Finland—the tiny land of reindeer, snow, and saunas—burst onto the American education scene in the past decade as the unlikely poster child for the anti-reform movement. Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t implore reformers to learn from this nation with low poverty, high achievement, and virtually no standardized tests—and abandon our support for standards- and accountability-driven reform. After all, Finland’s education system today is characterized by few top-down regulations, broad teacher autonomy, and virtually no centralized accountability. Given its success on international assessments, it must follow that U.S. schools would do better if we copied the Finland model.
Finland: Land of reindeer, snow, and a world-famous education system.
Photo from RukaKuusamo.com
First, there has been some recent evidence that Finland’s successes may not be as miraculous as once thought (it slipped on the recent TIMSS math test). But more than that, to understand what is going on in Finland, a good place to start is with a November 2010 McKinsey study entitled, “How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better.”
As part of their research, the McKinsey team studied twenty school systems around the world that had seen “significant, sustained, and widespread gains in student outcomes as measured by international and national assessments.” Among the most...