The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

Surpassing Shanghai Chapter 2

As part of the collaboration between #edfocus and the Principal Center, I am facilitating a book group on “Surpassing Shanghai.” Posts intended for responses will be found on my blog, as well as on the Principal Center. Feel free to contribute to the learning.

Surpassing Shanghai – Chapter 2 “Finland”

A quick summary:

*Please note that I numbered the summary points, please note the number of the question you are responding to below.

  1. Education reform in Finland is characterized as slow and steady.
  2. The gap between the top and bottom performing students is very small.
  3. Finland became a country in 1917. Their education system reforms largely began in the 1940s. In 1963, Finland adopted a basic education system with comprehensive schools for grades 1-9.
  4. The national curriculum in Finland was developed over a five year period by teachers. It provides a framework but is not very prescriptive. The national math curriculum is ten pages.
  5. Finland has full service schools which provide access to health, dental, and psychological services. They are very small. Finland has a system of early intervention that enforces their belief that 90 percent of students can achieve in “regular classrooms.” Differentiated instruction is a way of life. In addition, Finnish children have fewer hours of classroom instruction than any other OECD nation.
  6. Finland assesses a sampling of 6th and 9th graders, that is their only state test. Classroom assessments are regular and students are encouraged to monitor their own results and create their own learning goals.
  7. Teachers in Finland earn a Master’s degree before beginning their classroom practice. University programs for teachers are very selective, and their undergraduate programs are research based, focused on diagnosing problems and finding solutions, and focused on building content knowledge.
  8. In addition to teaching, the practice of teaching in Finland involves selecting instructional material, lesson design, interpreting the curriculum framework, communicate with parents, and attend professional development.

Key point:

  • On page 58, an executive from Nokia is quoted as saying “If I hire a youngster who doesn’t know all the mathematics or physics that is needed to work here, I have colleagues here who can easily teach those things. But if I get somebody here who doesn’t know how to work with other people, how to think differently or how to create original ideas and somebody who is afraid of making a mistake, there is nothing we can do here. Do what you have to do to keep our education system up-to-date but don’t take away creativity and open-mindedness that we now have in our fine peruskoulu.”

Critical questions:

*Please note that I numbered the questions, please note the number of the question you are responding to below.

  1. In 1985, the Finns were injecting more flexibility into their system. In 1986, the Chinese were moving toward compulsory schooling. What similarities and differences do you see between these two approaches and the era of reform in the United States which was started in 1983 with the Nation At Risk report?
  2. American education reform appears to be very reactive. Does Finland have a more flexible system that allows for better development?
  3. Do you find hope that the education system of Finland was developed before the age of technology over a 40 year period? What could that mean for the United States?
  4. Is the Finland model appropriate for a nation as large as the United States? Would it be more appropriate for individual states?
  5. The Finns attract their brightest students to become teachers, can the United States say the same?
  6. Do the Finns assess students enough? Too often?
  7. The book makes some recommendations, which do you think would be most effective for the United States?

Outside reading:

  • I mentioned the “Nation At Risk” report. Wikipedia presents a decent, short summary with good links here.
  • There is a nice summary of a new book on Finnish education by the Finnish Ministry of Education’s Center for International Mobility, Pasi Sahlberg.

Moving forward:

Let the conversation begin! I look forward to reading your thoughts!


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