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Education and Finland
August 22, 2011 5:23 PM   Subscribe

Four days ago Smithsonian Magazine published an in-depth examination of the Finnish education system (and what the U.S. can learn from the Finns). Here's a quote: "Schools provide food, medical care, counseling and taxi service if needed. Stu­dent health care is free... Besides Finnish, math and science, the first graders take music, art, sports, religion and textile handcrafts. English begins in third grade, Swedish in fourth. By fifth grade the children have added biology, geography, history, physics and chemistry."

A few months earlier the Boston Globe published an op-ed about the Finnish education system, touching on many of the same topics (although with fewer specific examples).
posted by bguest (126 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
but with all that biology, geography, history, physics and chemistry filling their heads, where's room for God?
posted by the noob at 5:27 PM on August 22, 2011 [26 favorites]


This all sounds like a Plan! I just think that because Finland is a small country, it is easier to pull off.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:27 PM on August 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sounds like the schools are virtually replacing the parents, which no American would tolerate (except those who send them to schools run by their church). The possibility that their children may end up smarter than they are does terrify a lot of people.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:28 PM on August 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


English begins in third grade? Way too late; this will never work here.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 5:29 PM on August 22, 2011 [23 favorites]


Not in any sense to piss on the excellent Finnish education system, but I suspect that the Australian secondary system, while not as high performing as the Finnish one, is much closer culturally to the US one, cheaper, and gets not quite as good results, but still substantially better than US results. So the US could be aspirational and fail, or they could look closer to home and improve.
posted by wilful at 5:30 PM on August 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Healthcare for children should always be free (subsidized). Always.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:33 PM on August 22, 2011 [43 favorites]


Is the Finnish school system funded centrally, at the state or national level?

Because that, to me, is the one thing that has to change about the US system for there to be any measure of progress or justice.
posted by docgonzo at 5:33 PM on August 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


Equality is the most important word in Finnish education. All political parties on the right and left agree on this

Certainly not true in America in any way. In fact I think perhaps equality is the least important word in American education.
posted by Rubbstone at 5:34 PM on August 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


Sounds like the schools are virtually replacing the parents, which no American would tolerate

Yes. And no Americans hire nannies or send their kids to daycare. None of them. Not one. Indeed.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:38 PM on August 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't know how many other countries have this problem, but the main problem with the U.S. system as I see it is a systematic dismantling of public education. Republicans (though I'm sure there are some Democrats, too, but mainly Republicans) have been chipping away at public school funding for at least two decades, and then they turn around and blame the teachers and the teachers' unions. Republicans put through the No Child Left Behind, which has many, many inherent problems, but the worst is the focus on testing above all other aspects of classwork, which has been a disaster for the critical thinking needed for proper schooling.

Republicans want a for-profit, Christian, private school system in this country, and they aren't shy about letting that be known. Finns, I'm guessing, don't have this problem in their country.
posted by zardoz at 5:40 PM on August 22, 2011 [23 favorites]


Page 4 of the article has the money details, for those interested:
Lawmakers landed on a deceptively simple plan that formed the foundation for everything to come. Public schools would be organized into one system of comprehensive schools, or peruskoulu, for ages 7 through 16. Teachers from all over the nation contributed to a national curriculum that provided guidelines, not prescriptions. Besides Finnish and Swedish (the country’s second official language), children would learn a third language (English is a favorite) usually beginning at age 9. Resources were distributed equally. As the comprehensive schools improved, so did the upper secondary schools (grades 10 through 12). The second critical decision came in 1979, when reformers required that every teacher earn a fifth-year master’s degree in theory and practice at one of eight state universities—at state expense. From then on, teachers were effectively granted equal status with doctors and lawyers. Applicants began flooding teaching programs, not because the salaries were so high but because autonomy and respect made the job attractive. In 2010, some 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots, according to Sahlberg. By the mid-1980s, a final set of initiatives shook the classrooms free from the last vestiges of top-down regulation. Control over policies shifted to town councils. The national curriculum was distilled into broad guidelines. National math goals for grades one through nine, for example, were reduced to a neat ten pages. Sifting and sorting children into so-called ability groupings was eliminated. All children—clever or less so—were to be taught in the same classrooms, with lots of special teacher help available to make sure no child really would be left behind. The inspectorate closed its doors in the early ’90s, turning accountability and inspection over to teachers and principals.
posted by wilful at 5:42 PM on August 22, 2011 [20 favorites]


Equality is the most important word in Finnish education. All political parties on the right and left agree on this

That's an excellent position to be in. Still, no disrespect to the Finns, but that's awfully easy when nearly all of the population -- including the foreigners -- is blond and blue-eyed and Lutheran.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:47 PM on August 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


And the heart of wilful's quote: "From then on, teachers were effectively granted equal status with doctors and lawyers.". Tell me the ratio between students and teachers & aides, and I'll go cry in corner somewhere.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:49 PM on August 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm not clear on what learning disability is correlated with not being "blond and blue-eyed and Lutheran".
posted by GuyZero at 5:50 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sounds like the schools are virtually replacing the parents, which no American would tolerate

This reminds me of the way the Japanese school system operates; elementary schools essentially act as another arm of the public health and social welfare system, and cover everything from proper nutrition and physical development to moral education. In Japan, homeroom teachers even come into the home to assess parenting ability.

This is a cultural thing, obviously. Japan does get great OECD outcomes, at least until high school (10, 11, 12), when students are streamed into an academic track, and a convenience store track.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:52 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


From the Smithsonian article:

Teachers in Finland spend fewer hours at school each day and spend less time in classrooms than American teachers. Teachers use the extra time to build curriculums and assess their students. Children spend far more time playing outside, even in the depths of winter. Homework is minimal.

The outdoor play bit rings a bell. I remember hearing about the Finns on the radio a few years back. As a country that had embraced the internet and all things hi-tech sooner than most, they'd had a chance to assess how kids were doing with easy (and I believe compulsory) access to computers from an early age. The conclusion: a shift in policy such that computers were removed from classroom situations until age 14 ... and compulsory outdoor playtime EVERY DAY REGARDLESS OF THE WEATHER.
posted by philip-random at 5:53 PM on August 22, 2011 [13 favorites]


Would it be safe for me to summarize most of the negative comments as follows:

'It'll never work, we'll all be killed...' (or any other pessimistic ridiculousness)

There are good lessons to be learned here without nitpicking out a few words and shooting the whole thing down based on your personal straw men.
posted by Fuka at 5:55 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not clear on what learning disability is correlated with not being "blond and blue-eyed and Lutheran".

It's called "my school sucks because I don't live in an affluent, lily-white suburb" syndrome.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:57 PM on August 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Republicans want a for-profit, Christian, private school system in this country, and they aren't shy about letting that be known. Finns, I'm guessing, don't have this problem in their country.

I'm also guessing they don't have corrupt inner-city school districts, either.
posted by codswallop at 5:58 PM on August 22, 2011


It's called "my school sucks because I don't live in an affluent, lily-white suburb" syndrome.

Which is a problem because either the school is under-funded and/or the parents don't have the time and/or interest in engaging with the school to ensure improvements.

Neither of which have to do with the racial makeup of the school.

My kids' school is 34% white kids and ranks in the top 10% of school statewide based on standardized test scores (for lack of a better metric of school success).

I'm not saying that US schools are all good, far from it. But it has nothing to do directly with race.

(To be fair, I live in an affluent, mostly non-white suburb so you are 2/3rds right).
posted by GuyZero at 6:04 PM on August 22, 2011


but with all that biology, geography, history, physics and chemistry filling their heads, where's room for God?
Besides Finnish, math and science, the first graders take music, art, sports, religion and textile handcrafts.
Right there, between sports and textile handcrafts. Also, I have no idea where you went to school, but I did in Utah, and my education was pretty much godless.
posted by jessssse at 6:06 PM on August 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


... and then, of course, there's the issue that Finland sucks.
posted by philip-random at 6:06 PM on August 22, 2011


codswallop: They are only cheating because of no child left behind. It awards funding based on gross academic scores rather than yearly improvement. Which means that inner city schools which started at the lower end of the spectrum before no-child-left-behind were essentially defunded because of the score disparity with the richer suburban districts. Now to get any funding at all they have to cheat. BUT they are still so far behind that they can't hire enough teachers to do the job so it is an endless cycle. They will never be properly staffed to actually teach the kids enough to pass the standardized tests, and because they cannot pass the tests they will never be properly funded.

The law has no provision for repair already disfunctional schools it simply gives them less money. The cheating has probably provided these children services and classes they would never have recieved without it.

I know its disgusting all around, but the teachers were trying to help(and keep their jobs), but mostly trying to help. Its not like they have replacements lining up who can turn around the classroom in a single year. (the assumption of the performance based laws)
posted by darkfred at 6:07 PM on August 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


In my final 2 years of high school I studied Calculus, Pure Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Accounting, and English. School pretty much consumed my life for big chunks of two years.

But my workload wasn't that unusual. You were considered a bit of a dud if you only studied 5 "university entrance" subjects.

Nowadays. Crikey! Kids have it good. They can cruise through school, repeat units at fancy schmancy mixed-campus high schools [there's a number of high schools that allow adults to study on their campuses], private courses that count for university entrance consideration, university-run bridging courses, lowering of university entrance scores due to competition [new universities and big universities wanting to get bigger].

This all came about during the quasi privatisation of a lot of education, not surprisingly. The reason we had to study so hard is that, for example: to study Engineering, if you didn't study the two hardest maths streams and physics and English then you simply weren't allowed to study it at university. "No bridging course in calculus for you!" Game over.

And places were limited and you had to consider the very real possibility that your mark wouldn't be good enough so you had to chew over your 2nd choice which would have other compulsory units - so heaps of kids took the most difficult 6 units to keep their options open.

Not sure which "system" is better, BTW. I filled my head with a lot of crap that I never used again, and exam times were extremely stressful, five hours study a night not unusual. But I'm really glad I studied physics and chemistry, it's given me a better understanding of how the world works.

Looks like the Finns are going the old fashioned fill their little heads with lots of crap. Good to see!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:14 PM on August 22, 2011


I don't know how many other countries have this problem, but the main problem with the U.S. system as I see it is a systematic dismantling of public education.

Rather the opposite - the constant accretion of administration on top of mere teaching.

Not that it will play well in the blue, but I would recommend The Cartel to all present, regardless of political affiliation. (See also here)
posted by IndigoJones at 6:17 PM on August 22, 2011


Actually uncanny hengeman, assuming you read the article, you'd understand that it is about the first 9 years of education, not about senior high school.
posted by wilful at 6:17 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Besides Finnish, math and science, the first graders take music, art, sports, religion and textile handcrafts.

>>Right there, between sports and textile handcrafts.


By interpolation, God is a champion basket weaver.
posted by storybored at 6:18 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know high school =/= primary school. My point is that school was HARD, from grade 1 to grade 12, and it was hard for everyone except devoted slackers. Study was like a Zeitgeist when I was at school. But not just my school, all the schools. You went to school to study hard.

There's a lot more schools offering wishy washy courses now.

ps: Bring back the strap!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:24 PM on August 22, 2011


Which is a problem because either the school is under-funded and/or the parents don't have the time and/or interest in engaging with the school to ensure improvements.
Neither of which have to do with the racial makeup of the school.


There's an intersection of disadvantage in the US between race and class. It's not all mediated by income.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:24 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's a lot more schools offering wishy washy courses now.

I don't think you can take that from the article. Not saying it's true or not true, but I have no idea if Finnish education is academically rigorous. Or even if old school (heh, a pun) academic rigour achieves its stated purpose any better than 'wishy washy' courses.
posted by wilful at 6:30 PM on August 22, 2011


Thanks a heap, wilful. Beat me to it. I was waffling a bit.

Primary school was hard and if we fucked up the teachers were allowed to whack us over the back of the head as they walked past - made it a bit more fun but at the same time stressful! But the Finnish system with 2 extra languages??? Woah, impressive.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:31 PM on August 22, 2011


My semester in Finnish fourth grade was fantastic. But then, my American public schools were also very good. We have some great schools in the US, but, of course, resource allocation is too uneven. To me, the key difference is that a below-average Finnish school is still quite good (I'm guessing).
posted by smrtsch at 6:32 PM on August 22, 2011


The main difference is that in Europe having an excellent educational system is seen as a matter of national pride by both liberals and conservatives, while in the U.S., public education is seen by about half the population as being an expensive, pointless luxury at best while the other half sees it as taxpayer funded daycare.
posted by Avenger at 6:35 PM on August 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


How many disenfranchised kids are there in Finland? I've taught in a severely disadvantaged area and in a very affluent area, both in California, and by 6th grade many of the poor Latino kids I taught would openly express frustration and disbelief when presented with the possibility of becoming successful in the US. They have parents who work three jobs, might be illegal or in a gang. Are there any kids in Finland like that?

In my current (affluent) district, things are remarkably similar to what's described in Finland. I'm free to do what I want in my classroom, since our kids score high on tests. We have PTA money to fund full-time computer and art teachers, and reading specialists for the kids who need extra help.

The problem is a lot more complex than this article implies; although I'd like to see a lot of these changes happen here, nothing stands out as a miracle cure. Income disparity is the cause of many of our problems, in education as well.
posted by Huck500 at 6:39 PM on August 22, 2011 [12 favorites]


Or even if old school (heh, a pun) academic rigour achieves its stated purpose any better than 'wishy washy' courses.

Yep. I said that in my initial waffle-y comment. "Not sure which system is better, BTW."

There's a lot of intangibles. I'm very glad I "over studied" and learned stuff like chemistry. I'll shut up now.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:40 PM on August 22, 2011


I've just been rereading Roald Dahl's memoir, Boy. You think you got it bad? You have no idea. Actually it's remarkable how many basically sane and decent men turned out from the British public school system of the late 19th to mid 20th century.
posted by wilful at 6:46 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


uncanny hengeman, I think your impressions of school when you were a kid is probably over-influenced by your own personal experience of school. Thirty(?) years ago, my mother took a 'year 13' course at her local high school in order to complete the prerequisite courses she hadn't done in year 12, and get into her preferred course at Melbourne University.
posted by jacalata at 6:51 PM on August 22, 2011


is/are goddammit kids these days and their grammar
posted by jacalata at 6:51 PM on August 22, 2011


The Finnish schools don't sound dissimilar to the public school my kids attend. Local control of curriculum, light regard for testing, plenty of arts, minimal primary grades tracking. All it takes is a critical mass of parents willing and able to support learning and good conduct. Every failure in American schools is due an insufficiency of such parents. Bad teaching is simply a side effect. The system fails us all by forcing good parents with resources to move to good districts or leave public education, and leaving good parents without resources with no good choices.
posted by MattD at 6:55 PM on August 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think a lot of this has to do with trust. For whatever reason Americans have decided not to trust anyone, especially public employees and unions, which have an intersection at Teachers. This has to do with certain propaganda about the evils of taxes. But that aside, we don't trust our teachers to do their jobs. That seems to be a key component of Finland's success. I think part of the lack of trust in America is that we're all very different, and we're afraid of each other. A homogenous society like Finland doesn't have an enormous cultural fear of "THE OTHER In My Back Yard, stealin mah jobs, turnin mah kids aginst me" to overcome like we do.

I thought that was what was meant by the "blue eyed Lutheran" comment above.
posted by bleep at 6:58 PM on August 22, 2011 [16 favorites]


That's it exactly, yes.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:06 PM on August 22, 2011


wilful = helpfully, in the UK "public school" != a school the general public attend. Public schools are generally privately funded (i.e. for-a-fee) non-state run schools that are old, well-financed, tradition-rich and often high-performing. They're also, according to some, prime agents in the trans-generational transfer of wealth and influence, and a barrier to social mobility. Dahl went to one of the less well-known of these, Repton School.

Less well-financed fee-paying schools are called "independent schools" here, and schools run by the government in various forms are called "state schools".
posted by cromagnon at 7:07 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


have been chipping away at public school funding for at least two decades, and then they turn around and blame the teachers and the teachers' unions.

That's just what you'd have to do if your master plan is to blame the failure of social programs on the people, and roll all that back, undoing 'traitor' FDR, so that everything is in the hands of private profiteers. (Besides, uneducated people are easier to manipulate ... ask any TV evangilist.)

"There's no such thing as society." - Margaret Thatcher.
posted by Twang at 7:10 PM on August 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've already written off the US school system. My wife and I have decided that while good grades are good, if we had to make a choice, knowledge is better. I don't care if she hates school, so long as she loves learning. I can help her through the C-average or GED, if that's where her life takes her, just so long as she is thirsty for new ideas, we as parents can help her reach her dreams.

I =hated= school. School did nothing for me... I learned it all from science magazines and science fiction anthologies years before my classmates did. I didn't do a drop of homework, and graduated with a C average, because I aced all the tests and exams. I am the worse for it. I want to give my daughter a love of doing, of making, of learning. That is where success and happiness is... even if she decides to be a ditch digger, I want her to be the best damn ditch-digger to fling a shovel of mud over her shoulder. If she loves doing, she will excel in life. I was taught not to love doing, to be quiet and just skate by, and I still skate by, to this very day... and I wish I was taught otherwise when it mattered. Failure is OK... not trying is the sin.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:17 PM on August 22, 2011 [21 favorites]


and compulsory outdoor playtime EVERY DAY REGARDLESS OF THE WEATHER.

So, I'm a smoker and its mid December, there's no light and there's an Arctic wind blowing the snow into meter high drifts outside. I bundle up to struggle my away all the down the block for a packet of cigarrettes and what do I see, little Okko or tiny Tuuli all bundled up like a sausage in their state gifted perambulator being taken for an afternoon stroll for some fresh air.

A homogenous society like Finland doesn't have an enormous cultural fear of "THE OTHER In My Back Yard, stealin mah jobs, turnin mah kids aginst me" to overcome like we do.

Works the other way around. A small closely intertwined nation in a harsh environment suddenly having to deal with the Other responds by circling the wagons closer around the bonfire.

Btw, they're justifiably proud of their primary education system but there are still problems.
posted by infini at 7:18 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Otoh, the context of what bleep says is very true - its a very high trust system/society (think being able to leave a handbag unattended in a crowded public place) and teachers are immensely respected.
posted by infini at 7:23 PM on August 22, 2011


Pfft! Well sure, if you're only going to spend 1% of your GDP on defence.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:22 PM on August 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


No official statistics are kept on ethnicities. However, statistics of the Finnish population according to language and citizinship are available.

What are they hiding, huh, huh?
posted by clavdivs at 8:56 PM on August 22, 2011


Why compare a civilized country to the USA?
posted by tarvuz at 9:04 PM on August 22, 2011 [14 favorites]


and compulsory outdoor playtime EVERY DAY REGARDLESS OF THE WEATHER.

Hunh. Here they make the kids stay inside if it's colder than -20F.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:23 PM on August 22, 2011


cough1941cough
posted by clavdivs at 9:23 PM on August 22, 2011


ever play soccer in mittens, it's brutal.
posted by clavdivs at 9:24 PM on August 22, 2011


I live in socialist Sweden which has a voucher program for schools. Yes, that's right: VOUCHERS.

The basic principle is that students get to choose their schools (within some limits) and schools do not (again within limits) get to choose students. The money follows the student. Parents may even form their own cooperative schools and receive the same state money. There is a national curriculum and basic standards to be met, but wide variations otherwise.

Oddly enough, American liberals and teachers' unions absolutely hate this idea, but it is working well in Sweden - which is politically a bit to the left of Bernie Sanders and more unionized than Germany. In the decade in which it has been in place, many new private, public, and cooperative schools have been opened - and quite a few old ones closed - greater choice for students and teachers and it seems to work rather well.

Observe however that Sweden is a country of just over 9m (Finland is half again as much smaller). The populations are relatively homogenous (10% foreign born in Sweden, fewer in Finland) come from a hard-working Lutheran tradition - and as the cold climate makes being a deadbeat so much more difficult here - the majority of people contribute to society rather than attempt to live off it. Sweden and Finland run tight ships. The economies of both countries are strong - despite the winds. Budgets are balanced or in surplus, the general standard of living is very high, and there is no large economic underclass.

Attempting to do either of these things in a diverse, disunited, economically distressed U.S. state the size of New Jersey would be difficult.
posted by three blind mice at 9:50 PM on August 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


Good for them
posted by ReeMonster at 10:25 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


The most impressive bit for me was this, "The differences between weakest and strongest students are the smallest in the world". That is success.

I wonder how the tracking works at the high school levels? I assume working class kids are tracked more into the technical schools. Is there a test or something?
posted by serazin at 10:35 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Local control over curriculum? Wasn't a fan of it then, not a fan of it now.
posted by Garm at 10:37 PM on August 22, 2011


Wasn't a fan of it then, not a fan of it now.

Because fandom, rather than evidence, is precisely what we need in education theory.
posted by wilful at 11:12 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


In a nutshell, they've instituted the following:
1) low student-to-teacher ratios;
2) highly trained, competitively selected teachers who are not overworked;
3) bureaucratic nonsense that teachers have to deal with (e.g., standardized tests and forced curricula) kept to a minimum.

Do those things anywhere, and I bet you the educational quality will improve. I went to private middle and high schools in the US that operated just like that. Not surprisingly, they were (and still are) quite successful.
posted by epimorph at 11:24 PM on August 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Schools provide food, medical care, counseling and taxi service if needed. Stu­dent health care is free... Besides Finnish, math and science, the first graders take music, art, sports, religion and textile handcrafts. English begins in third grade, Swedish in fourth. By fifth grade the children have added biology, geography, history, physics and chemistry."

See thats Europe for you. What they don't highlight is that they need taxi services because they serve alcohol in schools.

Beer breakfasts, sipping snacks, lunch libations, and afternoon apertifs.

Freaking drunk finns.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:25 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Observe however that Sweden is a country of just over 9m (Finland is half again as much smaller). The populations are relatively homogenous (10% foreign born in Sweden, fewer in Finland) come from a hard-working Lutheran tradition - and as the cold climate makes being a deadbeat so much more difficult here - the majority of people contribute to society rather than attempt to live off it. Sweden and Finland run tight ships. The economies of both countries are strong - despite the winds. Budgets are balanced or in surplus, the general standard of living is very high, and there is no large economic underclass.

In Canada, at least, the underclass are not freeloaders or deadbeats. They are people who are marginalized from society, such as single-parent families, First Nations folks (ie, Indians), and immigrants living in urban areas.

I don't know much about the United States or other countries with large numbers of unemployed, but I don't think it's fair to classify people who are not participating in the workforce like you have.

Rather than cultural homogenity, why not just say that Sweden and Finland just do a better job of preparing their populations for integration into society. There's better education. There's also a commitment to creating a strong economy with well-paying jobs. This is the reason why Finland and Sweden are so successful, not a seeming lack of "freeloaders".
posted by KokuRyu at 11:30 PM on August 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


>Local control over curriculum? Wasn't a fan of it then, not a fan of it now.

Why not go totally local, and do homeschooling? Speaking as a former teacher whose own children are now in school, the education system in Canada is adequate, but it's designed with children in mind. Why does the school day start at exactly 8:57 and end at 3:04? Because it meets the collective agreement. Sure, Canada does very well on a national (rather than local) level in OECD rankings, but things could be so much better.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:34 PM on August 22, 2011


It's called "my school sucks because I don't live in an affluent, lily-white suburb" syndrome.

Do you mean to say that learning disabilities don't exist? Because that's obviously not true.
posted by autoclavicle at 11:53 PM on August 22, 2011


Is there a test or something?

University and tertiary level education is still free uptil PhD level. But yes, there are tests that high school students give for university admission and only about 1/3 get admitted to the program of their choice.

Re: living off the state - there are a lot of 'homeless' alcoholic deadbeats around. Enough so that they're noticeable in the Center (downtown) and all over the parks in warm weather.
posted by infini at 12:01 AM on August 23, 2011


A friend from Helsinki explained to me that, although the children do not start their formal education until 7, most arrive able to read their native language and understand English. This is because so much of Finnish TV is broadcast in English with Finnish subtitles.

Generally I think it is interesting that the country achieves so much with a reduced number of hours in the classroom.
posted by rongorongo at 1:04 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sounds like Waldorf Education.
posted by roboton666 at 1:36 AM on August 23, 2011


Finland, like much of the Nordic countries, is also a Jante culture, where equality and cohesion are at a premium, individualism (at least at the American level) regarded as anti-social and seeing oneself as in any way special strongly discouraged. America, meanwhile, was settled by migrants who struck out on their own (or, more specifically, those who did so and survived long enough to normalise such a mindset), many of whom left Europe because of disagereements with the collective cultures there (many of the British and German migrants were religious minorities, for example). Whatever muted tendencies there may have been towards Jante-style collectivism in America would have been crushed by Senator McCarthy's anti-Communist crusade and the redefinition of what is "un-American" that ensued.
posted by acb at 2:06 AM on August 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


Do those things anywhere, and I bet you the educational quality will improve.

And yet we have all these Americans in thread assuring us it couldn't work because of the blacks and latinos.
posted by rodgerd at 2:31 AM on August 23, 2011


I currently live in Finland and while I don't have any children myself, quite a few of my friends and colleagues do, so I see a lot of how this is playing out. One thing I've noticed is that multiculturalism seems to be negatively impacting the educational system in Finland; as the children were previously all of a homogenous upbringing and background it was probably much easier to implement these educational processes. However, I've noticed that Finnish friends are fairly alarmed by the rise in refugees in the educational system in Helsinki and the concurrent need to address these cultures (for example, alarm and irritation in the usage of taxpayer money for languages outside of the usual five or six options of Finnish, Swedish, English, Spanish, French and German).

This discomfort with inclusivity in the educational system doesn't have to be from such far off places as the Middle East and Somalia to cause tension however. For instance, I have several European (eg Dutch and German) friends with young children in the educational system and they're quite uncomfortable with the Finnish educational system as they say it instils the Jante culture noted above.

As someone who knows both Finnish and American cultures fairly well, I would say that while the Finnish educational system is nice, I don't think it could possibly translate directly to the States due to the simple facts that the States is 1) too big and 2) too internally inconsistent and. And with the rise of xenophobia and the True Finns in the country now, I'd be surprised if the current system would exist without some exclusionary alterations in the next decade or so.
posted by daravida at 3:03 AM on August 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Where were you when I was trying desperately to set up meetups?

And back to the topic at hand, I agree with what you're saying here. Btw, thank you for that Jante link, it explains some of the challenges I faced while there. (in an educational environment with mostly grad and post grad student age colleagues).
posted by infini at 3:46 AM on August 23, 2011


So the US could be aspirational and fail, or they could look closer to home and improve.

We won't even look at Canada, which is about as close to home as we can get.
posted by Rykey at 4:47 AM on August 23, 2011


>I live in socialist Sweden which has a voucher program for schools. Yes, that's right: VOUCHERS.
Oddly enough, American liberals and teachers' unions absolutely hate this idea,


Actually, liberals who have kids in failing systems do not necessarily hate this idea. Rather the opposite.

And I think your final point, that it could not work in a state like NJ, is just wrong. This is a good deal of the message of (I reiterate) The Cartel, all of which takes place in NJ. It's a horror story, but with small glints of hope showing what can work, and even with these diverse and disunited you mention. It includes parents making their own shoe string schools and succeeding.

It's not a situation of Christie/Bad, Teachers/Good, and it sure as hell isn't a matter of too little money. It's the crackpot misappropriations and useless adds ons and (this being New Jersey) outright corruption. I had to wonder after watching the movie if Zukerberg ever watched it. If he had, I wonder if he would have cut Newark that check.) Anyway, check the movie out. NJ is just a microcosm.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:31 AM on August 23, 2011


This is a good deal of the message of (I reiterate) The Cartel, all of which takes place in NJ.

Are we sure the guy who made The Cartel doesn't have a political agenda? I mean, it's a film that's pro-charter school and pro-voucher, two positions that, when they coincide, tend to coincide with a certain political persuasion.

Here's the thing. I'm pretty left-wing. I went to good public schools. Could I have been better served by a private school? In high school, maybe, if there was a private high school near me catering specifically to gifted students, over just better than my high school dod. I probably could have been better served by other public schools, too. So, yeah, I believe not all students are well-served by public schools. I think I'll go so far as to say that I'd support state funding to send such students to other schools (be they private or other school districts). Right now, that exists for some special ed services, though it often has to be fought for. But when people talk about vouchers and school choice, they don't mean getting kids into the schools that can best serve them. Certainly not by making sure every kid has access to a good public school. They mean giving state money to private schools, rather than using it to improve the public schools. That's what I'm not okay with. For better or worse, I think the state has an obligation to educate children, and not by outsourcing it to private corporations and groups, be it through vouchers or charter schools.
posted by hoyland at 5:58 AM on August 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oddly enough, American liberals and teachers' unions absolutely hate this idea [school vouchers], but it is working well in Sweden - which is politically a bit to the left of Bernie Sanders and more unionized than Germany.

Well, the second part of that statement actually explains the first. From your description, Swedish vouchers sound like a reasonable way to get schools to compete, while not forcing a race to the bottom. Vouchers in the US are an entirely different animal. They come up constantly in educational debate in the US, but they have been (as with so many other things) entirely co-opted by the GOP into something nefarious and loathsome to everyone except the wealthy. That's not to say that a Swedish voucher system COULDN'T work, but you should know that when the word get brought up in the context of American educational reform, it actually means "encourage wealthy white kids to channel public educational funding into private religious schools, and then when the exodus inevitably causes the remaining (usually poor, frequently minority) students at the now-severely-underfunded (because the money is all going somewhere else, natch) public schools to miss their testing standards, the government can swing its NCLB hammer and disband the teacher's union."
posted by Mayor West at 6:30 AM on August 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


In a U.S. political environment, there are four motives for supporting school vouchers:

--you don't want your "tax money" to go to the gummint
--you hate unions
--you don't want to send your kids to school with "those kids" (usually a dog whistle for Black, occasionally for Mexican)
--you're an extreme Bible-banger and you want your kids to go to an extremist Christian school

Pretty much the four horsemen of the Tea-pocalypse, all wrapped up in one convenient program. In other countries, this may not apply.
posted by gimonca at 6:38 AM on August 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


Here we go with the fucking lily-white suburb bashing again.
posted by Scoo at 6:43 AM on August 23, 2011


Japan does get great OECD outcomes, at least until high school (10, 11, 12), when students are streamed into an academic track, and a convenience store track.

As someone who knows both Finnish and American cultures fairly well, I would say that while the Finnish educational system is nice, I don't think it could possibly translate directly to the States due to the simple facts that the States is 1) too big and 2) too internally inconsistent

Why do we have to take the Finnish (or any other country's) model lock, stock, and barrel and apply it here? Rather, how about we take the good parts of Finnish model, combine it with aspects of other educational models (such as the German model which puts people into academic or highly skilled trade tracks, and seems to succeed at producing a highly skilled workforce) to come up with our own educational model which serves US needs?
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 7:41 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why do we have to take the Finnish (or any other country's) model lock, stock, and barrel and apply it here? Rather, how about we take the good parts of Finnish model, combine it with aspects of other educational models (such as the German model which puts people into academic or highly skilled trade tracks, and seems to succeed at producing a highly skilled workforce) to come up with our own educational model which serves US needs?

This.

A user (human) centered design approach.
posted by infini at 7:43 AM on August 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


FWIW, I think one reason these educational models would never take hold in the US is that they tend to produce independent thinkers with critical reasoning skills -- completely antithetical to the goals of corporations and the politicians they control.

It may seem tin-foil hat to say so, but I feel like part of the reason our educational system has become what it has become is to produce large numbers of docile, malleable consumers who do not challenge the status quo.
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 7:47 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oddly enough, American liberals and teachers' unions absolutely hate this idea, but it is working well in Sweden - which is politically a bit to the left of Bernie Sanders and more unionized than Germany. In the decade in which it has been in place, many new private, public, and cooperative schools have been opened - and quite a few old ones closed - greater choice for students and teachers and it seems to work rather well.

Australia has universal, privatised social security with a strong government safety net provided from general revenue. Our tiny little country has over one TRILLION dollars invested in managed funds. More per capita than any other country in the world. The personal investment scene in Australia is night and day compared to America. For a country that's so big on individual responsibility it's very strange not to have such big coverage on personal investment topics.

I've discussed privatising social security with my "liberal" mother-in-law every time I point out how municipal, state and federal governments are either about to get or are being absolutely fucking screwed by pension obligations. San Jose PD and FD are 20 years of service to retire with 50% of your FINAL compensation (not even big 3 or big 5, FINAL YEAR) and 30 years of service to retire with 90% of your final compensation? You've got to be fucking kidding me. The cities are being screwed. She says that she doesn't support it and she doesn't like it. Damned if I know why.
posted by Talez at 7:47 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


FWIW, I think one reason these educational models would never take hold in the US is that they tend to produce independent thinkers with critical reasoning skills -- completely antithetical to the goals of corporations and the politicians they control.

I've seen it claimed that the whole model of secondary-school history being taught as rote memorisation of kings and battles, with no analysis, was devised by some gilded-age philanthropist (Andrew Carnegie perhaps) to inoculate the next generation of workers against taking too much interest in history and getting any big ideas.
posted by acb at 7:55 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


FWIW, I think one reason these educational models would never take hold in the US is that they tend to produce independent thinkers with critical reasoning skills -- completely antithetical to the goals of corporations and the politicians they control.



huh? this is actually what the US system is good at producing. Go spend sometime in most of the European systems before you say something like this.

Also look at the historical data on the US education system - even 50 years ago we were pretty crap compared to the rest of world. Since that hasn't really proven itself to mean anything isn't the obvious conclusion that that this all doesn't really matter? How you educate isn't as important as trillion other things that go into raising children.

Most of the obvious disparities in outcomes in the US due to spending disparities not so much pedagogy.
posted by JPD at 8:02 AM on August 23, 2011


The comments on this post are interesting. The main critique seems to be that Finnish schools do not encourage critical thinking.
posted by serazin at 8:26 AM on August 23, 2011


huh? this is actually what the US system is good at producing.

No, this is what good schools in the U.S. are good at producing. The sad majority are good at producing burger-flippers.
posted by coolguymichael at 8:39 AM on August 23, 2011


No, this is what good schools in the U.S. are good at producing. The sad majority are good at producing burger-flippers.

To be fair, we need a lot of burger-flippers.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 8:53 AM on August 23, 2011


ever play soccer in mittens, it's brutal.

I'd recommend at minimum adding a pair of pants. Maybe a beanie.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:59 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


there is no large economic underclass

Finland and Sweden (and even Norway) do indeed have an "underclass", though it's more ethnic than economic. The Sami that have been systematically repressed and "integrated", much like the Canadian First Nations. They have their own history of residential schools. Mention that phrase to a room of Canadian First Nations elders and you'll see shivers, glum faces and even a few tears.
posted by bonehead at 9:02 AM on August 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


No, this is what good schools in the U.S. are good at producing. The sad majority are good at producing burger-flippers.


the sad majority of schools anywhere are mostly producing burger flippers.
posted by JPD at 9:45 AM on August 23, 2011


In a U.S. political environment, there are four motives for supporting school vouchers:

--you don't want your "tax money" to go to the gummint
--you hate unions
--you don't want to send your kids to school with "those kids" (usually a dog whistle for Black, occasionally for Mexican)
--you're an extreme Bible-banger and you want your kids to go to an extremist Christian school

Pretty much the four horsemen of the Tea-pocalypse, all wrapped up in one convenient program. In other countries, this may not apply.


Boy howdy, whole lot of stereotyping judgementing going on in that comment, you betcha!

- Cite? Voucher money may well go to the gummint if the gummint in question is operating the desired school, e.g., magnet schools.
- you don't have to hate unions in particular to be highly skeptical of the ed unions in particular. Why should administrators outnumber teachers?
- Cite? The magnet school my darling daughter went to before we moved was a serious socio-econo-racialo mix.
- If you're that extreme you probably already send your kids to that kind of school.

You can find the fifth horseman by talking to a few inner city parents how they would feel about a system that would allow their kids to go from a nearby awful public school to, say, a new dedicated magnet school, or a parochial school, or even, dare I say it, a private school.

There's a reason they have lotteries for the magnet schools - people are desperate to get their kids into them.

Bottom line on this issue, given the crappo system we have at present, clearly the burden of proof is on the anti-voucher types. You don't like vouchers, fine, show us what else you got. But them as want to preserve the current system, they got a whole lot of explaining to do.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:16 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Boy howdy, whole lot of stereotyping judgementing going on in that comment, you betcha!

XYZ.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:27 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe the whole PISA system is the problem. It would make sense if schools were designed to fit their communities, not some abstract global standard. To me, it seems like the Finns are doing a lot right, and we could really all learn from them. If this article is telling the real story. But while being interested in other cultures and learning from them is good, measuring immeasurables isn't.
While writing this, I read up on a few articles about the Finnish system by a Danish school professional. He points out there are cultural aspects which would be very hard to copy in other contexts. It's hard to explain without translating the entire thing, but one thing he mentions is that Finnish children change to "soft shoes" inside the school, and are generally quiet and polite. To implement that here would take a generation. And it would free teachers of a whole set of tasks and troubles. It is somehow very closely connected to the fact that the Finnish school-teacher is a respected academic, like a doctor. In most cultures, we teach our kids to be polite at the doctor's office, but how many western parents tell their kids to be polite at school? We all did, fifty years ago. But here, as in the US and several other countries, blaming the teachers has become a matter of course.
posted by mumimor at 10:30 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, but the curriculum seems normal for Europe. What do you have in the US?
posted by mumimor at 10:32 AM on August 23, 2011


What do you have in the US?

A very outdated system that seriously needs to introduce (1) tradework and (2) personal finances as a part of high school education.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 11:30 AM on August 23, 2011


the main criticism of many other countries educational system is the forced tracking of people into tradework. Its not as easy as saying "The US system needs to add tradework" I mean either you make everyone do it - which is a waste of time, you let people choose (which very few people will choose, because the presumption is that college is better), or you force the lowest performers into tradework (What inevitably would happen).
posted by JPD at 11:46 AM on August 23, 2011


The United States educational system (and systems) are incredibly ambitious in their mission, so it's understandable it fails in that (somewhat unrealistic) ambition. Yes, as a teacher, we need more money, we need more people, and we need the honor of our profession increased among an incredibly varied society. But more than that, we need the entire culture towards education to change in the US. Assigning homework is limited when there is an understanding that only half the students will do regular work outside the classroom. This may not only be due to parental and student observations that academic skills are of no real interest to many, but also the fact that many households don't have a regular parent to help oversee scholastic work with everybody working multiple jobs.

We need to make better schools and teachers, yes, but we also need to make better parents and students. And that is a generational ambition that we need to start working on now.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 11:53 AM on August 23, 2011


What is it with the downgrading of tradework? In most of Northern Europe, trade is still respected, but we can certainly feel the influence from the south and from other continents. I wish someone could create a global movement for respect for tradework. It would be good for everyone involved.
I guess it is basically what a lot of people did in the 1850's in Europe, but if we need to repeat, then why not?
posted by mumimor at 12:51 PM on August 23, 2011


I think it's wonderful that these schools emphasize trade training. It's just that in most places where trade training exists, there is a class difference it who gets tracked into that training (vs academic training).
posted by serazin at 1:17 PM on August 23, 2011


Given that a U.S. liberal arts education has become a joke in terms of future financial security, I venture to say previous class-based stigmas against the trades is out-of-date.

Especially given that someone from an ITT-type school or a plumber or an electrician is probably far more employable than someone who graduated with an English degree.

People fear a trade education will lock the lower class into lower class jobs.

I totally disagree with this. Trade ed allows lower and lower middle class to make way more money, generally, than a liberal arts degree will ever provide. (And note I say liberal arts, and not the sciences or technical arts.)

It's generally middle class kids who continue to get suckered into liberal arts educations and consequently, a lifetime of lower wage office jobs.

Upper class kids will always be protected, regardless of what they do.

It's a shame that the trades are so scorned by so many in the U.S. You can make a good living, you're useful to society, you have more of an opportunity to go into business yourself if if you've got any prowess, and the work is generally a hell of a lot more interesting.

In a heartbeat, I would gladly trade my liberal arts college education for an apprenticeship in an actual skill like welding. I doubt I'm the only one.
Just sayin'.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 1:41 PM on August 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


As an architect, I may have a skewed perspective, but I don't experience big class issues between academics and trade people. We are co-dependent in our everyday lives. But there is a big thing about unskilled workers competing for work which has formerly been reserved for skilled workers. Actually "Joe the Plumber" is the prototype for this. And while I recognize that some people (including some close friends) really are clever at all sorts of technical jobs, in my view, the work of "kind-of-skilled-labourers" is mostly both unsafe and ugly to behold.
posted by mumimor at 1:44 PM on August 23, 2011


In a heartbeat, I would gladly trade my liberal arts college education for an apprenticeship in an actual skill like welding. I doubt I'm the only one.
Just sayin'.


spoken like somebody who is utterly divorced from how much that work sucks and destroys your body and how horribly your bosses will treat you and how hard it is to find steady work
posted by beefetish at 3:25 PM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


seriously - how many fiftyish tradesman do you know? how many of them don't have some sort of chronic health issue?
posted by JPD at 5:01 PM on August 23, 2011


The issue with trades is the lack of any manufacturing jobs in the US. There are many tradespeople in Germany who make a fine living. It'll never be law or finance or medicine, but if the US actually made much of anything that's not coming off an assembly line it would be a different story.
posted by GuyZero at 5:03 PM on August 23, 2011


There are many tradespeople in Germany who make a fine living.
this is I'm afraid urban legend. Germany has similar employment issues to the US. Not enough trade jobs for the people they are training, very high relative unemployment for the younger cohorts. France as well.

I totally disagree with this. Trade ed allows lower and lower middle class to make way more money, generally, than a liberal arts degree will ever provide. (And note I say liberal arts, and not the sciences or technical arts.)

It's generally middle class kids who continue to get suckered into liberal arts educations and consequently, a lifetime of lower wage office jobs.


alas the data does not agree with you.

I'd even bet that liberal arts degrees are negatively correlated with parental wealth.
posted by JPD at 5:09 PM on August 23, 2011


er. obviously I misquoted. of course there are many tradespeople in Germany who make a fine living, but the future for the young people in the trades there is similarly worse off than it is for the generation in their 40's and 50's
posted by JPD at 5:10 PM on August 23, 2011


Everything that is wrong with the Smithsonian article-- and by extension American education-- is in that very first photo. Oh, look, in a country that is 75% Lutheran and 20% unaffiliated, they managed to find a Muslim girl to put in the photo. How cosmopolitan. How downright inclusive.

This whole article is a cheap trick by an American journalist. "They have immigrants, too! Their model can work here!" Die.

It's become a national pastime to look at the institution-- schools, government, parents-- and see how it has failed you. But it is much more useful to look at it the other way: you got the institutions you asked for, down to the decimal. Satisfied?

America spends a lot on education, but it doesn't spend it intelligently because it isn't interested in outcomes. It doesn't particularly care about public schools because Americans don't care about public schools and they sure as hell don't care about students. They care about their own kids, agreed, but not about the other little bastards.

Part of that is a human characteristic of hating the "other", or, at least not particularly caring about the other. Does you school have a lot of others (read: minorities)? Then you spend your money not on educating those minorities, but on getting your own kids the hell out. I don't fault the parents for considering only their kids, but that doesn't change the result: Americans don't care about school.

That school in the article is basically a government funded Apple Store. Look at the pictures, tell me I'm wrong. Which is great, I've learned a lot in Apple stores, but it is completely unreproducible in America for a very specific reason: if it gets destroyed; if it fails to create new software engineers who can also moonlight as electronica DJs; then Americans will become furious that they wasted their money on the "others." Since that will happen, it isn't going to be tried. Meanwhile, at the elementary school near where I work, classes start 30 minutes later than normal because 40% of the kids have to go to the school nurse to get their am meds, and no I don't mean their insulin and cardiac meds. 40%. There's your universal healthcare. There's where your education funds go.

America is a melting pot and has its own unique weaknesses and strengths. But assuming the Finnish model is in any way applicable to the U.S. is-- to say this in the nicest possible terms-- arrogant white people wishing they could redo their childhood and school years at an Apple store.
posted by TheLastPsychiatrist at 5:47 PM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


it is completely unreproducible in America for a very specific reason: if it gets destroyed; if it fails to create new software engineers who can also moonlight as electronica DJs; then Americans will become furious that they wasted their money on the "others." Since that will happen, it isn't going to be tried. Meanwhile, at the elementary school near where I work, classes start 30 minutes later than normal because 40% of the kids have to go to the school nurse to get their am meds, and no I don't mean their insulin and cardiac meds. 40%. There's your universal healthcare. There's where your education funds go.

Crikey!

someone needs their meds
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:12 PM on August 23, 2011


"Bottom line on this issue, given the crappo system we have at present, clearly the burden of proof is on the anti-voucher types. You don't like vouchers, fine, show us what else you got. But them as want to preserve the current system, they got a whole lot of explaining to do."

Decouple school funding from local property revenues, incorporate pedagogical advances from magnet schools (and, with my own bias, the Open School system), and mandate low maximum class sizes.

But educational value added by the LAUSD outpaces charter schools (including those run by the mayor's select commission).

So, no, the burden isn't clearly on the anti-voucher folks. And there's plenty that can be done that doesn't involve vouchers, and vouchers can cause a lot of harm if implemented sloppily or without strong oversight.
posted by klangklangston at 12:16 AM on August 24, 2011


America is a melting pot and has its own unique weaknesses and strengths. But assuming the Finnish model is in any way applicable to the U.S. is-- to say this in the nicest possible terms-- arrogant white people wishing they could redo their childhood and school years at an Apple store.

So, basically, you're saying that because the US isn't culturally homogenous, we can't have good schools? Actually, I'm not entirely sure that's what you're saying but that's what I got the first few times through. What part of the model depends on cultural homogeneity?

The one thing that Finland has that the US lacks is the ability to agree that education is worth investing in and that has nothing to do with how many white people there are.

I imagine cultural homogeneity makes all sorts of things easier, including running a school system, but that doesn't mean a good system depends on that homogeneity. In fact, a good system shouldn't rely on that homogeneity. Hell, the school profiled TFA isn't homogenous.
posted by hoyland at 6:44 AM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


such as the German model which puts people into academic or highly skilled trade tracks, and seems to succeed at producing a highly skilled workforce) to come up with our own educational model which serves US needs?

because our system was designed after the german model in the first place?
posted by clavdivs at 8:41 AM on August 24, 2011


the problem with this whole discussion thread is that it is predicated on some idea that the way American schooling works is wrong and must be fixed, yet the data would seem to show that despite always underperforming on the sort of standardized testing that people used to compare systems internationally, the actual end result of the US system is not statistically inferior to the rest of the world.

I mean the relative rankings of the US system as far back as the 60's are not different from where we are today, and yet somehow by most objective measures we have the most productive university system in the world, and have been the home to at a minimum a proportionate share of global innovation in the last 30 or 40 years. If the US educational system were as broken as many of you claim it is, then this would not be the case. Note I'm not saying better than the ROW, just as good as the ROW.

And I'm also not saying everything is hunky-dory either, certainly our educational system fails the poor, and our way of funding in large swaths of the country is profoundly fucked up - but that's what needs to be fixed, not some grand rethinking of how our education system works "because our fifth graders are falling behind"
posted by JPD at 8:53 AM on August 24, 2011


Healthcare for children should always be free (subsidized).

As you said, you really mean subsidized, i.e. paid for by people other than the ones using it, not free. Scarce resources are never free.
posted by John Cohen at 9:06 AM on August 24, 2011


the actual end result of the US system is not statistically inferior to the rest of the world.

Are wealth disparities, wages, health, or participation in the political process not considered measured "end results of education" in your assessment?
posted by Rykey at 9:24 AM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are wealth disparities, wages, health, or participation in the political process not considered measured "end results of education" in your assessment?


no not really. there are myriad other causes for those issues that can't be laid at the hands of the education system. (Also again, those difference are not as statistically meaningful as you seem to think they are)
posted by JPD at 9:42 AM on August 24, 2011


again - the comparison with Finland is pedagogical - if there is anything wrong with the US education system its laid at the hands of inequal funding and our seeming unwillingness to use fiscal policy to even the playing field.
posted by JPD at 9:44 AM on August 24, 2011


FWIW the actual impact of funding on achievement is not a settled issue. Natural experiments when MI passed proposition A suggested a reasonably large effect for the poorest districts, but similar in spirit studies in NY found no or minimal change. I don't think that anyone believes the effect of increasing / equalizing funding to be zero or negative, but it could be a lot smaller than people assume.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:49 AM on August 24, 2011


I went to a high school that was "The Have" in a "The Haves vs The Have Nots" article the NYTimes ran 15 years ago. Based on that I'd guess equalizing funding doesn't increase the median all that much, but it does a hell of a lot to pull in the tails. That's a good thing.

(how did the Study in NY work given downstate is still split up into lots of little tiny fiefs with lots of money to spend and a few bigger districts that are basically broke)
posted by JPD at 9:53 AM on August 24, 2011


This and this are two recent writeups that I was thinking about should anyone care. There is a huge literature on the education "production function". I think most people still think that the impact of class size is demonstrable and large enough to be interesting.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:01 AM on August 24, 2011


Is Title I funding big enough relative to the districts budget for it to matter? It doesn't read like it does, whereas the Michigan paper seems a bit more robust.

Title 1 is only 600 mil of the total 19 bil operating budget of the city schools, and I'd guess that's actually a much higher percentage than it would be for most other districts.
posted by JPD at 10:11 AM on August 24, 2011


the actual end result of the US system is not statistically inferior to the rest of the world.

there are myriad other causes for those issues that can't be laid at the hands of the education system.


OK, then... cite?
posted by Rykey at 10:18 AM on August 24, 2011


And honestly, JPD, that's not meant to be snarky. I'm genuinely interested in reading about the statistics you refer to. :-)
posted by Rykey at 10:19 AM on August 24, 2011


look at a list of patents per capita or the rankings of world universites, or academic citations. Or broader issues like economic growth over a long time-frame.

(I'm assuming you meant educational data - if its the demographic stuff - my point is slightly different - yes the US underperfoms on many of those items you mentioned, but looking at a single median isn't really that meaningful. The confidence interval surrounding anyone persons outcomes in the US is not that different than it would be in Sweden for example, especially the closer you get to those means. The life of an average american is in alll likelihood pretty similar to the life of someone from another first world country in terms of many of those items you named.)

And an emoticon is the definition of being snarky.
posted by JPD at 10:28 AM on August 24, 2011


"I mean the relative rankings of the US system as far back as the 60's are not different from where we are today, and yet somehow by most objective measures we have the most productive university system in the world, and have been the home to at a minimum a proportionate share of global innovation in the last 30 or 40 years. If the US educational system were as broken as many of you claim it is, then this would not be the case. Note I'm not saying better than the ROW, just as good as the ROW."

It's a mistake to categorize the university system with the mandatory public education system. America has long had great universities and mediocre public schools.
posted by klangklangston at 10:30 AM on August 24, 2011


You can't differentiate the two though. And its the US' approach to secondary education that is the biggest reason why the US always scores so poorly on these sorts of international studies.

Walk into the class of a kid taking his Bac in the Sciences in France, and you'll realize in a heartbeat why he'll always score higher on a math test than a kid taking AP Calc. Ask the same kid to write something creative or draw a picture and you'll realize why being able to score higher on that math test might not be the best indicator of "acheivment"

Part of why the US's secondary system always appears to be failing on these sorts of comparisons is because for the most part its aimed at providing a general education rather than one focused on a particular area of study or trade.
posted by JPD at 10:36 AM on August 24, 2011


And an emoticon is the definition of being snarky.

And here I was led to believe the emoticon I used resembles a smiling face. I certainly apologize!
posted by Rykey at 10:43 AM on August 24, 2011


Sure, I'll point out that "effect sizes are small to zero" is probably the dominant position in the econ literature; both papers point out that it's a huge disagreement. Here is VT's version of the MI experiment; much less indication of an effect.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:49 AM on August 24, 2011


"You can't differentiate the two though. And its the US' approach to secondary education that is the biggest reason why the US always scores so poorly on these sorts of international studies."

Well, yes, you can, since practically every study does. There are huge differences — that colleges don't have to accept anyone; that US colleges draw from a global pool, especially at the high end.

"Walk into the class of a kid taking his Bac in the Sciences in France, and you'll realize in a heartbeat why he'll always score higher on a math test than a kid taking AP Calc. Ask the same kid to write something creative or draw a picture and you'll realize why being able to score higher on that math test might not be the best indicator of "acheivment""

Cite, please.
posted by klangklangston at 1:15 PM on August 24, 2011


One good reason for the huge success of the US universities is that they attract and admit the best students and researchers from the whole world. A scholarship in the US is good, almost no matter where, and certainly no matter which subject. For instance, this is rubbish: Walk into the class of a kid taking his Bac in the Sciences in France, and you'll realize in a heartbeat why he'll always score higher on a math test than a kid taking AP Calc. Ask the same kid to write something creative or draw a picture and you'll realize why being able to score higher on that math test might not be the best indicator of "acheivment"

My own country's education officials use the same rubbish argument, so rest assured I am not hating Americans. Also, my own country's idiot education officials and economists continuously look to the US for inspiration for creating a Richard Florida-type creative economy. So I have to point out again and again and again that the US educational system has a really poor record when it comes to creative professionals. Creative professionals are attracted to the US. We should all learn from that. But the US is relatively bad at educating creatives, compared to the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Taiwan, South Korea, Sweden, and (tada!) Finland.
posted by mumimor at 1:17 PM on August 24, 2011


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