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Pasi Sahlberg on why Finland leads the world in education

This week, results from the Programme for International Student Assessment, which ranks student achievement around the world, showed once again that the Finns know something about education. Over the years, educators from around the world have traveled to this small northern European country to find out the secret to their educational success.

As part of an upcoming hour-long focus on education, Need to Know’s Alison Stewart spoke with a leading educator from Finland and former senior adviser in Finland’s Ministry of Education named Pasi Sahlberg. Sahlberg discussed how Finland turned its education system around, and how the United States might learn from Finland’s experience.


  • Paulin

    It strikes me that emulating Finland’s educational requirements— 1) that their teachers actually know how to teach, 2) that they are knowledgeable in the subject areas they teach, and 3) that they attend to whether or not their pupils are adequately grasping their lessons— would revolutionize most school systems in the USA. Unfortunately, these requirements remain unmet in today’s classrooms.

  • Joan Jaeckel

    Alison, thank you for doing this interview. Really useful! The ideas Mr. Sahlberg suggested may be unfamiliar or sound impossible, and … they are possible and what is strange is our way of doing things. Mr. Stahlberg says they realized it will take a generation to create an actual education system – we expect to do it measured by AYP – average yearly progress. Isn’t that insane?? Mr. Stahlberg said they took the education system off the political 4-year presidential politics rollercoaster. We could do that, but we don’t. Nuts! He said the people in charge of education – in every case are actual educators with direct experience in schools, even the principals – so there is no lawmaker class of so-called ‘educators’ making laws for teachers that do not conform to actual teaching practice. We hardly ever even talk to our teachers when policy is set – actually, worse, we infantilize our teaching profession. Stoopid, right? Next, he said that Finland pays for all college educations for free so that teachers can get their MA’s. Smart, right? We could do that if we wanted to – if we decided that “education builds the nation” like Finland does. Silly us for not doing that. We have the money. We need to make it a priority. Finally, one thing he didn’t say but that is generally known about the Finnish system is that their curriculum is scientific and based on cognitive research into how human beings learn: formal reading instruction does not begin until age seven – that’s when the brain is ready for abstraction – the “myelination” of that part of it is complete at around 6-7. All Finnish kindergartens are play-based. No workbooks, no homework, no drills. Play readies the mind for critical thinking.

  • vision teacher

    A recent study by Bryant et al (School Performance Will Fail to Meet Legislated Benchmarks, Science, 2008) indicates that 100% of students will fail by 2014 due to standards that are unrealistic (every student will perform at a high or proficient level, regardless of their abilities). In 2010, around 70% will fail in English Language Arts, simply due to the way the No Child Left Behind Act was written. And by the way, as a public school special ed teacher with 15 years teaching experience and a MA degree, I 1) know how to teach, 2) am extremely knowledgeable in my content area, and c) track my students performance daily. Most teachers I work with do the same. However, when the benchmarks set for 5th graders are unmet by 75-80% of the students in 5th grade, is this the teacher’s fault, or perhaps unrealistic benchmarks?
    Are you aware that the standards-based reform was not based on any research about how children learn, or on any researched evidence that standards and the so-called accountability measures work? No Child Left Behind was a political bill, created by politicians and edupreneurs, opening up education to market forces.

  • Tc The She

    Teachers have many qualifications they must meet before they are able to teach. It’s the system that’s the problem. Administrators and politicians know nothing about education in most circumstances, but they are the ones who call the shots. Teachers also get paid less than they should for what they do. If you disagree, then you will be outlining a fundamental flaw in United States society that we do not value our teachers nearly as much as we should.

  • erica

    and you know this how?

  • Vdavidn

    The US will never turn out education system around until politicians and big money care about it. Politicians get no money for their campaigns from it, so even though they have talked about education over and over and over, they really have no interest in improving it because their own kids go to private schools with very high standards. Big money? Well Oprah built a great school in Africa, and that is a wonderfull thing. But what has she done here on the home front? Bill Gates, well he is making some small efforts, but what have you heard from him in your neighborhood? Teachers and administrators are layed off for lack of money, but banks and wall street get bailed out by DC.

  • Loukirby

    What do they do about the kids how teach themselves to read before kindergarten or first grade?

  • quiet mom

    Teachers are not the problem, they are so limited in what/how they are able to teach by testing requirements. Funding for our schools is another major issue in our education system-it varies greatly from state to state.

  • Jane Doe

    Unfortunately, the U.S. education system will remain the same and our children will fall further & further behind the rest of the world because those in charge will not step up and make necessary change in the eduation system.

  • Jacrispi

    I listened but we are not Finland. We don’t have the same history. In the 60′s we were award winning. we are not anymore because our culture has changed dramatically. We have had an immersion of new cultural changes. Dual income families, radical ethnic population increases, Social Media explosion, at the same time we have had a decline in our Communities our Society. We’ve been declining over a period of time. Finland’s Educational System developed in the 60′s and they aren’t dealing with the enormity of our issues. There is no comparison between Their School System & The US System. I am happy they have succeeded but they are a Bubble we are the Sea.

  • mehndijen

    This notion that we, the US, are better or more relevant than other nations is both the reason we’ve fallen (we took for granted that we are the best for so long we stopped trying) and the reason we can’t improve (we certainly couldn’t learn anything from anyone else because we are better or more relevant.)

  • Mary

    Well, I am an experienced teacher, and the way I am TOLD to deliver curriculum (“Here is the test; don’t teach TO it, but..”) is pretty limiting. Higher level thinking, problem solving, creative understanding, these can’t be tested easily, and, therefore, aren’t a major focus in the classroom.

  • Doctorcalrobinson

    The United States has focused on building a military power-based machine. We have very large guns that promote our cultural belief that we are “Number One.” Unfortunately, our premiere status is slipping. Until we decide to shift our values from control and force of “American interests” and determine that education is the differentiating factor that for the long haul truly matters, the decline will continue. We live our values. The problem then is and will be…..power and force in the hands of idiots.
    Dr. Cal Robinson

  • Tffnyhll

    One of the major problems the U.S. faces is that we value entertainment more than we value education. If parents became more involved with demanding a better education for their children, then it would become a major political issue. No, we spend more time worrying about what to record on our DVR and reading trash magazines instead of researching important issues.

    Well, all I have to say is we are loosing ground and loosing it fast. We are not keeping up, and we are no longer going to remain on top. Until parents begin worrying about their children and making sure that they are getting good grades and doing their homework, they are not going to worry about what kind of curriculum is being taught to their children. I see it every day. Parents who get mad because they don’t know their child is failing, even though notices have been sent home, phone calls have been made, and parent teacher conferences have been held, which they missed. They have the nerve to say its the teachers fault my child is failing. I know there are good parents out there, but there are so many who believe that their child’s education is the responsibility of the school and they don’t have a role in that. Well wake up parents, your role is huge and until you demand a better education for your child they will not get it.

  • Susansaid

    As a college instructor, I can promise you that your children are getting a substandard education in the public schools. Of the average 90 students in one of my lecture classes, only 25 or so should really be there. The rest are so woefully behind that they should’ve never made it out of high school.

    From what you are saying, it seems that it doesn’t matter that others are smarter than us. We are no longer the greatest nation on earth and we are falling further and further behind. Education is the ONLY way to claw our way back towards the top. We should use Finland as a model because what we’re doing right now isn’t working.

  • Kimmyg

    it is just that attitude that proliferayes ignorance. UNLESS YOU LOOK FOR THE CONNECTIONS, you are what we educators call UNTEACHABLE. Hope you don’t have kids, YOU are the problem.

  • kimmyg

    read quitmom’s post. I am a teacher, and can assure you that many of us are quite competent. THERE IS NO ONE SINGLE REASON OR PERSON TO BLAME. Shared responsibility. Jeez, hope you’re not a parent- what a poor example you set- blame others for your failure.

  • kimmyg

    wow. do you even watch the news? Basic info about the educational system.

  • K Laurila

    I would like to see the state of Minnesota take the approach that has been taken by Finland. It is a state about the size of Finland and has a large ethnic body of Scandinavians — including the largest group of Finnish-Americans — living here. It is also a state that generally ranks in the top 3 or 4 of states in the country in education so it has a somewhat stronger cultural leaning toward education than most states. The US is very different in that we have a strong history and culture of local and state control vs. national control especially in regard to education, so starting such reform on a state basis may have a better chance of success, albeit, taking a longer time to achieve across the nation.

  • Shemade1

    I could not agree with you more. Very well said! I believe 100% that parents in the US, all parents of every race, culture and economic background need to get more involved and we would see an immediate shift in things. They have the power to make the change. I just can’t believe politicians and people with their fancy degrees and billions of dollars won’t put more focus on the parents.

  • Katie Macys

    There is a school in Ohio that did a teacher exchange with a school in Finland. The American teachers were treated with amazing respect by others in their host school and the community. On the other hand, the Finish teachers were treated horribly by the teachers and students at their host school in Ohio.

  • JD-in-MI

    Kimmyg, I agree that many teachers are quite competent, even excellent. However, anyone who went to an American public school can tell you that many teachers are not. We treat teaching as a fallback job. When I was undecided about what field to go into people would inevitably suggest “why don’t you just be a teacher?” Even my academic adviser suggested it. Teaching is a noble profession and should be treated as such. Nobody should “just” be a teacher.

  • Virgo0224

    It actually seems to me that the fact that there are students you call “unteachable” is the problem….

  • Susan Goding

    We are not Finland, Korea or Singapore. Those three countries are very different from the US and from each other. The only thing they have in common is they created a system based on their values. The US has a Basic Education Act that was thrown out the window with No Child Left Behind. There is nothing in NCLB that required that. The US threw up its hands at teaching a broad education and focused on reading, writing and math in elementary schools. The point of schools is not education anymore but jobs and a few test scores.

  • Susan Goding

    We are not Finland, Korea or Singapore. Those three countries are very different from the US and from each other. The only thing they have in common is they created a system based on their values. The US has a Basic Education Act that was thrown out the window with No Child Left Behind. There is nothing in NCLB that required that. The US threw up its hands at teaching a broad education and focused on reading, writing and math in elementary schools. The point of schools is not education anymore but jobs and a few test scores.

  • Sherry

    We continue to argue ‘why we can’t’ educate our children…consequently, we don’t educate our children. We all lose.

  • Joan Frank

    She is a mom who sees what is going on in the schools. Great teachers required to only teach to the tests. It is very sad.

  • Greenerkraut

    What often gets left out when we compare ourselves to other western industrialized countries is that the U.S. integrates the learning disabled into the classroom, which skews the test scores. Our communities are also much more diverse than European countries, with children who speak English sometimes as a 2nd, 3rd or even 4th language. Indeed, Europe has much to learn how to better teach non native speakers from the U.S.

    That being said, the U.S. educational culture is not rooted in valuing intellectualism or educators. The fundamental question Americans must ask themselves is if we are willing to invest in children who will continue American dominion or is the U.S. going to watch the decline of its empire and the ascendancy of well educated Indians and Chinese assume a position the U.S. has taken for granted?

  • Input

    I agree with Sahlberg regarding the politicization of education. It’s very easy to compile these lists about student achievement in comparison to other nations but many times our cultural concept regarding childhood is radically different. It’s the proverbial apples and oranges cliche. A comparison with Finland might work, but other European countries (Germany and England would be good examples) with their testing requirements and vocational tracking are far too different. First of all, they’re illegal here unless implemented by private schools. Having spent some time observing schools in Japan, I would highly doubt American parents (in general) would be willing to institute a similar system here. I have students whose parents balk at 30 minutes of Language Arts homework a night and who cannot make due with scheduled vacation breaks as it is–are we willing to add a significant number of extra days to the school year and hours to the school day when we set out to compare ourselves to Japan? There are trade-offs that these lists don’t make readily apparent. Is improvement necessary? YES. But when comparing our system to others, the next question should not be “What are WE doing wrong” but rather, “What is the nature of THEIR educational system that is garnering these seemingly marvelous results.” Then we can sift through the results and decide what to actually implement.
    To do this, of course, we’ll have to stop allowing education to be used merely as a talking point and electing those who do. The size of our population might make this impossible as might our predilection for overly simplistic answers to complex problems.

  • Zfrio

    There is so much finger pointing between parents and educators. This is a false and devisive battle fuel by propaganda (whose the bad guy finger pointing). This is really about systmatically undermining the educational system through corruption and policy and corporations pushing those policies so that our educational system will become privatized and a profit making machine. There is a ton of money already in the system. Yet it never seems to reach teachers or the classrooms. Finger pointing only serves to divide and distract. I am also extremely concerned about the teachers’ unions. I see practices that do not support the teacher or education. In Texas, teachers are contracted to opt out of social security and into privatized retirement programs. This is a disaster, especially if that teacher ever develops a debilitating illness or accident and is no longer able to work. I also feel the rhetoric about “unteachable” and “trash” is spurred by the unions. I am suspicious that union leaders are no longer working for teachers or the educational system.

  • Lgjoseph

    I certainly hope you are not a teacher. You lack basic spelling and punctuation skills. In addition, a child’s education IS the responsibility of the school. Parents had little or no role in their children’s education a couple of generations ago, and those children were infinitely better educated than children today.

  • W Fulham

    I feel there are five parts to the problem in Florida: 1) the attitude that every government function should be governed by the “free market,” 2) parents expect someone else to do their parenting for them (i.e., teach their children to value education, do their homework and prepare for their future responsibilities as citizens), 3) cut funding for education using every trick in the book, 4) laws and rules generated by know-nothing non-educators that actually interfere with education, and 5) the belief that private religious schools are always better than public schools and should receive public taxpayer funding.

  • GraniTandi

    You educators are overworked, and in my opinion under appreciated. That said, your view is myopic. Inclusion doesn’t mean different standards for each, and it isn’t the number of children in a classroom but the common denominator of the students. Where is the commonality? The connection is that we are AMERICAN. [Not hyphenated] Calling Jacrispi names doesn’t change the truth.

  • Anthro

    I couldn’t agree more. There a lot of people making a lot of money in the field of education right now and it is not teachers and administrators. The “leaders” in education reform are creating many red herrings to distract everyone while they take all the taxpayers money to make themselves wealthier! We really need a grassroots movement to stop this momentum.

  • vision teacher

    Education, which was never a federal concern, only a state concern, is now held hostage by the federal government. By implementing sweeping, bureaucratic, standards-based education, we now have an education system designed by non-educators which is not based on research of how children learn. In Finland, it is the exact opposite – the education system is not a political crisis waiting to be manufactured, and teaching methods are based on research into how kids learn best. Here in the US, the standards and accountability measures are sucking resources directly out of classrooms, and putting these resources into the pockets of companies that design curricula and tests based on the standards. We will never have a world-class education system until we get market forces and politicians out of education, and instead provide students with the resources they need to thrive – decent school lunch, up to date books and materials, meaningful educational activities and a strong social network with plenty of afterschool art, music, PE, and safe hanging with friends time.

  • vision teacher

    Finland – and the rest of Europe IS dealing with the same issues we are. If you actually read articles on Finland, you will see that they too have had a social explosion of immigrants who do not speak Finnish, changing social conditions resulting in an increase of single-parent families, social media explosion (where do you think Nokia, the leader in cell phone technology comes from? Finland!), drug culture – you name it, Finland is exactly like us. They are a modern nation facing the same issues. It is the approach that is different; education has not been high-jacked by politicians inventing a crisis so they can deal with it in a masterful sound-like way. Yet…. If this happens, Finnish education will likely plummet, just like our education has done over the past 20 years.

  • vision teacher

    That was before education was based on illusion, market forces, and edupreneurs. And don’t forget, in those days the teacher was the only quality control available. They had less education than teachers today, yet were able to instill higher standards. Hmmm

  • vision teacher

    Can you provide a reference for this, please? It would be very interesting reading…

  • vision teacher

    1) yes
    2) yes
    3) yes
    4) yes
    5) yes
    6) standards and benchmarks that are not based on accurate grade level work,
    7) accountability measures that reward schools that succeed with praise and that punish schools that don’t with economic sanctions, 8) abominable school lunches consisting of fast food, not real food

  • Jari

    There’s much less “testing” (such as IQ testing) conducted on children in Finland than, for example in the US, I believe… school days are much *shorter* actually….

  • Jari

    “We are America, and we’re not going to learn from anyone else except ourselves”.

    That attitude is always so cute :D

  • libertarian

    There is an assumption in this article that Finland’s educational system is a success. I read an article a few months ago by an author from Finland who talked about major short-comings in the Finish higher education system. This was not long after Newsweek had declared Finland the best country in which to live. The author’s point was that because of free college education, students had the tendency to simply study whatever tickled their fancies rather than focusing on what professions were needing people. They apparently have a high unemployment rate among college graduates. Also, they have a shortage of people in the skilled trades because they are less attractive than they would otherwise be given the option of going to college for free. That’s a problem with socialism in general; it is useful for setting specific goals like scoring the highest on achievement tests, but planners cannot possible foresee what all the dynamic needs and wants of their society will be. A market economy, on the other hand, is much better at doing this, because it is directly responsive to the needs and wants of the people and translates these directly into incentives through demand.

  • Martin-Éric Racine

    Hold your horses on the issue of immigrants to Finland allegedly not speaking the language. Most immigrants here speak the language just fine – at least for as long as they undergo integration classes. However, even having passed the national language test doesn’t succeed at breaking down the strong racist prejudices against foreigners in general and, let’s face it, language skills that end up never seeing any real-life use quickly become useless. To make things worse, the Finnish media relentlessly focuses on the small minority of third-world refugees who lacks written language skills even in their native tongue, in a situation where the vast majority of immigrants in Finland are polyglot educated westerners who married a Finn.

  • Tsi Hambaka

    @libertarian. What a cold war times flavor! Socialism, bla bla bla. To give more weight to your points you should give references of articles you’re supposed to have read. Seriously.
    When it comes to talk about some successes in tiny nations like Finland, jealousy, smears are common response of people full of ideologies. I’m an European and had a chance to spend some weeks in Finland for my employer. What I’ve seen is plainly impressive. And as I’m in education business, I realized then the reality of the “Finish Education Method”. It is really efficient and doesn’t strain students. It has some drawbacks, not the ones you invented, but an obvious one: “How to use the methods of learning students are used to apply, in the world of industry?”. Seems it needs some readjustments IMHO.
    Eventually, no one is forced to adopt finish methods of education, nor zimbabwean methods. If some North American people didn’t feel the need, they’re completely free to ignore them. At their own risks: to get left behind permanently for the next decade.
    And don’t forget: Nokia is much more dynamic than Motorola ;) .

  • Grpartners

    According to the 2010 PISA Report Shanghai, China is number one and Finland is number 2.

  • vision teacher

    By your logic, the market economy provides what is needed on it’s own – it acts as a balancing tool. The US unemployment rate is at 9.8% (November 2010)while the Finnish unemployment rate was 7.4 and falling (October 2010). In Finland students can study what they want based on interest and high school grades. In the US, student can study what they want based on interest, grades – and then there’s also the money to pay for it, which stops a number of people from ever achieving what they could in a merit-based system.
    But I guess today’s critical shortage of special education teachers in the US (over the past 10 years and set to explode like a time bomb when babyboomers retire over the next few years) when will simply take care of itself, because we are a market based economy and the planners know about this.

  • vision teacher

    Thank you for the reference. I checked it at –
    What is not mentioned is what groups of students are tested. In China, only the best and brightest students are even admitted to high school, students who do not score in the top 50% never go to high school. If the US could weed out the bottom performing 50%, our test scores would be higher too. Also, they do not include test scores of foreign language students who do not score well on Chinese, nor special education students. So while the Chinese test scores are indeed impressive, let’s compare the US to countries that have comparable student populations and a comparable, inclusive, education system. Perhaps it is time for the US to dis-aggregate the scores into these criteria. We do it at the learning stage, but not at the test result stage. And while we are at it, let’s do what we know works – spend more time in the classroom, with a double hour a day of Math and English, and still have time for other, important subjects.

  • Joan Jaeckel

    Hi Lou,
    Nothing. There’s nothing wrong with kids teaching themselves to read before kindergarten or first grade. No one would discourage kids from self-initiated efforts to teach themselves to read. The point is, it’s not formally taught in pre-school or kindergarten; it’s not what is presented and expected in school as part of formal instruction.

    In the US, we think that learning to read early is a sign of intelligence and we kind of encourage kids to read as soon as possible in order to be competitive. All this does, though, is make kids dislike reading and by 5th grade many kids who were pushed to read at early ages do not like to read.

    Another factor in the US early reading push is that reading is the only instruction modality – kids have to read textbooks and worksheets in order to participate in school. We depend on textbook-based instruction although, in real life, there are far more ways to learn like listening, looking, experimenting … In my opinion, one of the reasons for the only-reading and early-reading pressure on young children – and on students throughout school – is lobbying of lawmakers by the lucrative for-profit education publishing industry to ensure that their textbooks, tests and test-scoring products dominate US public school classrooms.

  • Redance51

    Vision teacher is right. Our education system needs a complete overhaul. The problem is too many cooks spoil the broth. I am an umnemployed teacher. I was far more productive, more educated than many teachers in my district-who are still there. The reason I’m gone is I don’t have tenure. And in California, it’s too much trouble to stir up the pot and try and get rid of a tenured teacher. Because we now have a 50% Latino student population-and most come from illegal households, most K students come with little pre-K enrichment. A complete turnaround from when I attended in the 60s- You would think a highly qualified teacher who speaks Spanish, would be highly regarded? But no. The districts want Latino teachers, native speakers, or those with a BICLAD and can teach IN Spanish. Who the hell cares how well educated you are? . And the budget of the Dept. of education is probably bigger than the budget of most of Finland.. Its a huge bloated bureauacracy. So how can you compare a situation like Finland with even one state? California?

  • Redance51

    Yes, and most of those students will die of lung cancer or pollution-related diseases if China doesn’t clean up their act. If China’s system is so great,why are huge numbers of students clamoring to get into California-based Universities and colleges? I wonder. I’ve been told by a friend who is a business professor, that they do not shy away from cheating either. Can’t live a fully-realized life if you are brainwashed and or have moral problems

  • Jari

    What does China have to do with this interview?

  • Jari

    What does China and lung cancer have to do with this interview?

  • deelirium

    I have a friend in grad school who has also heard about cheating among Chinese peers in his program.

  • Duluth Finn

    I too live in Minnesota and am of Finnish heritage. The problem on this side of the pond is that politicians here are too short-sighted to make and maintain such a long term investment.

  • Anonymous

    You’re a teacher quite obviously. First giveaway is that you can’t spell: “…we are LOSING ground and LOSING it fast.” Not a typo because you repeat yourself. It is a sign of the times. Teachers in Finland and South Korea are excellent; their talents aren’t wasted because they have large classes. They are held in high esteem because they are recruited from the upper third of university graduates.

    More than likely, you can’t spell because you were recruited from the bottom quintile of university graduates as is the case for most, not all US teachers.

    It was infantile for you to blurt, “They have the nerve to say its the teachers fault…” You don’t want to accept your share of responsibility and nothing you wrote was at all constructive, “…[U]ntil you demand a better education for your child they will not get it.” You sound petulant. It’s as though you’re holding out for more money before you’ll think about possibly acquiring a small amount of motivation. You appear unprofessional, immature, selfish and possessed by an incurious mind. Why did you decide to attend college with your dismal credentials? Sounds harsh but better education for our children requires an effort at home and in the classroom. With effort, there must be competence. No tenure for teachers, better hiring practices, merit pay for good teaching, and a revolving door policy for poor performers are all necessary reforms.

  • Marilyn

    I’ve volunteered at a local elementary school and I’m shocked!!! The worst problem is parents seem to pay little attention to their children. Too much texting, I guess. I saw six-year-olds who went to bed at midnight, who lived on junk food, who were bullied by siblings, and on and on. Teachers are supposed to make up for the home’s deficiencies. THEN, teachers are held captive by educational publishing companies that print crap…material that is disorganized and obtuse. The whole thing’s a mess. I felt I was watching the crumpling of my culture. I’m seventy years old.

  • vision teacher

    Students who are not prepared, or who are pressured to perform, will cheat no matter which culture or country they come from. That does not explain the system itself. The discussion about Finland is not about the teacher’s union, teacher salaries, student cheating, or even curriculum. It is about a system that works because it is based on research into how children learn. If we do not base our instruction on how students learn, then students will simply learn by rote, complete the test, then forget it – and when it is time to build on that prior knowledge, they will start dropping off – one by one, the students who did really well on the first test, will do less and less well as the complexity of the subject increases. This is what happens when you push high school algebra into 7th grade middle school, or language arts skills like decoding words into kindergarten. More and earlier is simply not a successful model on which to base education – something edupreneurs do not understand, and most teachers do.

  • vision teacher

    I think most teachers are extremely fed up at being scapegoated by an establishment that does not allow us to do our job. More and more we are required by our principals, our districts, our school boards to teach scripted materials. This reduces us to mere technicians, and removes any chance we have to make the material fun, differentiated, and exciting. How exciting do you think it is to watch your teacher read aloud from the textbook, then tell you to fill out a page, after which you put down your pencil (yes, that is part of the scripting, along with timing assignments)? Teachers are expected, instructed to get to the end of the lesson regardless of whether students are keeping up or not, and continuing tomorrow. So – is this the teacher teaching, or is this the textbook author, who is not a teacher, teaching through a stand in? This never happens in Finland, it is simply laughable to them. Scripted teaching is a major reason why many more students end up in remedial classes than before – where they will actually get the small class instruction with one-on-one attention, working on tasks at their own pace that is recommended for all children. And, in the name of accountability, it is a growing phenomenon….

  • Lnoefranci

    Some interesting ideas…
    Size & diversity…
    The US is SO much LARGER and has a HETEROGENEOUS population…
    Let’s not underestimate this!

  • L Prag

    It seems to me that, in America, we do not value education or learning. We put Boards of Education composed largely of people without educational experience in charge of determining educational policy. As was mentioned earlier, we disregard all learning experiences not based on reading and we think that the longer we put children into the classroom and the more we drill facts into them the better will be their results. This is not the case. In Germany, for instance, children go to school only half a day until Grade 4 and yet their educational results are better than ours. Also, in Europe, the school year is less concentrated, giving more scope for learning to be assimilated. There are three-week breaks for Christmas and Easter, and then the summer break is just 4-5 weeks. In America, we want quick results, but, unfortunately, learning is gradual and also needs repetition over time. Until we put children’s learning needs first in designing our educational system and place our emphasis on recruiting and supporting qualified teachers, our results will probably not improve. Teachers are on the front lines. We need to value them more than administrators. But that, unfortunately, is not the American way.

  • shari55

    Rather than being defensive let’s focus on ourselves and work on what we need to change. China’s pollution-related issue has nothing to do with our education standard. Let’s be glad that pollution issues are not our focus but be open to extracting ideas which may have to adjusted to suit our demographics.

  • Csendrey

    Having studied at both a Pennsylvania high school and California high school, having taught as a full-time teacher and substitute teacher in nearly 300 California schools, and having raised my family in Finland for five years, I have serious doubts that our math standards will ever improve beyond 25th best in the world, or that our science standards will ever exceed 21th best.
    Our problems begin with parents who are generally unable and unwilling to work with their kids to improve independent learning at home. Next, our elementary school teachers lack the technical expertise to raise the bar in science, and our California Standards lack any innovations in math to compete with foreign standards. Finally, I am witnessing lost time “texting” ,”video gaming”, and passive television monitoring, an exaggerated focus on sports, and an unrealistic goal to produce 100% college graduates. Due to budget cuts, schools are losing auto shops, metal shops, and electronics laboratories. And discipline within the classroom is critically lacking in many places.
    A good test for both parents and children today are the questions from the show, “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader.” In the meantime, I might suggest some additional college courses as a starting point to improve the Standards.

  • Csendrey

    This is a nice rationalization for failure to make any improvements. When I substitute in a first or second grade class in California, I meet with perhaps 25 kids in one group, and I am able to identify three or four kids with problems in math or language. Yet, I am forced to continue working with the group. No individualized tutoring is possible within the time constraints. This is where Finland has a much superior system.

  • Csendrey

    This is totally irrelevant as to whether Finland is number one or number two. (Must be a football fan concerned about ratings). The fact is that United States is 25th best in math and 21st best in science, and I see very little being done which will change this.

  • Csendrey

    As a math specialist who substitutes in middle schools, I wish to correct this author regarding algebra in 7th grade. Many of my intelligent 7th graders are definitely prepared for higher levels of math. The problem often is that these bright students are thrown in a class with slow learners. My grandson is in third grade and is already learning basic algebra and science.

  • Csendrey

    May I remind this writer that many of these brilliant foreign students are enrolled in California schools and become some of our honor students. They progress to the colleges and then become some of our best engineers and scientists.

  • Csendrey

    I can empathize with this writer since I, too, have over 500 college credits, and at age 75 still attend college. However, my suggestion is that the writer should become a substitute teacher and use his knowledge to help those kids who need help. Forget about budget. Forget about the 50% Latino students. Dedicate yourself toward helping those who need it.

  • Csendrey

    In due respect, this writer needs to learn English much better. The ideas are disconnected and grammatically faulty. Sinun täytyy lukea.

  • Csendrey

    Finland indeed has free college for many as well as a good system of socialized medicine, but it is not a socialist country. Suomi is a better democratic republic than is the United States. In USA, Democrats and Republicans are well-represented. However, all parties are represented in the Finnish Parliament. And Tarja Halonen was voted in power by the people. I love the fact that rich people in Finland must pay their share of high taxes, and everybody has access to medical care.

  • Csendrey

    With this attitude, American education will never improve. Remember, we are 25th best in math, and 21st best in science. Our high school kids are ready for Burger King and Jack-In-the-Box, not to design spaceships.

  • Csendrey

    No reference is needed. Olen ulkomaalainen. I have been a foreigner in Finland for many years, and I have always been treated with respect and kindness. This is generally the mark of the Finns.

  • Csendrey

    Look beyond the misspelling, and focus on the message. Your specious arguments are intended toward argumentum ad hominem. The Tffny writer may actually be as well-educated as many of my top California kids, but good writing is not one of their better traits.

  • Csendrey

    Lgjoseph has it all wrong. Our educational system breaks down partly because parents do not get involved at an early age. Parents are generally lacking knowledge or lacking time to work with their kids. By the time they reach first grade, the kids still have blank minds. Read to those kids. My own kids spoke and wrote Finnish and English by the time they were four. The teachers they encountered at an early age were veritable dummies. Example: “Oh you are from Finland, where they have fjords.”

  • Csendrey

    And don’t forget the brilliant foreign scientists and engineers who helped build this military power-based machine. Von Braun and his associates designed our space program. We need to educate more brilliant engineers as well as other countries have done. Many of my students couldn’t even design a paper airplane. Sorry Dr. Robinson, in all due respect, we have already reached the bottom.

  • Csendrey

    As long as we rationalize like this, we will never improve. Remember, U.S. is 25th in math, and 21st in science. And we are accepting more engineers from India and China in our work force because we can’t get enough American-trained engineers.

  • Csendrey

    Finnish education will not decline at such a fast rate as has American education. And this has not been a phenomenon of just the last 20 years. I have observed this decline personally since 1950. And I doubt that we can ever improve our international standing (25th in math and 21st in science).

  • Csendrey

    Kids who learn to read at 3 or 4 normally attend a public school when they are 6. Then, their prior knowledge is irrelevant because elementary schools do not continue the advanced training. These kids then go into a downward spiral until they get to high school and college. The exceptions are those kids who get individualized independent work instead of normal public school. I worked with a 11-year-old girl who advanced from prealgebra to calculus in one year. She entered junior college at age 12 without ever setting foot in a public school.

  • Csendrey

    In spite of your poor grammar, you make some very valid points. I hope that all readers hear what this writer says.

  • Csendrey

    But the final examination at the end of Finnish schooling is a very difficult test, which might be analogous to the New York Regents. No white cap until you pass this exam.

  • Csendrey

    Mary makes a good point regarding higher-cognitive skills. Not only do California schools rely on multiple-choice exams, true-false exams, and rote, but teachers at lower levels are ill-equipped to teach science and higher level math. The California Standards are not raising the bar for those capable students who wish to jump into engineering and science. Parents who recognize this are placing their students in independent study or magnet schools.

  • Csendrey

    Tc The She makes an astute observation regarding administrators and politicians. Jerry Brown might be starting a new revolution in teaching by eliminating top administrators. This would be a good source of revenue to begin fixing the system.

  • Csendrey

    I like what Vision Teacher says here. Occasionally, I get to teach 5th graders. Most of them are weak in math and extremely weak in science. I did encounter one class that had progressed into the Periodic Table in their science class. As Foxworthy would ask, “Are they smarter than a fifth grader?” In most cases, I doubt it.

  • Tinemoe

    I like your point about losing the technical and vocational programs. Many students went through these programs to learn a trade in which they could exit high school and earn a living. Now these programs have been mostly eliminated in high schools around the US and replaced with – as you mentioned – the utterly unrealistic goal of 100% college-bound students. By removing good programs and replacing them with uninteresting ones, we are losing more students than ever to drop-out, poor performance, and distractions (texting, video games, etc). Until we provide options for all students, based on their interests and abilities, we will continue to hemorrhage the potential these students have. Not all kids are square pegs.

  • MaijaH

    Yes, in 2010. For many years Finland was number 1. As 2009.

  • Pugliesed

    Not6 all kid can master math or language, no matter how much extra teching is done, that’s why we should have trade schools, tee kids are usualy good with their hands!

  • Pugliesed

    It is not fair to judge our country with others; we are not all Polish, French, German, Italian, Chinese, etc.; we are the melting pot of the world and get everyone’s rejects with no exception to their eduction. Let’s be fair here–Take a look at the class rooms in the big cities – - -when I went to school years ago there were perhaps 2 – 3 so called minority students in the class room – - -go now – - – -the minorities have become the majorities and don’t tell me that’s not part of the problem! Do the same in Finnish schools – - -test them – - -and then report your facts! Will you be surprised!!!

  • Jdmark14

    Finland has less than 3% children living in poverty. The United States has 22%. That is the difference!

  • guenstig flug reisen

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  • Coachdent

    Incorrect. One of my points over the years has always been that if these students are so incredible, then why aren’t they streaming into American colleges? The US is regarded to be one of the top countries for colleges and universities in the world. Tuition has increased, standards have gotten tougher, yet the percentages of students coming from the US public schools…REMAINS THE SAME. If our students are so poor, then how to they seem to get into the world’s best colleges.

    To Csendrey’s point, these brilliant foreign students are more likely to go back to their home countries and get a job back home making nearly 75% less.

  • Layshakemp

    I am currently completing a thesis/report comparing the US education system to Finland’s education system- Is it possible for me to obtain someone’s email address to answer a few interview questions??? Please anyone that can provide some important insight for me would be great- I only have a few questions.  Please send a response to if you can be of assistance.

  • Nayelli

    that’s a small problem compared to US students having a poor education that doesn’t prepare them for university. And in Finland, a student could go to university and technical school at the same time. If I were studying in Finland, I would do that so I could get the education I wanted and at the same time have training for a technical job in case that was my only option after graduation.

  • Hannes Minkema

    In Finnish urban areas, such as Helsinki, there are 30% minority students in education. Nevertheless, these schools perform equally well. That is because Finland cares for their minority students, helps them to keep up as soon as possible, learn Finnish fast, AND learn their own mother tongue fast. It works. You may not like it, but it works. And that is what counts.

  • Jan Tishauser

    It seems to me, some schooling wouldn’t harm you. Finland is a democracy with a market economy. Paying taxes and having a well organised public health – and educational system has nothing to do with socialism. The Tea Party (the real one) wasn’t about no taxation. It was about “no taxation without representation”. Finland shows an economic growth of 4% against 1% for the US. A country with few natural (like Finland and my own country, The Netherlands) resources has only one way to earn a high standard of living: by means of a well educated workforce. Sadly the education policies in my country tend to be similar to those in the US. So we are now gradually slipping out of the top ten.

  • Finn

    Kids in Finland play, can go outdoors on their own or with their friends, have a good quality of living - not just studying as it is with lots of Chinese families / schools.

    I am a Finn living abroad and have boarded Chinese students studying outside China.

  • Hovid36

    Not only the US but first FRANCE !!!!

  • Hovid36

    Sorry ! It’s not  a matter of number but a problem of methodology and pedagogy !
    Someone who worked as a teacher in Scandinavia for 7 years !

  • Beachlyn

    Diversity aside, this guy hit the nail on the head when referring to how politically driven the U.S. educational system has become!

  • Kathleen C. Johnson

    Wow!   When people is involved in public issues, political interests apart, the results are outstanding .
    The USA is far form this approach, so let the H-1B  Visa still attracting foreign talent … Mmm.


  • Greg

    It’s not the lack of money, it’s not the lack of educated teachers (CA) and it has nothing to do with the minority who are becoming the majority. It is lack of caring teachers, caring parents and too many students who have the entitlement, you owe me everything and I don’t need to work for anything ever attitude. More money, more testing, prescriptive teaching and penalties on teachers, principals and districts that don’t perform are never going to work. Encourage the students, teachers, parents and reward schools that are successful. No Child Left Behind, the entire California School Budget, and all attempts by federal, state and local governments are just political and have nothing to do with actually helping students. Until we actually start helping students from all governmental levels we will never be like Finland.

  • Vinicius

    Compare the educational policies of Norway with Finland.  Norway follows the corporate business plan versus while Finland does the right thing in terms of policy and their rating shows it! That says something for having competent people running a quality education program. Compare what Finland values in comparison to Arne Duncan, who has sold out to the corporate interests and hedge fund vultures.  Obama get Arne Duncan out of there!