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Why Finland's schools are the best

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Because they do they opposite of what America does!

America should start doing the opposite of what America does, too!

two words: cultural homogeneity.  

Wouldn't that imply the schools in Mexico would be better, too?

As an example...

 I wasn't going to dignify this... the term "racist" is lazy, so let me say "ethnically overgeneral" remark with a response, but what the fuck... I've been drinking, let's throw down, Jason.  :)

I was lucky enough to go to a very diverse (pre-Proposition 13) lower income grammar school in an extremely multicultural Los Angeles in the 1970's.  There were kids from all backgrounds, many of them immigrants.  A lot of us (including me) got free breakfasts and lunches... but we also learned Spanish, kept pet mice named Laverne and Shirley, and read children's books about the seven Chinese brothers.

Then in 5th grade I moved to Tacoma, where my brother and I were the first Asians in our schools.  I was constantly told the same line you're spouting except from the Asian perspective: white people aren't as good at you in school because they are CULTURALLY HETEROGENEOUS.  They don't all care about being good at school!  They can't even agree what it means to be good in school!  Some of them care a lot more about things like being good creative writers, or being good at playing football, or being popular, or being religious -- more than the IMPORTANT SHIT, which is getting perfect scores on the SATs.  The first-generation Asian-Americans I knew would literally LAUGH at how dumb this idea was.  And to be honest, although I appreciated growing up there and my school was highly ranked, I have to admit that my classmates were not the most intellectually advanced kids in the world... they were quite culturally homogenous, in fact.  Of course so were the first-generation Asian-Americans I knew... they were just better at it.

Then in high school and college, my most admired professors and role models and friends were Jews, Brits, Mexicans, Palestinians, Armenians, Hawaiians, and WASPs.  My family expanded its boundaries past the narrow confines of Korean-Americans, and now I have a lot of cousins who are themselves Jewish, Afro-Caribbean, and Southern as well as Korean.  My brother taught for 7 years in one of the worst academic high schools in Southern California as well as at the best private high school in the Middle East, and shared his perspectives on those experiences -- not all of them pretty.  And of course I work in Silicon Valley, which is notoriously filled with highly educated immigrants from all over -- including you and me of course.

Now you might say that everyone I've mentioned was in fact "culturally homogenous" in the sense that they value science and education very highly -- and of course you'd be right.  But they didn't start out that way.  They started out as the children of single mothers in Africa, India, and Virginia.  They started out as threadbare kids from Hawaiian sharecrops and Detroit autoshops and New England churches.  They started out as boys and girls in denial of their sexuality, sometimes for many years.  By ANY MEASURE they are less culturally homogenous than the schoolkids of Finland... yet they are better educated and more exciting thinkers and doers, sometimes against ferocious odds.

Also, your assumptions about Finland are underinformed.  30 years ago, when Finland was by any measure more culturally homogenous, their schools sucked:

What changed and why is really worthy of deeper thought, not just a lazy idea that schools would be "better" if they had "cultural homogeneity".

 cultural homogeneity is NOT a function of race. It's not even a function of macro-cultural social forces, tho having an overwhelmingly dominant culture helps. It's a function of the unifying force of a shared emphasis on understanding the value of being educated (not even in 'education' per se), and is something entirely dependent upon economies of scale. 

Finland is a country with the population roughly of Colorado crammed into roughly one region (also much like Colorado), with a political system that doesn't have major extremes or animosity, nor does it have multiple layers of bureaucracy to feed. 

I didn't say you thought it was a function of race, that would be a lazy critique.  I'm saying that if cultural homogeneity aka "shared values" made people want to have better schools because they shared an understanding of the value of education, then two things would be true:

1) Finland 40 years ago would have had better schools than they do now

2) Small, culturally homogenous US states would have the best schools

Neither of these are true!  I believe in the US that large, heterogenous states like California and New York have both the best AND the worst schools.

Also, as all of these articles explain, since education policy in the USA is largely a state matter -- and as you point out it's possible for any given state to have cultural homogeneity -- some of these lessons should be applicable especially by smaller states to have better educational outcomes.

What seems to have worked in Finland is that they got tired of having sucky schools and they WORKED TOWARDS a new shared understanding of what decent schools might mean.  According to the article I linked to, they decided that their goals were:

1) Better reading, math, and science scores than Sweden

2) Equality of opportunity, every child gets the same chance to go to university or vocational school

3) Encouraging children to discover their own passion for learning

Then they put in the hard work of figuring out how to move towards those goals together.  I'd totally be down with that.  Are you? Or have you given up and decided the problem is intractable here due to "cultural homogeneity"?

 2) Small, culturally homogenous US states would have the best schools

You mean like, Rhode Island?

And I said 'the value of being educated' NOT 'the value of education'.. .Those are two VERY different things, the first being an individual, personal matter, and the latter emphasizing the institution.

 Well timed. Thanks, Joyce. I was discussing CT's adding 300 hours to school days in underperforming districts. The broadcast I watched said the "details hadn't been worked out." Outrageous!  I'd fully support "extra time" if they had given specifics like "All our students will learn a language/21st century skill/take an elective," but to take students in underperforming districts away from their families for a significant chunk of their time has some socioeconomic inferences in my mind. 

If policymakers want students to succeed they must copy success. Successful countries aren't doing this. Wealthy districts aren't doing this. What 8 year old needs to be drilled in vocabulary for an extra two hours a day? Extra time isn't the cure-all. You need clear-cut objectives, outcomes, and buy in. I am not seeing any of that.  

What are the performing school districts doing? What resources do they have that the three districts targeted by this initiative in CT do not have (the three districts are high-poverty schools)? I can make you a list. 

Hmmm... Much more to be said on this one. 

Signs that education is not taken seriously enough in the US:1. "Geek" and "nerd" are insults2. There are debates about whether evolution should be taught in science class3. Teachers are demonized by Fox News and college is described as liberal brainwashing by a presidential candidateI think global competition will change these attitudes over time but it will take time.

"Geek" and "nerd" are making a comeback, though, Tom, I'm happy to say--even on the East Coast I've hipster wannabes, hackers, and future game professionals:) 

There are so many dynamics in the American ed system, and I'm not convinced that reform has answered them all--too many contradictions. "Multiple opportunities for success," conflicts with "high stakes testing."  "Everyone to college," is made nearly impossible by the price of college.  The crushing volume of the data I'm required to collect on my overload of students guarantees that there isn't enough time in the day. I can choose data or planning an effective lesson these days. I'm so grateful I am a nerd and can teach on the fly, but I feel bad for the new teachers.  I never collected this much data in my own business! Overwhelming. 

And, thanks, Tom for the recognition...the psychological effects being the great Satan profession.   We've got a way to go! 

I'm curious to see whether states like CT and MA will effectively use that extra time in the schedule to give students experiences that will be helpful. 

That link is a 404. 

 Fixed it - Chrome was putting and extra space at the end when I copied it.

Though if we do want to look at a Scandinavian country for school reform, Sweden has some interesting insights to offer:

 Also, there are a few really simple changes we could make to improve student performance, such as switching the starting times for elementary schools and high schools (older kids' scores go up when they are allowed to sleep later) and changing teacher feedback on intelligence and effort.  More interesting stuff can be found in the book Nurtureshock:

 That Forbes link is also a 404.


 Sorry about that, CJ. That was a bug on our side. It should be fixed now, but feel free to send me a message complaining if it happens again!

 "Teacher pay in Finland is reasonably competitive but no more attractive than in many other European countries....Lower secondary school teachers with the minimum amount of required education are paid $34,707 in their first year; at the top of the pay scale, they can expect $54,181 a year. The OECD average for a beginning lower secondary teacher is $31,687; at the top of the scale, the average is $51,317. These salaries are somewhat lower than other professional salaries in Finland."

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