First-Class Education

Minnesota must treat education as a human right essential to the exercise of an effective democracy. At all levels of education, the teaching of critical thinking is paramount. Without the moral values of truth, fairness and objectivity, in a question driven society trained in critical thinking, a democratic government cannot endure nor be reformed.

Public knowledge of world and national history, including civics, has been neglected. Let’s start from the beginning of history and work our way to the present so citizens understand how we got to this point. Without knowledge of the past, you cannot make sense of the present.

In my view, Minnesota should adopt the world’s best developed educational system. Finland has consistently ranked as the number one education system in the world according to rankings from different organizations and institutions.

In 1979, The Finns passed a new law requiring all new elementary and secondary school teachers must possess a master’s degree. Kindergarten teachers are required to have a bachelor’s degree. The master’s program emphasizing professional development and focusing on research-based teacher education has transformed Finland. The decentralization of education put teachers in the driver seat of decision-making and they are trusted with a high degree of professional autonomy to design the curricula, choice of teaching methods and learning materials.

In 2020, the average teacher salary in Finland was $44,180 vs. $62,102 for U.S. teachers. In 2018, the U.S. spent an average of $16,268 a year to educate a pupil compared to $10,661 in Finland.  

A total rethinking of education was adopted rejecting the market-oriented education trends of competition, standardization, school choice, charter schools and privatization. Finland had the courage to choose completely different policies and ways of implementing those policies than other countries. Of the students who take the master’s teaching exams after high school, only 10 percent are accepted to teaching universities. For those who are accepted their tuition and living expenses are free. Because it takes 10,000 hours to become a pro, the Finns seek to retain their teachers for over 10 years, whereas in America, many leave the profession after five years.

Equity and equality of educational opportunity has been a primary driver of their reform success. Equity to the Finns means that they do not allow the family’s social, economic and cultural background to determine their educational performance. Initially, there was harsh criticism of putting equity first. Those false charges were shattered when the first Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) studies provided overwhelming evidence in 2001 that Finland was outperforming most countries in literacy, mathematics and science, but that Finland had the most equitable system in the world.

Education equity is achieved mostly through inclusive special education. About one-third of students attending basic school receive special education. Half of those who leave basic school have been in some type of special education. Therefore, there is no stigma attached to having been in special education and they don’t have to repeat a grade like students in America. A comprehensive approach for identifying students with special needs and learning disabilities begins in early childhood education. First, if learning difficulties are not serious, the student is included in regular class and provided with a part-time special education teacher in small groups with an adjusted curriculum. The second pathway is to provide permanent special education that determines the special needs sometimes within a child’s own school or in a separate institution.

They believe that it is important to have a smart funding system that provides funding where it’s needed most, especially poor areas with high immigration and single-parent families.

Children are being taken care of beginning with early childhood education, intervention and support which begins prior to childbirth through age seven. This includes municipal daycare, private daycare and before and after school care until age 10 with qualified personnel with training in early childhood education. Accessible to all are comprehensive health services and preventative measures to identify possible learning and developmental difficulties before children start schooling at age seven.

A child’s well-being comes first in Finland. Only when children are happy and feel good are they able to learn. Providing health care, dental care, healthy school lunch and other services for free for everybody is essential.

The Finns exercise smart resource management. They have less teaching time and more time for professional collaboration with fellow teachers, building curriculums and assessing their students. They have less classroom hours. Students spend 2.5 hours less in the classroom than in the United States. It is hard to create a teaching profession that is truly professional if they are teaching non-stop. Doctors aren’t in surgery 8-hour a day and lawyers aren’t in the courtroom continuously. Classroom hours do not correlate to better performing students. Finland often outperforms the Netherlands and Australia even though their children have two or more years of classroom time. Homework is minimal, a half-hour a day. This means their kids have more time to play which is viewed as important.

Finland applied the knowledge, research and innovation of American educators to its system and succeeded. Yet, the United States hasn’t practiced what it has preached to education systems in the world. Instead of excelling in education the US has burdened itself with bureaucracies, test-based accountability, and competition, stunting its education system with forced regulation.  The solutions of tougher competition between schools, stronger accountability for student achievement, performance-based pay for teachers and closing down troubled schools are all part of a recipe to fix a failing education system. However, tougher competition, more data, abolishing teacher unions, opening more charter schools, or employing corporate management models into education systems will not bring about a resolution to our education crises.

Finland has proven that collaboration, networking, cooperation and sharing beats competition in education. Finns want more personalized and individualized learning based on creativity, innovation and the ability to produce diversity, not standardization where everyone thinks the same. Equity and school choice are opposites because evidence shows that school choice enhances segregation.

Privatization of a public function puts profits over people and cannot serve the core public mission of education. Let’s follow the Finnish trailblazers who adopted American educational research and applied it for the common good.