Comparing education in the US and Finland: What we can learn

I shout, lashing out with a roundhouse kick. My opponent dodges and strikes in turn, burying the ball of his left foot in my diaphragm. I’m on the mat wheezing an instant later. I’m six feet tall, 150 pounds. My opponent is 5’5’ and probably weighs 110 soaking wet. And I’m the one who just had his ass handed to him. How did that happen?

He thinks for a moment, toweling off. “You misdirected your force. I didn’t.”

Despite the U.S. spending more money per student than almost any other country, American high school students, taken alongside their international counterparts, rank slightly above-average in reading and noticeably below-average in mathematics. Nations like Finland, meanwhile, spend comparatively little on education and still manage to snag top and near-top spots in both categories. Where are these nations directing their force toward that the United States isn’t?

A great many factors have contributed to Finnish educational superiority, but one stands out above all else: the high value Finland places on teachers. While America wastes billions on Smartboards and lets even the poorest-performing holder of an Education B.A. teach to their heart’s content, Finland sticks with chalkboards and allows only the top 33% of high school graduates to even consider a pedagogical career.

Additionally, potential Finnish teachers, even those seeking positions at the Finnish equivalent of elementary or high school, are required to attend graduate school for education and earn a master’s degree in their chosen field. In short, the process of becoming a Finnish teacher is just as difficult as becoming a Finnish doctor or lawyer, and the results more than speak for themselves.

In terms of implementation, the Finnish plan can take root in the United States regardless of budgetary or constitutional concerns. Want to increase education spending? Awesome! Just spend the money on teachers’ salaries instead of new gizmos and yet another Common Core overhaul. Want to cut education spending? I wouldn’t call that a wise decision, but as long as existing funds are redirected towards an improved teaching staff, there will still be notable improvements to the quality of American schools. Even the constant battle over federal and state supremacy in education becomes meaningless. Regardless of who’s in charge, as long as teachers are given the attention and preference they deserve, our educational system will reap the benefits.

Are all American teachers underperforming and undereducated? Absolutely not. Many are excellent educators who do much credit to the profession. Our problem lies in the fact that such excellence is not the required norm for the average school district, nor are high-achieving educators properly rewarded for their time and effort. This needs to change quickly if America is to preserve its standing amongst the most well-educated nations of the world.

This is by no means a comprehensive analysis of American and Nordic education. I simply wish to put forth what I consider to be the root cause of America’s educational woes and a basic description of the way in which to ameliorate them. I plan to elaborate on the subject in further articles (i.e. actual data) and am eager to receive input from interested readers!