The speaker who I found most fascinating, however, was Anu Partanen, a journalist and author of “What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success.” If you haven’t read this article, it’s worth taking the time. Finland is outpacing the US in education success, and their model is quite different from our own. Many of their practices are easy to digest for me; they are what I regularly advocate. But some are frankly more uncomfortable. Although no model will fit every culture, there are points to consider and examine, and I will share some of the more intriguing ones here:
- Finland does not give their kids standardized tests.
- Individual schools have curriculum autonomy; individual teachers have classroom autonomy.
- It is not mandatory to give students grades until they are in the 8th grade.
- All teachers are required to have a master’s degree.
- Finland does not have a culture of negative accountability for their teachers. According to Partanen, “bad” teachers receive more professional development; they are not threatened with being fired.
- Finland has a culture of collaboration between schools, not competition. Most schools, according to Partanen, perform at the same level, so there is no status in attending a particular facility.
- Finland has no private schools.
- Education emphasis is “equal opportunity to all.” They value equality over excellence.
- A much higher percentage of Finland’s educational budget goes directly into the classroom than it does in the US, as administrators make approximately the same salary as teachers. This also makes Finland’s education more affordable than it is in the US.
- Finnish culture values childhood independence; one example: children mostly get themselves to school on their own, by walking or bicycling, etc. Helicopter parenting isn’t really in their vocabulary.
- Finnish schools don’t assign homework, because it is assumed that mastery is attained in the classroom.
- Finnish schools have sports, but no sports teams. Competition is not valued.
- The focus is on the individual child. If a child is falling behind, the highly trained teaching staff recognizes this need and immediately creates a plan to address the child’s individual needs. Likewise, if a child is soaring ahead and bored, the staff is trained and prepared to appropriately address this as well.
- Partanen correlated the methods and success of their public schools to US private schools. We already have a model right here at home.
- Compulsory school in Finland doesn’t begin until children are 7 years old.
- Top Ten List for Reluctant Teacher-Transformers
- Real Education is Relevant
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- Real Education is Transformative
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- The Finland Phenomenon - a film about schools
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TEDxDirigo - Alan Lishness - Indigenous Innovation: How Small Places can Change the World (by TEDxTalks)
Education is a big conversation. The narrative is filled with buzz words: teacher accountability, AYP, NCLB, high-stakes tests, charter schools, and on and on. Sometimes it gets so heady and academic that I believe that no one truly understands what is being said anymore. The conversation has moved so far away from the basic interaction of adults and children trying to do their best together, that to me it is often meaningless.
Thankfully, every once in awhile (and far more often here on the Co-op) people come along and make sense of the jargon and nuances such that most everyone can say, “oh, okay, I get it now.” And then people can actually organize to put worthy ideas to work. Alan Lishness, Chief Innovation Officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, recently did that at TEDxDirigo.
His talk lays plain what Finland is doing in their education system and how we can apply it in places like Maine, my home state, as well as across the United States. He makes it so clear that we are headed in the wrong direction that it demands a national “time out” in our conversation about education reform, a hanging of our heads in humility, and starting over with a fresh set of values and frames for the conversation. I sincerely hope this happens and ask that you please share this talk far and wide, in addition to discussing it thoroughly below.”