How Shanghai, Finland and Canada Teach

chinese studentsBy Peter Galuszka

Not one to be carried away by the STEM craze, I did find it fascinating in today’s editorial page of the New York Times that the United States is way low on the  totem pole on math scores for students. We’re below Latvia, Russia and Spain and a little above Sweden, Israel and Greece.

Shanghai leads the pack while Finland and Canada are in the upper middle.

Why so?

According to the Times, the better scoring countries are more vigorous in their training and selection of teachers, have funding mechanisms that are more equal and have school systems that shun elitism.

Teaching is a respected profession that pays more than it does in the U.S. If you want to get a general idea about how teachers are regarded, read this blog for a dose of sneering and snobbery. Not so in Finland where teachers make just a little more than average salaries. But they are better selected and highly regarded by the Finnish public. Snobbery is out. Educating the poor is as important as teaching the rich.

Canada does not fund its schools according to property taxes the way Americans do. The apple pie method ensures entitlement and disparity since richer communities obviously put more money into schools. The Canadians do it more on a provincial basis and by need so there isn’t the huge spending and resource gap between rich and poor. Likewise, they automatically cut back during bad economic times. In Virginia, teachers are usually the first targeted and among them the first to go are arts, music and physical education teachers.

One of the Gregorian Chants you hear on this blog is that spending has nothing to do with quality. In fact, lots of spending distributed equally has everything to do with quality.

Shanghai led China’s comeback in education after Mao’s zany ideas destroyed it. The Times believes that Shanghai has boosted its students’ performance by making sure that everyone — including the children of migrants — are included. To be sure, there’s plenty of graft and influence peddling in China so that rich kids get prime placement, but one can’t argue with the scores.

Another takeaway: it’s not all about STEM. Although the scores used in these comparisons are based on mathematics, the successful school systems have competent programs in language skill, are, social studies and foreign languages. They have NOT treated their children like robots that need be only programmed to handle a physics experiment or a software program. This is another asinine idea that you get from American think tanks and thoughtless bloggers who shall go nameless.

6 Responses to How Shanghai, Finland and Canada Teach

  1. Peter, I hope you do a better job of accurately reflecting the content of the NY Times article than you do of what I blog!

  2. Wow, talk about a guilty conscience! Did I mention you? Where?

  3. well folks should read the article as well as the links inside the article that explain, for instance that all kids in Finland are expected to be able to solve quadratic equations…

    AND that there very definitely is a national curricula and national standardized testing.

    there are differences of opinion as to what should be taught and tested for but whatever you decide on – you have to measure.

    We’d not know any of the comparisons between Europe, Japan and the US if it were not for testing and test results.

    You cannot get into college without passing a standardized test. You cannot get into the military without a standardized test. you cannot become a doctor or a lawyer or a Professional Engineer.

    The problem that US kids have, according to these tests and reports, is that they do not learn to USE what they’ve LEARNED as TOOLs to solve problems. They memorize.. they can manipulate words and equations but they are not using those things in ways to solve real world 21st century problems.

    We’ve not gotten worse. We have been this way for decades. We did not get worse, we just did not keep up. The problem is the world has changed in terms of needed job skills and other countries have upped their game so their kids can compete for their share of 21st century jobs and we have not and instead of getting our act together and making changes, we are arguing about standardized testing, bad teachers, and unions.

  4. Peter Galuszka wrote:

    Not so in Finland where teachers make just a little more than average salaries. But they are better selected and highly regarded by the Finnish public. Snobbery is out. Educating the poor is as important as teaching the rich.

    I am biased on this subject, for I am 3/4 Finnish (and 1/4 Swedish), and even more biased because a second cousin of mine in Finland is one of the architects of the Finnish educational system, and it is one of his jobs to screen who gets to enter professional training to become a teacher. I communicate with him sometimes (he is a remarkably decent fellow) who never, ever engages in chest-thumping about how good their educational system is.

    It is true that teachers are regarded with respect in Finland, and it is expected that students (and parents) will respect their teachers, and apparently they do.

    You mention the poor above. Contrary to their reputation, Finland has admitted a fair number of immigrants from places as diverse as the former Soviet Empire and Somalia. Their is a strong national policy not to have “language ghettos,” where people do not speak Finnish (about 5% or 6% of the population speaks Swedish as its mother tongue, and Swedish is an official language in Finland, but I am confining my discussion to Finnish).

    So the Finns are very aggressive about getting immigrant children and adults to learn Finnish as soon as possible (and Finnish is a very difficult language for most people – it is a member of the Finno-Ugric family of languages, which includes Estonian, Finnish and Hungarian [some have said that it may be distantly related to Korean], and is in no way related to English, Swedish or Russian, except that it uses the Latin alphabet).

  5. yes… if you go to the NYT article and find the link ” one of the most rigorous required curriculums in the world, ” and click, it brings up the National Core Curriculum for High School. Its’ 227 pages long and there are numerous passages about the importance of language including the “mother tongue”.

    then the NYT article says this :

    “But the most important effort has been in the training of teachers, where the country leads most of the world, including the United States, thanks to a national decision made in 1979. The country decided to move preparation out of teachers’ colleges and into the universities, where it became more rigorous. By professionalizing the teacher corps and raising its value in society, the Finns have made teaching the country’s most popular occupation for the young. These programs recruit from the top quarter of the graduating high school class, demonstrating that such training has a prestige lacking in the United States. In 2010, for example, 6,600 applicants competed for 660 available primary school preparation slots in the eight Finnish universities that educate teachers.

    The teacher training system in this country is abysmal by comparison. A recent report by the National Council on Teacher Quality called teacher preparation programs “an industry of mediocrity,” rating only 10 percent of more than 1,200 of them as high quality. Most have low or no academic standards for entry. Admission requirements for teaching programs at the State University of New York were raised in September, but only a handful of other states have taken similar steps.

    Finnish teachers are not drawn to the profession by money; they earn only slightly more than the national average salary. But their salaries go up by about a third in the first 15 years, several percentage points higher than those of their American counterparts. Finland also requires stronger academic credentials for its junior high and high school teachers and rewards them with higher salaries.”

    Note the date – 1979 – that’s more than 30 years ago the Finns started to reform their system. In that same time period – the US schools basically stayed the same although we did institute NCLB – we have resisted the idea of national standards for academics and teacher preferring instead that each state do their own thing and with just a couple of notable exceptions like Massachusetts basically refused to deal with the 21st century realities and instead complain about “teaching to the test”, high stakes testing, bad teachers, unions, AND the “right” of each state to do what they thought best which in more than a few states end up with de-facto “rich” schools and “poor” schools where the at-risk kids clearly do not get the resources needed to stay on grade level.

    This is a scandal. We have specifically-identifiable demographic groups – with normal, typical IQs that – as a group – are scoring 10-20 points lower than other demographic groups – so low that many of them drop out – as much as 25% or more and a good number of the remaining ones lacking even enough basic education and literacy to get minimum wage jobs.

    Then there are fairy tale views of Scandinavia in terms of “private, independent schools, and no standard curricula (I’d refer folks back to the provided link if you believe that). These are NOT huge countries and without their dedication to education for their entire workforce – given their “socialist” proclivities (including universal health care) , etc – they could be poor countries.

    but they are not. They are among the most highly literate on the planet and they manage to pay for one of the more socialist govt programs and they have among the highest life expectancies.

    It’s a triumph for them. And for us – the “greatest country on the face of the earth” – truly an embarrassment for we were one of the countries that pioneered public education that then provided the US with one of the most literate and educated workforces in the world .

    that was then – this is now.

    Now.. our “big” idea is to talk about charter/choice/MOOC … as if somehow, those things will take the place of what the Fins have done.

    Too many of us think that tough, rigorous academic standards are a “threat” to kids and will hurt them “academically” later on when they need to get into college and have poor grades.

    We’ll never be Finland (or vice versa) but isn’t it ironic that one of the most socialist countries in the world just kicks our capitalistic butts when it comes to education?

  6. Great discussion. Thanks to all.

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