The key is good teachers

I try to read a variety of educational issues, and one spot I often turn to is the PISA website. One recent article caught my attention: Private Schools: Who benefits?

Great news – students who attend private schools tend to perform “significantly better “ on international achievement tests. (This is a finding that I will repeat whenever I can, so take note that you read it here first.) A new report, commissioned by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), conducts a socio-economic analysis of the results and paints a more complicated picture, but the good news still stands. Visit the parent section of our website to read a ”CAIS Snapshot” summary of this article.

I moved from this article to Canada’s ranking on the PISA scores. PISA stands forProgramme for International Student Assessment. Of the 31 nations studied in 2009, Canada scored:

–       Third in Reading Literacy (1. South Korea 2. Finland)

–       Fifth in Mathematical Literacy (1. South Korea 2. Finland 3. Switzerland 4. Japan)

–       Fifth in Scientific Literacy (1. Finland 2. Japan 3. South Korea 4. New Zealand)

Canada consistently scored in the top six in 2000 as well, but Finland is the real story as it has made significant improvements to secure high rankings. Finland also ranks first on the UN’s Education Index (Canada ranks sixth).

Now I know that the success of Finland is a two-year-old news item, but I’m hoping a refresher is interesting for you too. After weeks of the Toronto Star’s negative reporting on education, I needed a good news story so I followed abunch of videos and articles (I’ve linked my favorites).

Finns – and others – are attributing their success to some of the following (no doubt there are other factors, but here is what I found as a Top Ten):

  1. Kids don’t start school until the age of 7
  2. Kids can attend free day-care and pre-school programs where the philosophy is that children learn through playing; and for those who so choose, mothers are paid to stay home with their kids until age 3
  3. Finnish families read together
  4. The best university students become teachers, and every teacher must have a masters degree
  5. Small classes and no streaming
  6. Teachers are given full autonomy and even choose their own textbooks
  7. Homework is minimal and outdoor activities are plentiful
  8. There are no high-stakes tests; in fact, there is very little testing at all
  9. Summer vacation is 3 months
  10. Choice is critical: One third of a high school student’s curriculum is electives. At age 16, school is not compulsory and students choose academic or occupational training. (In 2007, 51% of the age group was enrolled in academics)

There is a new film out called The Finland Phenomenon with Tony Wagner. In the middle of ordering it, our friend arrived with a trunk-full of turkeys that had been alive this morning. His turkeys were well-hydrated and organic. Randy said the key to Thanksgiving is a good turkey. So I bought myself a $90 turkey from him because I believed him.

I also believe Henna Virkkunen, the Minister of Education and Science in Finland, who summed up her country’s success in five words: the key is good teachers.

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