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What Can We Learn From Finnish Schools?

In response to:

Schools We Can Envy from the March 8, 2012 issue

To the Editors:

Diane Ravitch’s “Schools We Can Envy” [NYR, March 8] persuasively argues against the last few waves of school reform in the United States by a close examination of the challenging case of Finland. During my time as a Fulbright lecturer in Finland (2006) I was struck by two features of the Finnish education system, neither of which Ms. Ravitch mentions.

The first is that the schools—even at the university level—offer no team sports, which means no “student athlete” hypocrisy, no cheerleaders, no pep rallies, and no architectural shrines devoted to the cult of youthful athletic prowess. If you want to play a competitive sport, you join an after-school club, allowing the schools to concentrate on the arts and sciences.

The second is that Finnish students don’t ride school buses. Students use municipal transportation to convey themselves to school, and bus routes and schedules are carefully designed to accommodate their needs. The schools, rather than being sealed off as special districts, are integrated into the larger social order, which, as Ms. Ravitch indicates, includes comprehensive and affordable health care, among many other things.

I mention these features of the Finnish schools not because I think they are in any way responsible for the remarkable performance of Finnish students on the PISA tests—surely Ms. Ravitch is right that the selectivity and prestige of teacher education programs accounts for most of that—but because I think they are symptomatic of important cultural differences between Finland and the United States, differences that are profound enough that the Finnish model will not easily be replicated here…alas.

Kenneth Kolson
Director
Washington Academic Internship Program/Federal Relations John Glenn School of Public Affairs
The Ohio State
University Washington, D.C.

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