Opinion: Is the Secret to Finnish Schools Finns or Is There Something for America to Learn?

Judy Hartnett's picture
Thursday, January 26, 2012

When shown successful school reform models elsewhere in the world, politicians and educators alike often scoff that there are no lessons for America.

I am on my way to the General Assembly for the morning rally for school choice and the late afternoon hearing on HOPE.

Going to the Legislature is always a bit depressing because so many legislators focus on a single “fix” for schools. Of late, the fix of the day at the Legislature has been school choice, mostly through expanding charter school options but also through providing vouchers.

What always surprises me about the education reform debate in the General Assembly is that it never looks outward at what is succeeding elsewhere. It fixates on a few magic bullets rather than on a cohesive and comprehensive reform approach.

When shown successful school reform models elsewhere in the world, politicians and educators alike often scoff that there are no lessons for America.

So, in mentioning the remarkable ascent of Finnish schools from historic mediocrity to world dominance, I expect to be told that Finland’s schools are full of focused Finns, and the U.S. can never hope to duplicate the successful data of a Finland or a Canada or a Singapore.

“My experience is that American educators have a list as long as my arm of reasons why this data is irrelevant, totally irrelevant,” said Marc S. Tucker, author of “Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World’s Leading Systems,” at a recent Education Week panel.

“These other countries educate just a few and we educate everyone. The sampling procedures are clearly wrong. They are totally homogeneous country. We are very diverse,” he said, ticking off the common excuses.

“There is no truth to most of these points, but there is enough conviction among American educators that they are true that they pay no attention at all. We have to get beyond that,” said Tucker, CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy.

Read more »