Everything's fine in Finland!
This week, the Washington Post looks at Finland's highly-ranked public school system, which "graduates nearly every young person from vocational or high school, and sends nearly half of them on to higher education," and gained national attention after a first place ranking on PISA (see here for more on how the U.S. performed). Educators from around the world are rushing to the shores of the Baltic in hopes of finding a "silver bullet" to bring back to their own countries. Administrators and educators say Finland's success is a direct result of a highly motivated and professional teacher corps. "The key," says Finnish scholar Pekka Himanen, "isn't how much is invested, it's the people. . . . We really believe we live in an information age, so it is respected to be in such a key . . . profession as teaching." Teacher quality is indeed an important factor in raising student achievement, and perhaps Finland's edu-tourists can obtain some better definition of what constitutes a "quality teacher." Some things to keep in mind, however, on this "silver bullet" hunt: Finland's success hinges on any number of other factors, and many obstacles to great public schools that are widespread elsewhere have never been at issue for the Finns. They have a relatively small, homogeneous population and low poverty rates - demographic issues that helped ease their transition from a "poor and agrarian nation half a century ago" to a hotbed of technological innovation. As we've found out, U.S. efforts to accomplish similar goals (see here for problems on teacher quality specifically) have been a tad more complicated.
"Focus on schools helps Finns build a showcase nation," by Robert G. Kaiser, Washington Post, May 24, 2005