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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.Because of these trends, many people have turned to Finland for clues to educational transformation.
To imagine how that might be done, one can look at nations that started with very little and purposefully built highly productive and equitable systems, sometimes almost from scratch, in the space of only two to three decades.A recent analysis of the Finnish system summarized its core principles as follows: The process of change has been almost the reverse of policies in the United States.Over the past 40 years, Finland has shifted from a highly centralized system emphasizing external testing to a more localized system in which highly trained teachers design curriculum around the very lean national standards.Finnish schools are generally small (fewer than 300 pupils) with relatively small class sizes (in the 20s), and are uniformly well equipped.The notion of caring for students educationally and personally is a central principle in the schools.As an example, I am going to briefly describe how Finland built a strong educational system, nearly from the ground up.
Finland was not succeeding educationally in the 1970s, when the United States was the unquestioned education leader in the world.
As one analyst notes: "Most visitors to Finland discover elegant school buildings filled with calm children and highly educated teachers.
They also recognize the large autonomy that schools enjoy, little interference by the central education administration in schools’ everyday lives, systematic methods to address problems in the lives of students, and targeted professional help for those in need." Leaders in Finland attribute the gains to their intensive investments in teacher education—all teachers receive three years of high-quality graduate level preparation completely at state expense—plus a major overhaul of the curriculum and assessment system designed to ensure access to a “thinking curriculum” for all students.
Beginning in the 1970s, Finland launched reforms to equalize educational opportunity by first eliminating the practice of separating students into very different tracks based on their test scores, and then by eliminating the examinations themselves.
This occurred in two stages between 19, and a common curriculum, through the end of high school, was developed throughout the entire system.
Sahlberg notes that Finland has taken a very different path.