I have just read a very good article given to me by Mr. Jared Kuleck, one of our fifth grade teachers. I appreciate (and enjoy) the professional conversations that result from sharing articles and books with colleagues. This particular article discusses the educational system in Finland. For those of you who have a life and don’t read about educational issues all of the time, Finland is every educational policy maker’s “darling” right now. Regardless of where one comes from the political field, it seems that all agree about what a great job Finland is doing educating it’s kids. This particular article attempts to understand the “why” of Finland’s success.
The article is written by a famous educator, Professor Linda Darling-Hammond from Stanford University. In the article she posits that two areas of reform within the educational system created the Finnish success. The first area was that the government decentralized education. Finland went from a highly centralized system where a national curriculum must be followed to a system where the national curriculum is simply a guide for the local areas to follow. In a related policy change, Finland also deemphasized mass testing of students (you do not need the testing if you do not have to “check” on the curriculum). These two policy changes were implemented to give more local control of education to communities. The second area of change was to create a teaching cadre that is well trained. The government encouraged college graduates to go into teaching by paying for graduate school and giving the teachers a stipend while they continued their education. Educators also have much more say in their continued professional development. In other words, the teachers help decide what they will learn from year to year to help students achieve. The end result of this professionalization of teaching was that decentralization was more effective. The government trusted the local schools to make good educational decisions and the government did not have to monitor the system. This is a refreshing idea which is NOT the way in which the United States operates its school system.
There is a lot that all of us can learn from good examples. Finland does many things right. Here at RASD the school district has spent a lot of energy to align professional development with needs expressed by teachers. These needs are focused on improving student achievement. Although the school system must operate in a educational system that is increasingly centralized and “top down”, the district attempts to create a local imprint everything that we are required to do by the state and national educational policy makers.