, teacher education was overhauled in the late 1970s. Teacher
colleges were literally shut down, replaced by the now highly
renowned competitive teacher preparation programs housed in only
eight Finnish universities. In fact, it is no longer possible to
become a teacher in Finland without a master's degree (kindergarten
teachers excepted), a reform other Nordic nations elected not to
require as they undertook an equally comprehensive set of reforms --
and albeit perhaps coincidentally, haven't seen the same results.

Sahlberg details the substantial differences between the context of
education in Finland and that in other industrialized nations.
Finnish schools do not have to contend with the high rates of
childhood poverty that many U.S. schools do. Finnish students tend to
arrive at peruskoulu with strong literacy skills, not just because of
the lack of poverty, but because 98 percent of all children are
enrolled in preschool. Interestingly, Finnish public schools are
locally controlled and funded, but there are virtually no private or
charter schools competing with them for students.

It's clear, though, that the most important factor in Finland's
recent successes is the strength of its current teacher corps. Only
the top 10 percent of the college-going population is accepted into
its rigorous teacher preparation programs. As a result, being a
teacher confers a great deal of prestige: Finns think having a
teacher as a spouse is at least as good as marrying a doctor or
lawyer. Finland grants its teachers the autonomy to build out the
National Curricular Framework and execute lessons of their own
design. What is most striking is that even though Finns have eschewed
annual standardized tests for students, there is very little
variation in performance among schools. Competition is replaced with
collaboration, accountability with responsibility.

Finnish Lessons provides insight into the historical context which
underlies Finland's educational success. It sounds too good to be
true, and for countries that lack the same degree of social capital,
it may well be. Nonetheless, there's no doubt that all nations could
benefit from taking some pages from Finland's play book.

Finnish Lessons:

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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