Looking to Finland

Here’s a recent USA Today editorial offering a useful reminder on the importance of continuing to look outside our borders for inspiration.  As the editorial reports, the U.S. ranks a dismal 32rd in math achievement, which does not bode well for a future in which many of the new jobs over the next two decades will be found in science, engineering, and technology – fields that require extensive math education.  Education reformers would do well to take notice of Finland’s extensive efforts at education reform:

Finnish schools frequently employ a second teacher in the classroom to focus on the struggling students. This allows those students to get specialized attention while remaining in the same class as their peers.

Most remarkably, Finland appears to have solved the problem of teacher burnout that plagues our system. In the USA, roughly half of all new teachers quit in their first five years. Too many of those remaining lose their passion for the profession but are almost impossible to fire.

Finland avoids this by getting the best teachers and giving them tools they need to thrive. It subsidizes the education of would-be teachers, helping to attract bright students who can begin their careers debt-free. It then puts them through a battery of tests, training seminars and internships to make sure that they are ready before they step into the classroom.

Finland’s restructuring of their education system has been both comprehensive and dramatic.  But they must be getting something right.  And their effort to ensure the recruitment (and retention) of quality classroom teachers appears to be paying dividends.  A host of organizations are currently wrestling with the most effective classroom and systemic reforms.  Here’s hoping that teacher quality remains an essential element of any serious reform effort.

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