Saturday, March 1, 2008

Education and the Welfare State

Gamerman, Ellen. 2008. “What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?” Wall Street Journal (29 February): p. W 1.

The article seems to suggest a type of learning suggestive of the ideology of Mao’s China, where the best had the responsibility of helping the others.

“15-year-old Fanny Salo at Norssi gives a glimpse of the no-frills curriculum. Fanny is a bubbly ninth-grader who loves "Gossip Girl" books, the TV show "Desperate Housewives" and digging through the clothing racks at H&M stores with her friends. Fanny earns straight A's, and with no gifted classes she sometimes doodles in her journal while waiting for others to catch up. She often helps lagging classmates. "It's fun to have time to relax a little in the middle of class," Fanny says. Finnish educators believe they get better overall results by concentrating on weaker students rather than by pushing gifted students ahead of everyone else. The idea is that bright students can help average ones without harming their own progress.”

The article also suggests the value of a welfare state without a heavy hand, unlike the US where we get the heavy hand without the welfare -- at least in education.

The article also mentions the obvious fact that there are fewer disparities in education and income levels among Finns. Also

“Each school year, the U.S. spends an average of $8,700 per student, while the Finns spend $7,500. Finland's high-tax government provides roughly equal per-pupil funding, unlike the disparities between Beverly Hills public schools, for example, and schools in poorer districts. The gap between Finland's best- and worst-performing schools was the smallest of any country in the PISA testing. The U.S. ranks about average.”


Anonymous said...

Funny what can be accomplished with a little economic equalilty. And no, the Finns are not ruled by a totalitarian government. Their simply liberal minded with a concern for the welfare of others.
What a unique perspective on life.

Ken Houghton said...

"The gap between Finland's best- and worst-performing schools was the smallest of any country in the PISA testing. The U.S. ranks about average."

That would be nice if true, but my quick glance at Table 4.1.a here indicates that with the OECD average baselined at 100, the US falls in at 124.7, slightly higher than the UK and below only NZ (in the OECD) and Bulgaria, with very few countries (only Mexico in the OECD) lower than 75.3.

(If they're using the non-normalized ranking, the places are about the same, obviously--OECD average is 8,971; US at 11,186.)

Jack said...

I could not get the link that you provide to open beyond the titles for the tables. That same link does, however, provide a summary of Key Findings and a more expanded discussion of the key findings. Finland is described as on top educationally with the usual gang of suspects in close pursuit, all in Level 6. A surprise to me is Estonia, but go know what goes on in the more obscure places.

One interesting point is that over-all score did not correlate with student % at level 6. The US and Korea with different gross scores are said to have the same percentage of students excelling to level 6. Could that mean that a society with sharply divided educational opportunity and quality only the those at the top of the economic??, intellectual?? or who knows what heap will do well while all the others flounder about?

Anonymous said...

I don't know what makes Finnish children excel, but I believe the explanation, whatever it is, must also account for the inordinate number of first-rate musicians that have come out of Finland in recent years.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe the figure for how much is being spent in Finnish schools per pupil per year is correct in this article. Form what I read in Finland, it's more like $15000 per student. We have two kids in school in Espoo (grades 7 and 8). One also goes to a music institute. There is no way the level of services could be provided at that level. We also had them earlier in a school district in California where the spending per pupil was below the US average. Given the apparent hardship and massive class size from 4th grade on up, the US figure is believable. You get what you pay for.

Anonymous said...

Be very leery of the results. Working in education it is a known fact that Finland has a universal yet non compulsory approach to education. (Kind of like Obama's health plan - sorry couldn't resist)

What does this mean, while it is a requirement to be in school, it is not a requirement to give or get an education. Those that can't or choose not to handle the education component are free to leave, for a room that would be similar to many after school programs.

I think many of these tests are attracted to American's 1950's fantasy. A fantasy that those with lower IQ's, special needs, and darkened skin color were either educated elsewhere or not at all.