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Each year, a large number of graduating seniors earn National Merit, Boettcher, Presidential and military academy scholarships.All three high schools are highly competitive in athletics, STEM and the performing arts.Although no system from afar can be transported wholesale into another context, there is much to learn from the experiences of those who have addressed problems we also encounter.Finland has been a poster child for school improvement since it rapidly climbed to the top of the international rankings after it emerged from the Soviet Union’s shadow.All three high schools are currently accepting applications for out-of-district students.One wonders what we might accomplish as a nation if we could finally set aside what appears to be our de facto commitment to inequality, so profoundly at odds with our rhetoric of equity, and put the millions of dollars spent continually arguing and litigating into building a high-quality education system for all children.
Although most immigrants are still from places like Sweden, the most rapidly growing newcomer groups since 1990 have been from Afghanistan, Bosnia, India, Iran, Iraq, Serbia, Somalia, Turkey, Thailand, and Vietnam. Yet achievement has been climbing in Finland and growing more equitable.
Although there was a sizable achievement gap among students in the 1970s, strongly correlated to socio-economic status, this gap has been progressively reduced as a result of curriculum reforms started in the 1980s.
By 2006, Finland’s between-school variance on the PISA science scale was only 5 percent, whereas the average between-school variance in other OECD nations was about 33 percent.
Once poorly ranked educationally, with a turgid bureaucratic system that produced low-quality education and large inequalities, it now ranks first among all the OECD nations (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development—roughly, the so-called “developed” nations) on the PISA (Program for International Student Assessments), an international test for 15-year-olds in language, math, and science literacy.
The country also boasts a highly equitable distribution of achievement, even for its growing share of immigrant students.
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I use the term “teaching and learning system” advisedly to describe a set of elements that, when well designed and connected, reliably support all students in their learning.