Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Best Educational System In The World, And How We Can Have It, Too

I am accustomed to truly bizarre statements being made by the callers when I am watching C-SPAN's Washington Journal.  However, I simply could not allow the statements made by one truly misinformed individual to go unanswered. During a discussion of how to improve American education, a caller made the following statement:

Finland has a decentralized, consumer driven model where where they use vouchers and local autonomy to direct education.
If you know anything about Finland's educational system, you know that this is a statement which is roughly equivalent to stating that in Germany the economy is doing well because they still maintain plantations where slaves grow and harvest cotton. Germany never had such a system. Germany certainly does not possess such a system now. And the Finnish education system is almost the exact opposite of everything this man thinks it is.

Which leads me to wonder where he got such bizarre misinformation. I suppose it could be FOXNews. But who knows?

I suspect it is more likely that he assumes Finland is doing those things because he has decided that they will magically work. Since he knows the magic formula (or, at least, believes he does) he assumes that a highly successful system such as Finland's must be using the methods that he knows will magically work. This is of course totally wrong.

It would be like saying I know that blowing your nose on paper napkins rather than Kleenex prevents cancer. I then find that there is a city in which cancer rates are unusually low. Therefore, without any further fact checking, I assume that everyone in that town must be blowing their noses on napkins rather than Kleenex. After all, how else could you explain the success in keeping cancer rates low?

Just to cover a few of the areas:

1.  Much of education is far more centralized in Finland than in the United States, but only in some ways. Most importantly, their system is a function of the national government and it controls many essentials such as the certification of teacher education programs which are not under the control of the US government. After all, in America, education is a function the state governments.

However, the caller was partially correct in that the national government of Finland has wisely delegated much control to local levels, including giving principals and teachers strong control over their own schools.

Therefore, the Finnish system is BOTH more centralized and less centralized than ours.  It depends upon which area you are discussing.

2.  There are virtually no voucher schools or charter schools in Finland. The creation of such a school is highly controversial and is generally regarded as damaging and negative to the nation's children. 

3.  Yes, parents are very involved in education, but they do not control education as parents do in America through local school board elections.

4. Finnish educators do not believe in homework.

5. Finnish educators regard the arts as critical to a child's education. These programs have not been cut back severely, as they have in the United States.

6. Finnish children get far more recess time then do their American counterparts.

I can go on and on but I've already addressed this in the following blog posts:

Interesting Link:

Anyone interested in factual data should click the link above. It lists many of the the things Finns are doing correctly in their schools. The authors say that the schools are decentralized, but as I pointed out above, this is simplistic.  They are more centralized in some ways, while less centralized in others.

Further, the authors don't mention a couple of matters which they should have included.  First, retention is very rare in Finnish schools. And second, charter schools and voucher systems are not used in Finland. Third, schools are non-competitive. Teachers don't compete with other teachers, children don't compete with other children, school districts don't compete with other school districts. The entire focus of the entire school system is on the benefit of, to, and for the children

Excerpt From A Reference Article:

-- School Management and Organization

The Ministry of Education and Culture oversees all publicly funded education, including the development of the national core curriculum through The Finnish National Board of Education and the accreditation of teacher training programs. Below the national level, Regional State Administrative Agencies and Centres for Economic Development oversee education.

At the local level, the authority comes from the Regional State Administrative Agencies and the Centres for Economic Development. The local government is responsible for providing basic education (grades 1-9) in 3,100 schools, 45% of which teach fewer than 100 students. However, larger schools exist, with the largest comprehensive schools enrolling more than 900 students. For upper secondary education, the Ministry of Education and Culture provides licenses to local authorities, municipal authorities and registered associations and foundations to establish schools.

Schools are managed by the teachers and staff. The local municipal authority in any given region appoints principals for six- or seven-year terms, but apart from this appointment, they largely leave the running of the school to the principal and his or her teachers. Principals are responsible for managing the school staff, ensuring the well-being and success of the students, and managing the school budget, although they do this generally in collaboration with the teachers. --


Final note: in a previous version of this post I stated that the central government was responsible for teacher certification. This is not correct. Only universities may issue teaching licenses in Finland. However, one of the functions of the central government is the certification of the teacher programs offered at those universities.  Once accepted into such a program, the potential educator receives his training at government expense.

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