December 3rd, 2013
12:35 PM ET

What Finland can teach America about education

Fareed speaks with journalist Amanda Ripley, author of 'The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way,' about what other countries can teach the U.S. about education. Watch the video for the full interview.

America is exceptional in many ways. Sadly, secondary education is not one of them. The most recent rankings for the Program for International Student Assessment has American 15 year-olds ranked 14th in reading, 17th  in science and 25th in math, among other developed nations.  Countries like Finland and South Korea always rank near the top.

In a 2011 GPS special, we went to those two countries to see what they were doing differently. Investigative journalist Amanda Ripley went one step further. She followed some American kids as they spent a year abroad in high school in those two countries and in Poland. The results are fascinating. The book is called The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way.

Amanda Ripley joins me now. So what did you find about those three countries that struck you? You actually have three models that you say that they represent. What are they?

So, South Korea is the pressure cooker model. The extreme case of what you see all over Asia, where kids are working night and day, literally, under a lot of family pressure, to get very high test scores. Now, South Korea does get those high test scores, but at great cost. So that’s one, the pressure cooker model.

Finland is, in many ways, the opposite extreme of South Korea. Not in all ways, but in some.  And Finland is what I call the utopia model – they've really invested in quality over quantity and the kids are, on average, doing less homework than our kids, but still achieving at the very top of the world on tests of critical thinking and math, reading and science, with very little variation from school to school or from socioeconomic status from one to the other.

And why did you choose Poland?

Poland is the surprise. Poland is an example of the metamorphosis, a country that has a high rate of child poverty and plenty of trouble and trauma in its background, and yet has radically improved its education outcomes over the past 10 years.

So Poland is not yet at the level of Finland or Korea, but a place that shows that there is hope. You know, change happens, even in places with problems. So in a way, looking at Poland is almost like going back in time and looking at Finland and Korea 50 years ago.

Talk a little bit more about the Finland model, because that's the one that's the most intriguing. What makes Finland work? Why are those test scores so high?

It's remarkable to everyone, including everyone in Finland. They can't quite believe it, year after year. One thing that they've done that's very clear and is very unusual around the world is, in the late 1960s, they shut down their teacher training colleges, which were like ours, of highly variable selectivity and quality. And they reopened them in the top eight most elite universities in the land as part of a broader reform of higher education.

More from CNN: Shanghai schools the best in the world?

When they did that, it set off a series of cascading consequences that I don't even know that they realized. One thing that happened is the obvious – you eventually have teachers who, themselves, have the advantage of a very strong education, which makes it easier to teach higher order thinking skills.

And they're, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think they draw their teachers from the top 10 or 20 percent of the graduating class. We tend to draw teachers from the bottom third.

Yes. Thank you. We educate twice as many teachers as we need. And in many, many of these colleges, there's a very low bar for entry. So you don't have to have very good grades yourself in order to get in. And that's true around the world, actually. That's very common.

So Finland is unusual.

Finland is unusual, yes, for doing that. But I think what's really surprising about it, and what I noticed when I spent time with kids in Finland, is that the kids pick up on this. So there's a signaling effect, like economists would say, where you know how hard it is to get into teacher training colleges.

And that alone isn't enough, but it sends this message to everyone – the parents, the taxpayers, the politicians and the students – that this is serious, that you are serious about education and that teaching is really hard, not just in rhetoric, but in reality. And so it adds this credibility to the whole enterprise that helps kids buy into the promise of education.

You also point out something about all these countries – and this is true of all three of them – which is, there is almost no sports in the best schools in the world.

Right. Kids play sports, but not in school. It's sort of separate from school – pickup games or community rec centers, but it’s not a part of the core mission of school. This is controversial. I get in a lot of trouble when I talk about this, because Americans love their sports and American kids love their sports. And when I surveyed hundreds of exchange students, you know, they all agreed that sports were more important to their American peers than their peers back home.

But many of them actually really like that. They liked that there was this school spirit and this bonding. The problem is that sports can sometimes, if you don't constantly keep it contained, eat away at the mission of school, which is supposed to be education, right?

So when we are routinely spending two to three times per football player what we spend per math student, when we routinely have teachers leaving to go coach away games and have to bring in substitutes, and we're spending tens of thousands of dollars on buses for the marching band, that's something that should be weighed against the benefit.

It seemed to me, what you really said is that the systems are quite different in all these three countries, the structures are different. The one thing that's true is there's a psychology that says school is hard. You've got to spend a lot of time at it. You've got to work hard. You've got to succeed. And that's missing in America.

It's almost exactly the same attitude many of us take towards sports, towards academics.  It's literally: this is important, there's a big contest at the end, not everyone is going to win. To get better, critically, you have to practice and work harder, you know, and get more help. But you're not innately just bad at math.

So that's a really powerful combination, when you take that intensity on education, when you make it rigorous through highly trained, highly supported teachers and then back it up. Kids know if this is bogus or not.

Did it leave you depressed about America?

No. Actually, oddly, I felt more optimistic when I came back than when I left. I feel like, you know, we have 45 states that have now adopted the common core state standards. Big fights still happening and still to come about that. But those are more rigorous in math and reading, which is much more aligned, particularly in math, with what these countries are doing. It's an obvious first step. Not enough, but exciting that it's even happening in 45 states. I mean that's a huge deal for America.

And I think, you know, more and more people are starting to talk about the quality of our education colleges. To get into education college in Finland is like getting into MIT in the United States. And imagine what could follow if that were true here. I mean you could make a case to pay teachers more, to give them more freedom in the classroom, and to finally give that profession the respect it deserves.

Good luck getting sports out, though.

Yes, forget about that. That's never going to happen.

Amanda Ripley, a pleasure to have you on.

Thank you.

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Topics: Education

soundoff (203 Responses)
  1. KieranH

    I bet they don't whine that "the curriculum is too hard! I as a parent can't even understand this common core stuff!".....

    They actually expect their children to be smarter than they are as parents. Imagine that....

    December 4, 2013 at 8:05 am | Reply
  2. EndDisparity

    Finland also has only 3% of its children living in poverty compared to over 20% in the US. Over 16 million children in the US experience food insecurity.

    Poverty and hunger have a direct effect on learning potential that education policy changes can't completely counteract. If we want to improve education, the first step is to reduce poverty and hunger.

    December 4, 2013 at 8:16 am | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      Six decades ago, poverty often served as an impetus for acquiring education. In 2013, is poverty more of an obstacle to becoming educated than it was when I finished high school in 1956?
      I was certainly far from rich then.
      I submit that many other factors have affected USA education.
      I also think that providing free living expenses ofter impedes education rather than promoting it, although that is not true in every case.

      December 4, 2013 at 9:13 am | Reply
      • russellcarey

        In 1956, the US's education system was only two years removed from the Brown decision, schools were just becoming desegregated, and a significant portion of the population was still struggling to access equal education for the first time. The economic growth of the 1950s and 1960s didn't offer the same hope to all races and ethnicities. White males experienced opportunities for advancement during this era that were enhanced by legal and structural limits placed on women and ethnic and racial minorities – a disparity of opportunity still exists today, though not as blatant or extreme.

        It's true that education can be a way to overcome poverty, but poverty and hunger have a significant impact on the ability of children to learn. The NIH shows that poverty has a significant impact on first grade learning (http://goo.gl/RP1umA), and food insecurity (experienced by 16% of US Households) also has an impact (http://goo.gl/YMVo60).

        Finland ranks #1 in food security (http://goo.gl/ku3JVr) and #1 for the lowest rate of child poverty (http://goo.gl/cNpv3). It would be shocking if Finland didn't rank first in education, even if their education system looked more like the US's. I'm not saying that we can't learn from the successes of Finland's teachers, but improvements to education will be limited by hunger and poverty.

        December 4, 2013 at 11:41 am |
      • Pat Raugh

        I agree with you.

        In 1951 my dad left-didn't want to be married anymore, I was not quite 10 & my mom was 3 monthls pregnant. We went from comfortably middle class to dirt poor.There were no welfare programs, mom wouldn't have taken assistance if it had been available. She had a work ethic and priide. Mom cleaned restaurants, scrubbed floors and worked in a shoe factory.

        She did not go out and have 3, 4 or more kids to a varietly of men.

        My brother and I were expected to go to school, get good grades, work hard and become productive citizens. We both did this.

        The problems in American education are primarily caused by disfunctional home invironments and the "hand out" mentality.

        It doesn't matter how much money is provided to schools, those facilities will never have the educational impact provided by caring, involved and hard working parents.

        December 4, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
      • Shawn Monaghan

        Finland also has about 4% minorities, other than Finns (+90%) and Swedes (+5%), vs. 30% in the US.

        December 4, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • Brian

      Here is an excellent article that supports the claim that poverty influences the scores. It has a great statistical analysis....actual factually based claimed, unlike so many we see.
      http://nasspblogs.org/principaldifference/2010/12/pisa_its_poverty_not_stupid_1.html

      December 4, 2013 at 10:51 am | Reply
    • minnie mouse

      It is the parents responsibility to prepare themselves and find ways to feed, shelter, and motivate their children. It is not the responsibility of the American educational system to do this. They have enough academically to handle. I do not accept that poverty is the main cause of our educational outcomes. I attended an elementary school which was housed in a left-over military Quonset hut with no air-conditioning and we didn't know what an auditorium even was. Our lunches were packed at home by parents before they left for work. My father had a borderline acceptable job because he worked his way through college by waiting tables and selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door. It took him 6 years and there were some days when bags of pretzels were his only meal. The idea that school staffs would be hired by taxpayers to make our breakfast was absurd. Our swimming lessons were provided at YWCA on Saturdays by parents who took us there on the bus. I now possess a Masters Degree in Nutritional Science. If our children are failing, it is not because their school has peeling paint and no laptops. It is irresponsible, poorly-prepared, non-demanding parents who set the environment their children function within. So pour all the taxpayer money you can squeeze out of citizens, it won't improve educational outcomes until you solve the inadequate parenting problem.

      December 7, 2013 at 5:07 pm | Reply
  3. R.

    My wife is Finish, sometimes I think she knows more than me! Please don't tell her!!!!! LOL!!!!!!

    December 4, 2013 at 9:11 am | Reply
    • AC

      I lived in Finland for 2 years and regret having come back (almost 40 years ago!). When I was first there, students had just gotten Saturdays off from school!! AND R., your wife is FinNish – not Finish!! But your secret is safe with me!

      December 4, 2013 at 11:42 am | Reply
    • CalvinsSaviour

      *Finnish... Your wife is Finnish yet you can't spell Finnish?

      December 4, 2013 at 12:02 pm | Reply
    • abbydelabbey

      I bet she knows how to spell Finnish, too.

      December 4, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Reply
    • Ferdi

      Your wife is FinNish not Finish,I guess that is why she knows more than you.

      December 5, 2013 at 4:34 am | Reply
  4. roy

    We are not comparing apples to apples. In the US, we give eveyone student a chance to get through high school and test all of them. In the countries discussed in this report, they don't do this. at the middle school and high school level they separate the kids into 2 groups – achievers to continue into high school and the rest go into trade schools. When the testing occurs, we are testing 100% of all kids going through high school against the top 40-60% of these other countries top kids. How do you think the test scores would look if we only test the top 40-60% of US students?

    December 4, 2013 at 9:11 am | Reply
    • JC

      I've heard that France and Germany have a similar scenerio, but do you know for a fact at which age the "culling of the herd" takes place? Do the world rankings account for this (i.e. Bottom 60 percent of US scores are thrown out).?

      In any case your point is worth mentioning and I'm surprised we don't hear it more often.

      December 4, 2013 at 9:23 am | Reply
      • skepticnotcynic

        I'm not surprised at all. The media has done a hack job of reporting and investigating the absurdity of our education system. The standards based reform movement, which the media tends to give a free pass, is only making education in this country worse. The elites in this country don't want to address poverty, so they blame teachers and schools. It's not surprising that our policymakers are driven by the power of the purse. America is a diverse country, but unfortunately we have been running our country into the ground since the early 80's. Too many people in this country do not value the importance of education, healthcare, and a livable wage for labor.

        December 4, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      @ray, At those percentages, Europeans would still earn higher scores, but we would be closer to their level.
      Certainly, separation into tracks would vastly improve our educational system and, somewhat, our economy.
      In addition to comparing our educational system to those of European countries, it would be very beneficial to compare our system to those of African countries.

      December 4, 2013 at 9:26 am | Reply
    • Brian

      You are absolutely spot on with this observation. To add to it, where are the special education population of these "advanced" countries? Are they testing the mentally retarded, learning disabled and emotionally disturbed students as the U.S. schools are required to do? I highly doubt that this significant portion of their population is being included in the evaluations. How many non-native speakers of their language are taking the tests? How many of them that are tested are tested in a language they barely know as is requires of English-language-learners in U.S. schools? The people that tout these rankings as a failure of the U.S. education system are skewing information. Bill Gates is one of the main people spewing this nonsense, he should know that if you skew the data going in, you skew the results coming out- it's an old computer term, Bill, GIGO.

      December 4, 2013 at 9:36 am | Reply
      • Brian

        *required, not requires in above.....typing fast and didn't proofread.

        December 4, 2013 at 9:48 am |
      • dbtunr

        Exactly!!! These numbers are rigged and bogus. The US tests everyone including illegal aliens who don't speak English and those in special education. The rest of the world only tests the "smart" kids. Apples and oranges.

        December 4, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
    • abbydelabbey

      Roy, they are not locked into the track - my friends in Germany have gone from one to the other ....

      December 4, 2013 at 3:38 pm | Reply
    • tiia

      Excuse you? Finland gives every single Finnish child the chance to go through school FOR FREE for 9 years, and even longer, if the kid wants to. Mandatory education ends after 9th grade, and in Finland that means that the kids are then 16. And I dare say by then they already have a way higher education level than any sixteen-year-old American I have ever met. I'm from Finland, I'm nineteen, I still go to school, and I have never had to pay for my education (or school lunch for that matter). And if I chose to go to a university, I would have to pay next to nothing for it.
      Also: we test kids at 15 when the division to different schools hasn't happened yet. And the division is nothing like you say it is (achievers vs the rest of the kids = not true). Do your god damn research, or maybe get a Finnish education.

      February 23, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Reply
      • tiia

        Oh, and here kids really get to choose themselves what school they go to, and they do not have to be "achievers" to get to high school, pretty much anyone who wants to get it, gets in. And those who choose to go to tradeschools want to work in the chosen field, so it's a win win situation.

        February 23, 2014 at 1:42 pm |
  5. snowboarder

    american exceptionalism is a fanciful myth.

    December 4, 2013 at 9:14 am | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      @snowboarder,
      American exceptionalism might be mythical in 2013, but at one time it was not as mythical as you describe it now.
      What happened to the USA?

      December 4, 2013 at 9:39 am | Reply
      • mk045

        Hmmm... Cut funding for schools, increased class sizes, the "increased accountability" fetish that actually keeps good teachers from teaching the way they know they need to, the general decline in the middle class.

        December 4, 2013 at 11:47 am |
  6. snowboarder

    we have some finnish friends and they laugh at the pre-schooling that children receive in this country. children in one of the highest educated countries in the world don't start any formal schooling until 6 or 7 years of age.

    December 4, 2013 at 9:18 am | Reply
    • minnie mouse

      Kindergarten starts at age 5.

      December 7, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Reply
  7. blah

    Massachusetts beats Finland all day.

    December 4, 2013 at 9:20 am | Reply
  8. Educated

    They fail to mention, that Canada is right behind Finland in the rankings and thus also ahead of its neighbor the US.

    December 4, 2013 at 9:25 am | Reply
  9. Drew

    The US Welfare System and bigoted 'female supremacist" Family Courts such as in Bergen Cty. NJ, have destroyed much of America's childrens' families. This negatively impacts their education and overall intelligence.

    December 4, 2013 at 9:29 am | Reply
    • isolate

      Obsessed a bit, are we? :-)

      December 4, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Reply
  10. Tim

    Finland is a mono culture. The United States is multicultural. The population of Finland is around 5 million. The school age population of The United States is 50 million. Not too many things in common.

    Compare Finland to one of America's wealthiest, most mono cultural school districts, and then will see how we compare.

    December 4, 2013 at 10:14 am | Reply
    • headlock

      The US participants in the most recent PISA study came from only three states: Connecticut, Massachusetts and Florida. In math the average score in Finland was 519, 514 in Massachusetts, 506 in Connecticut and 467 in Florida. The percentage of students scoring at highest level 5 was 15 in Finland, 19 in Massachusetts, 16 in Connecticut and 6 in Florida. In reading comprehension Massachusetts and Connecticut scored slightly better than Finnish students, with scores fro Florida far behind. I would not draw broad conclusions concerning educational results nationwide!

      December 4, 2013 at 11:04 am | Reply
      • minnie mouse

        Wow. Aren't specific facts interesting. Thank you for the clarification. I guess one moral to the story is that I don't need to move my children to Finland. That's a real weight off my mind.

        December 7, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
    • al maunus

      You broke the code.

      December 4, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      @Tim,
      Are you denying the advantage of diversity in an educational setting?
      A writer elsewhere in this forum, using a style of forceful optimism and a liberal cornucopia of lofty, often-admired phrases, exuded praise for the progress that surely will be the result of this discussion. I am sure the writer holds some kind of doctorate from one of the smaller universities.
      Diversity is the road to excellence!

      December 4, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Reply
      • Mark

        Yea, diversity doesn't work too well. Once the blacks, Arabs and Mexicans steamroll through any community or school it's destroyed. Just like most urban areas that were once Meccas for prosperity have been destroyed by failed cultures. Just saying, look at Detroit, Chicago, any big urban city where people breed like rats and have their hand out for freebies. Not a racist but rather a realist.

        December 7, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
  11. DL

    Every inner city in America is filled with poverty, crime, ghetto-thug mentality, absent fathers, single/teen mothers & over population.. small wonder education systems in those large areas su ck

    December 4, 2013 at 11:22 am | Reply
  12. Rick A.

    Finland's population is approximately 5.4 million (about half of NYC) compared to the U.S. population of 320 million. I think the shear mass of the U.S. population makes it difficult to scale an education system that will lead the world. (I bet if we redirected the money spent on wars to education it would be a different story. But that's another discussion.)

    December 4, 2013 at 11:31 am | Reply
  13. mk045

    Increase standards while keeping teachers at low pay, high class sizes, poor working environment (even at better public schools)? That's poorly considered. It's the typical Republican model of place blame on working people, then punish by cutting funding, finally expect people to magically do more with less. That's what's destroying our schools – misplaced priorities, lack of faith in the people (i.e. teachers), lack of accountability where it matters (state governments, parents), skewed emphasis off the core mission of education.

    December 4, 2013 at 11:44 am | Reply
    • minnie mouse

      What? If you consider the typical American high school to be "a poor working environment", you haven't worked much. And poor pay? What? The average teacher salary per work-hour is higher than that earned by an emergency room nurse. And the pensions are 40% higher. How is that "poor pay"?

      December 7, 2013 at 8:52 pm | Reply
  14. Nick

    The U.S. spends more per student than almost every other nation at $115K per head. Only Austria, Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland spend more. Despite laying out more, the US did no better than the Slovak Republic, which spends $53K. The data show no statistically significant US achievement improvement over time – none.

    December 4, 2013 at 12:31 pm | Reply
  15. Jay Russell

    I can't cite the reference but from memory that areverage teachers salary increased ~ 20% in the last 25 years while the average salary for administration increased ~ 200% ( if I can find the reference I'll update). Also the amount of teacher /student ratio decreased while the number in administration dramatically increased.

    Also, how much local control do the Finnish have? We seem to think that a federal edict from Washington is correct for everyone from Hawaii to Maine. Seems to me that the Federal DOE really hasn't improved the situation except for those in it's employ.

    December 4, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Reply
    • minnie mouse

      So children in New Hampshire can be required to learn more math than children in Texas? And children in Vermont can be required to achieve higher grades to graduate than children in Ohio? And children in Iowa can be fed 5 grams of protein in school lunches but children in Kansas aren't required to have any protein in lunches? Just so local parents can be reassured that They Are Still In Control of Things?

      December 7, 2013 at 8:19 pm | Reply
  16. Old School

    If we want to change the educational system in the US, we need to stop being afraid some one's kid might be offended or their parents are going to sue the school. When I went to school, kids were evaluated and put in separate tracks based on ability and nobody thought anything about it. Discipline was also present. If you smarted off or acted up, down to the principal office you went and then you got it again when you went home. We were tested with achievement tests and guess what, we all mastered cursive writing. We also had recess and nobody had a fit if someone's parents baked cupcakes or other goodies. We were expected to learn, period. Writing, reading, math, science, history, and geography. Now, schools and lousy parents are more worried about self esteem, did everyone get a trophy, etc. We knew not everyone was going to be first, but we all tried to be first. Teachers were respected and listened to. We need to abolish teacher tenure, get rid of teacher unions, school boards and stupid administrators. Let the principals and the teachers run the schools. The government needs to butt out as well. As for poverty, no doubt it has effects on learning but it is not the only issue. We have been building a welfare state for years that is a total failure. The effects of uneducated immigrants flooding into the country who can't speak English or doesn't want to learn it isn't helping either. We could be number 1 again, but we don't have the guts anymore to make the needed changes to make it happen.

    December 4, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Reply
  17. unknown11

    There is an elephant in the room. Our government-dependence, handout society has created this mess. We have a huge underclass that has been milking the system for generations. Those parents are creating more children like themselves. You cannot change this at school. Every first grade teacher in many schools in the US can point out the kids that will go to jail. With their expectations for life, they know enough and what they learn in school is of no use. As long as we allow a significant portion of our society to exist this way, things will not ever get better.

    December 4, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Reply
    • unknown11

      Better quality parents produce better quality students. Sure the school can still screw it up, but as long as the system is mired down, wasting time dealing with people who do not care, will not learn, and whose goal in life is to be a drain on society, what we have now will continue to be the result.

      December 4, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Reply
  18. iceload9

    Everything Finland is doing we do the opposite. We pay poorly and educate McDonald's style teachers. Our class sizes are ever expanding. Nothing sends the message to every teacher how unimportant there job is than to fear the parent and attack the teacher. Being pulled out of class to drive a bus is expected. We set standards for national testing but where is the national curriculum? They spend money on quality education, we spend money on special programs. Because if we can save one child.......................

    December 4, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Reply
    • minnie mouse

      Teachers earn more per work hour than emergency room nurses and receive pensions 40% higher. How is that "bad pay"?

      December 7, 2013 at 8:32 pm | Reply
  19. TF

    I think this article and the whole conventional thinking about education is wrong. First of all, we need to ban compulsory education. This is the parent's responsibility. They can decide how best to "educate" their children. I was at the top of my class in high school and the university. I believe the main education focus for everyone, not just kids, is learning the best up to date information about these three subjects: health, finance and law. When you master these you can enjoy your life to the fullest. That's what life is about, enjoying your life to the fullest. Don't let public "educators" pull one over on you. The world can be a really great place to be when you're happy.

    December 4, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Reply
    • minnie mouse

      LOL Oh. You're serious?

      December 7, 2013 at 8:20 pm | Reply
  20. jv12

    I guess a small white population has nothing to do with it.

    December 4, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Reply
    • Orygunduck

      Generally socialist public policies. And women tend to stay home and not have to work. And yes they have government sponsored healthcare.

      December 4, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Reply
      • tiia

        "women tend to stay at home" ? Exactly the opposite my dear, exactly the opposite. Most Finnish women DO NOT stay at home but work instead, just like men. Hence Finland has had a female president, a female prime minister and so on.

        February 23, 2014 at 1:38 pm |
  21. dbtunr

    Maybe if Korea protected itself rather than relying on 40K US troops and 2 carrier battle groups, then they wouldn't be able to spend on education. Time for Korea to man up.

    December 4, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Reply
    • minnie mouse

      Shhh. That's supposed to remain non-discussed.

      December 7, 2013 at 8:41 pm | Reply
  22. isolate

    So hire the Finns to redesign the failing American system. Give them carte blanche to cure the rot in today's schools.

    I do agree about the overemphasis on sports. Schools should be known for their academic performance, not their sports teams. As in Finland, sports could be taken out of schools altogether and handed over to outside organizations, just as the Boy Scouts operate apart from the educational system. It would save a bundle of money in the bargain.

    Alternatively, since organized sports is a big business in the US, it might become one of the choices in the new crop of vocational training schools the US so desperately needs. Every high school graduate should have sufficient training and practical experience to have a shot at a real job upon graduation. The academic curriculum kids suffer with today is nearly a century out of date.

    December 4, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Reply
    • minnie mouse

      We should concentrate less on academics and intellectual stuff. Spend more time on the occupation of getting round balls into basket-shaped thingees for $10 million dollars annual salary. We don't need cancer researchers or environmental organic chemists, we need more jocks and jock managers.

      December 7, 2013 at 8:37 pm | Reply
  23. Jay Russell

    "It's the typical Republican model of place blame on working people, then punish by cutting funding, finally expect people to magically do more with less." Really........blame the Republicans?

    I'm not a Republican but I do believe in the republican form of government and a large part of that is that the money that is taxed is spent where it is taxed. I don't believe in sending $1.00 to DC only to have them send me back $0.50 with conditions on how I can spend it. Unfortunately that seems to be the current idea here, that those in power shoudl tell us what to do. I think those in the community should have the bulk of the control over their schools but that seems to be a politically incorrect thought.

    December 4, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Reply
  24. DJR

    Sports educate? Didn't quite get that out of this did any of you. We are reaching a point where you need a masters to be a secretary, People who should be in college or have a college degree stock shelves at wal mart. For real. There is an over emphasis on education of algebra, grammar and the study of rocks. Everyone thinks they can be a nurse. Not even. Get up go to work, every day make the donuts. Do you got that? It wasn't taught in the class room. Class rooms are where the thought of you don't really have to work to get by is taught. Dream a little dream.

    December 4, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Reply
  25. abbydelabbey

    Have known this for a long time. Too bad America won't learn from the Finns.

    December 4, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Reply
  26. NealR2000

    The differences have nothing whatsoever to do with wealth, poverty, lack of funding, etc. It is all about the differences in culture. Forget any stereotype you might have about the Finns. They are diverse and yes, have a large population of ethnic minorities. The difference is that their families are mostly intact and follow an established moral code of conduct.

    December 4, 2013 at 3:39 pm | Reply
  27. Delores Kirkwood

    REPORT SAYS: "America is exceptional in many ways. Sadly, secondary education is not one of them"

    Neither is primary education in most schools today. I strived to get a national group together: educators, doctors, physiologists, and parents to discuss ways to improve US public education. NO ONE was interested other than parents.

    In a world of video games, fast paced living and instant gratification no one seems to realize that rote learning no longer works. It is getting harder and harder for kids to sit still and memorize boring facts – especially if they are the future high functioning autistic or ADHD kids.

    Learning is not fun in most classrooms, although I have seen a few teachers strive to make it enjoyable for the kids in their classes and encourage them. However, these teachers are few. The system is broken and needs to change. It need to make learning FUN and look at what is REALLY important to know. The exact date that Ponce de Leon set foot in America on American soil. How many of us have actually NEEDED this information in life? Let's get real. Learn what happened and approximately when for most things. The Alamo fell in the early 1800's should be sufficient – why do children need EXACT DATES for each and every situation in history?

    Combine classes: History can be combined with Literature and Art to help kids remember. Combine Math with a skills class for the kids who are visual learners. And why should every child need advanced math? Not every child will become a computer programmer or engineer. HS should be Mathematics and basic Algebra and Geometry combination. Anything above that should be an elective, not mandatory.

    FOCUS on classes, and teaching methods that will kids analyze, compute and gain common sense – as well as the feeling of accomplishment. So many kids today come away from Public Education feeling like failures when they have not failed, but the system has failed them!

    December 4, 2013 at 5:57 pm | Reply
    • minnie mouse

      So learning geometry and geography is "fun" in Finland?

      December 7, 2013 at 6:45 pm | Reply
    • minnie mouse

      Why would we be designing our entire educational approach around autistic students who represent 5% of the student population? Maybe what we should be teaching our children is that education is of primary importance to your future and that not all important things in life are fun or fast BUT YOU DO IT ANYWAY. (The world wasn't created to entertain your wondrous self endlessly.) Then we back up our words by not giving them every thing they request but we make them work for it a little LIKE THE REAL WORLD will require them to do. Practice makes perfect. I required my teenagers to work at minimum wage MacJobs a few hours per week just so they would experience what lack of education might sentence them to for the rest of their lives. We didn't need the money but they needed the discipline skills. When we went out to dinner, they were required to pay from their paycheck for half the cost of their dessert or they couldn't order any. (Hey, its only $2 and they needed You-Get-What-You-Work-For skills) Seriously: isn't it our responsibility to teach our children how to navigate successfully in the world as it Really operates?

      December 7, 2013 at 7:46 pm | Reply
  28. Reality

    Clearly there is a lesson to take from Finland.

    However, implementing the Finnish way of thinking in the US is fraught with difficulty for a number of reasons:

    1) Finland has less than 5 million people so this kind of change is relatively easy there.

    2) Finland is a socialist state and income levels are relatively equitable in comparison to the very wide and inequitable incomes in the US. In Finland, the increase in salary it takes to make a school's math teacher salary more comparable to a private sector mathematician is not nearly the challenge it would be in the US where teacher's salaries would need to roughly double in order to get close to public/private sector parity.

    3) Finnish culture is highly cohesive in nature. This change was a highly-supported, national imperative in Finland. US culture has become so devisive on issues like this; we can't even get together to keep the government running.

    This is an interesting dilemma for me. I have the option of living in Finland (and other EU countries) or the US and education for my daughter, math in particular, is one of my most important criteria. Language is not a problem either. Hmmm?

    December 5, 2013 at 7:15 am | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      @Reality,
      That was a very good post.
      For your daughter, I suggest Chapin, Spence, or Europe.

      December 5, 2013 at 10:27 am | Reply
  29. Elizabeth

    What I've also found with the US education system is that we're still using the same style of education that was used back then when workers were needed for industries. When having to work for these industries, children were required to sit down and memorize things without a real concept which made children know how to work and specifically what to do, similar to how a robot would be programmed today to know exactly what to do and how to do it. Things have most definitely changed since then, yet our education system is still the same. In all, we still seem to be 'training' people for jobs that don't exist anymore. Like said in the CNN video "U.S. students rank 26th in the world", " ...we have to stop settling for doing the same old thing over and over again". Also, "too many of us are comfortable with mediocrity and as a result ... the rest of the world is moving forward. We haven't dropped. We're just losing in a race because we're not moving forward."

    December 9, 2013 at 1:29 am | Reply
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