Please take a moment to view the new SCEE featured video clip of The Finland Phenomenon.
The recently released documentary follows Harvard professor and fellow at the Center of Technology and Entrepreneurship, Tony Wagner, as he visits several schools in Finland to meet with current teachers, prospective teachers, students, education professors, and education administrators. The film paints a picture of a nation-wide education system that is radically different from our own and offers a behind-the-scenes look into how Finland's education system works. Considering that the United Nations ranks Finland as #1 in education and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranks Finland as one of the top systems in education, while the U.S. is ranked as average overall, the documentary raises engaging questions for American educators.
The film posits that one of the keys to Finland's success is strong and competitive teacher preparation. Admissions to Finnish teacher preparation programs are highly competitive; prospective students must earn high marks in their matriculation exams, pass a rigorous entrance exam and undergo an interview. Only 10% of applicants are accepted into the programs. As part of the teacher preparation program, prospective teachers earn a BA and MA in their subject and/or pedagogy, completing five years of college-level classes and training. In addition, the students observe master teachers and then prepare lessons and teach in front of a panel of other prospective teachers, professors, and master teachers.
Teaching is a desirable career in Finland and teacher preparation programs can afford to be both selective and demanding. According to the film, Finnish teachers earn salaries similar to other college graduates, quickly receive tenure, and are members of strong unions. In 2008, the average salary of a teacher in Finland was 13% lower than other college graduates; the average salary of a teacher in America at the same time was 40% lower than other college graduates. The film states that the average teacher in the United States leaves the profession after five years, and the average teacher in Finland remains to retirement.
In Finland, professional collaboration is a key to growth for both prospective and seasoned teachers. In fact, teachers in Finland actually spend less time with students than their U.S. counterparts in order to spend more time in joint professional reflection on student work. Finnish teachers spend around 600 hours teaching while US teachers spend around 1,000 hours teaching; this leaves a significant amount of time for Finnish teachers to spend working collaboratively. A 2010 policy brief from the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education recommends that American teachers follow the lead of Finnish teachers and spend at least 10 hours each week working collaboratively. The brief found that teachers in Finland collaborate in several key ways, meeting one afternoon each week to plan and develop curriculum as a team, working together on research and professional development planning, and working on teams with administrators to discuss curriculum, textbooks, assessments, professional growth, and budgeting.
Finnish officials in the film stress that having trust in teachers to perform at a high level and to manage their own classrooms is the driving force behind teacher success - in short, teachers are successful educators because they hold themselves and their colleagues accountable for educating their students. This is reminiscent of Richard Elmore's construction of internal and external accountability as key factors to consider when planning for reform. Elmore's definition of "internal accountability" is closely related to the idea of accountability Finnish education professionals describe in the film: "coherence and alignment among individuals' conceptions of what they are responsible for and how, collective expectations at the organizational level, and processes by which people within the organization account for what they do. Internal accountability precedes and determines all school responses to their external environment."
Indeed, just as Finnish students undergo very little testing, teachers are not subject to formal review processes, either. Instead, their performance reviews occur in ongoing, job-embedded ways as teachers work together to solve specific problems of practice in their day-to-day instructional settings.
Clearly, there are major differences and similarities in U.S. and Finnish school systems. What do you think about the way Finland organizes and supports teaching? How it is different in your state? As states look to reform teacher preparation and evaluation, how do we create processes that promote a culture of collaboration and internal accountability?
The Finnish National Board of Education. (December 2010) Teachers and educational staff. Retrieved from http://www.oph.fi/english.education/teachers
Aho, E., Pitkanen, K. and P. Sahlberg. (May 2006) Policy Development and Reform Principles of Basic and Secondary Educaiton in Finland Since 1968. Education Unit at the World Bank. Retrieved from http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EDUCATION/Resources/278200-1099079877269/547664-1099079967208/Education_in_Finland_May06.pdf
Bob Kronish. (June 2011) Education, Innovation, Infrastructure - The Resurgence: Part IV. Retrieved from http://bobkronish.blogspot.com
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2008) Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators 2008. Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/document/9/0,3746,en_2649_35961291_41266761_1_1_1_1,00.html
Andree, A., Darling-Hammond, S. and Chung Wei, R. (August 2010) How High-Achieving Countries Develop Great Teachers. Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education~Research Brief. Retrieved from http://edpolicy.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/publications/how-high-achieving-countries-develop-great-teachers.pdf
Costante, K. (Summer 2010) Leading the Instructional Core: An Interview with Richard Elmore. In Conversation, Volume II (Issue 3). Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/leadership/Summer2010.pdf