Finland’s schools were back in the news recently. For many of us, Finnish education caught our attention in the early 2000s when their schools surprisingly ranked at the top of the PISA test -- Program for International Student Assessment. Since then, Finland has been inundated with seekers from around the world searching for education’s Holy Grail.
I think the implications for improving both public and private schools in the US are fairly clear.
In Finland, they believe education systems shouldn’t be managed like corporations which measure success based on measurement-based accountability and performance-based pay, but rather collegial responsibility. In addition, teaching is not seen as a technical craft, but rather continuous on-the-job training and professional development. Further, education quality shouldn’t be judged by literacy and numeracy test scores alone. They should be designed for both academic AND social-emotional outcomes, with the arts and physical education as important elements of the curriculum.
Here’s a summary of the what I consider the recipe of their secret sauce, cited in a recent article by Washington Post education columnist Valerie Strauss:
1. Finland started with a vision and a roadmap in 2014: A national core curriculum (NCC) to provide a common direction for renewing school education and instruction based on creating a safe and collaborative school culture and to promote holistic approaches in teaching and learning.
2. The NCC states that the specific aim at the school level is that children would:
a. Understand the relationship and interdependencies between different learning contents.
b. Be able to combine the knowledge and skills learned in different disciplines to form meaningful wholes.
c. Be able to apply knowledge and use it in collaborative learning settings.
3. Schools therefore have a lot of flexibility and autonomy in curriculum design, and there may be significant variation in school curricula from one place to another.
4. Finally, because of this decentralized nature of authority in Finnish education system, schools in Finland can have different profiles and practical arrangements making the curriculum model unique in the world.
Seems to me that the key is to have a national vision and roadmap, then leave it up to each school to determine the best way to achieve it. Reminds me of the success and continuing potential of independent schools here at home. Not all independent schools subscribe to Finland's approach, but I guess that’s the point: flexibility and autonomy should rule. But make no mistake: we need a guiding vision, and this is a feature of most independent schools. Trump's and Betsy DeVos' Department of Education is certainly not providing that, totally abandoning public education which is the glue that held us all together as a culture in my lifetime.
There is potential for our schools to better prepare our students for the world they will inherit. The Finnish approach gets results -- and is an aspirational plan that shines a light in a direction that could improve public and private schools alike here in the United States.