How Finland Reached the Top of the Educational Rankings

Many people these days are pointing to Finland as the world’s top success story in student achievement. So what’s their secret?

In the latest issue of NEA Today magazine, we feature an excerpt from a book by Stanford University scholar Linda Darling-Hammond that tells the Finnish story. Basically, Darling-Hammond explains, Finland did the opposite of what we’re doing in America.

In the 1970s, reports Darling-Hammond, Finland’s student achievement was low. But in the decades since, they have steadily upgraded their education system until now they’ve reached the top.

What’s more, they took what was once a wide achievement gap between rich and poor, and reduced it until it’s now smaller than in nearly all other wealthy nations.

Here’s how:

* They got rid of the mandated standardized testing that used to tie teachers’ hands.

* They provide social supports for students including a free daily meal and free health care.

* They upgraded the teaching profession. Teachers now take a three-year graduate school preparation program, free and with a stipend for living expenses. In Finland, you don’t go into debt to become a teacher.

* The stress on top-quality teaching continues after teachers walk into their schools. Teachers spend nearly half of their time in school in high-level professional development, collaborative planning, and working with parents.

These changes have attracted more people to the teaching profession — so many that only 15 percent of applicants are accepted.

The Finns trust their teachers, Darling-Hammond reports. They used to have prescriptive curriculum guides running over 700 pages. Now the national math curriculum is under 10 pages.

With the support of the knowledge-based business community (think Nokia), Finnish schools focus on 21st century skills like creative problem-solving, not test prep.