For starters, Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what’s called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school.
Instead, the public school system’s teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.
As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg shrugs. “There’s no word for accountability in Finnish,” he later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”
For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master’s degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal’s responsibility to notice and deal with it.
This was the part of this article that stood out to me:
The problem facing education in America isn’t the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society, and this is precisely the problem that Finnish education reform addressed. More equity at home might just be what America needs to be more competitive abroad.
I don’t know that it will ever be possible to address the problem of inequity in our education system until we address the broader systemic failures that lead to economic inequality in this country. It is more difficult to educate a child when they are worried about where their next meal is coming from (their free lunch might be their only meal of the day). It is more difficult to educate a child when they lack access to basic computer equipment or an internet connection. It is more difficult to educate a child when hir family is moving multiple times in a year (due to eviction, the need to go where the job opportunities are, or just instability in the home) requiring the child to change schools.
The reason we harp on “teacher accountability” and “school choice” in this country is because placing all of the responsibility for providing a decent education to a economically diverse population on teachers and school administrators through standardized tests, threats of school closure, and the expenditure of absurd sums of money on private, for-profit consulting firms is easier than addressing our broader problems as a society. It provides an easy set of scapegoats for our collective failures. We don’t have failing schools or failing school systems. We have failing social contracts.