Trusting teachers: The most radical education reform of all

Want to know how the future of education could look?

Critics of American public education like to point out the unfavorable comparisons between our school children and those of other nations. These same critics, however, are much less likely to compare how those other systems train, treat, or pay their teachers.

One country that has been highly touted for its students’ academic achievements is Finland. According to the BBC, Finland has reason to boast on its educational system. Most recent results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) place Finnish students at or near the top in math, reading, and science.

Over at Claus von Zastrow’s blog on Public School Insights, there is a fascinating interview with Dr. Reijo Laukkanen, Councillor to the Finnish National Board of Education. You can listen to the interview or read the transcript, but here is an excerpt from the blog post:

Imagine a country where no one evaluates teachers, no one evaluates schools, and individual schools’ test results remain confidential.  You’ve just imagined Finland, which regularly bests all other developed nations in international assessments of student performance.

How can Finland pull this off without undermining quality?  According to Dr. Reijo Laukkanen, a 34-year veteran of Finland’s National Board of Education, “We trust our teachers.”

Laukkanen also cited other reasons for Finland’s success:  Ambitious national content standards guide teachers’ work without stifling their professional judgment or creativity.  Aggressive, early and frequent interventions keep struggling students from falling behind.  And schools coordinate with social service providers to prevent disadvantaged students from slipping through the cracks.

Does Finland offer us lessons to live by?

Although it surely not educational nirvana, the Finnish system clearly has gotten right some of the key components of modern schooling. If we in the U.S. diverted the time and some of the money we are now wasting on ill-conceived educational reforms into the recruitment, professional preparation, and support of quality teachers, we could see a real closing of achievement gaps among the various student groups within the country and between our students and their global competitors.

Trusting teachers. This may be the most radical educational reform of all.