Mellow Finns, studious Koreans

Why do Finland’s schools get the best results? The Finns top international comparisons with the shortest school day in the developed world, reports the BBC.

Children don’t start primary school till age seven and stay at the same school till age 13. Teachers follow the children for several years, so they know their students very well. “I’m like growing up with my children,” says Marjaana Arovaara-Heikkinen, an elementary teachers.

A tactic used in virtually every lesson is the provision of an additional teacher who helps those who struggle in a particular subject. But the pupils are all kept in the same classroom, regardless of their ability in that particular subject.

The education minister has started a pilot project to focus on the needs of gifted students.

Finnish parents often read with their children at home and have “regular contact with their children’s teachers, the BBC says.

By contrast, South Korea’s school day is very long. Students work very hard. And also get top scores in international tests.

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Comments

  1. From a 2008 American Prospect article:

    “Only 10 percent to 12 percent of college students who apply to Finnish teacher-education programs are accepted, and unlike in the United States, they tend to come from the top of their class.”

  2. The South Korean school system scares me. My parents came to America from Korea in order to give my brother and me ‘better educational opportunities.’ It sounds funny since the American educational system isn’t exactly anything to brag about, but they just wanted to get us away from the craziness.

  3. What do they share in common? They are both extremely ethnically and culturally homogeneous.

  4. Anne Clark says:

    What do they share in common? A culture that places a high value on education.

  5. I think it’s probably both.

  6. What do they share in common? They are both extremely ethnically and culturally homogeneous.

    They are ethnically and culturally homogenous and have a very high average cognitive ability.

    Valuing education has nothing to do with it.

  7. The article specifically mentions the most
    Finnish parents read to their kids, suggesting a stable, two-parent family is pretty much the norm, as it is in Asian countries; a big predictor of school success. According to the teacher quoted, there is geographic stability, since Finnish teachers typically teach the same students for several years. Combine that, both in Finland and in Korea, with the cultural and ethnic homogeneity and you would expect good results, although the Finnish Minister of Education admits that top students are not being challenged. I suspect that if you looked only at American white and Asian kids from geographically stable two-parent families, the results would look pretty OK here, too.

  8. Looks like Finland did not participate in TIMSS, and Singapore did not participate in PISA. Too bad.
    The Third International Mathematics and Science Survey (1996 TIMSS) gave percentile scores for each participating country. The Singapore 5th percentile score (8th grade Math) was higher then the US 50th percentile score. According to the American Legislative Exchange Council, one US State, North Dakota, achieved a level of preformance to match Singapore. There’s a fairly lily-white State, so perhaps there’s something to the assertion that cultural uniformity matters. Until recently North Dakota did not compel attendance until age 7, so that may also be a factor.

    We call independent variables “factors” when we observe a significant relation to a dependent variable and do not see how the relation works. “Cultural uniformity” is a factor that is too vague to qualify as a cause. “Factor” becomes “cause” when we lose interest in further dissection of the relationship. As some physicist once said: “The conclusion is the place where you got tired thinking”.

    I have no problem at all with a genetic explanation for the superior performance of East Asians, but since (for now, thankfully) genes are out of reach of policy manipulation, it’s irrelevant to a policy discussion.

    Why do small schools, small school districts, later age of compulsory attendance, and “cultural uniformity” matter to State-level aggregate measures of Reading, Math, and Science performance?

    I suggest that if you try to pull a common thread from all the observed factors, you will find this: Student motivation is the most important policy variable (a factor that policy makers can manipulate) that relates to overall system performance. Policies which enhance student motivation will enhance performance. Policies which degrade motivation will degrade performance.

    Compulsory, unpaid labor is slavery, black or white, male or female, young or old. Many US schools give to students no reason to do what schools require.

  9. Genes are within reach of policy manipulation. Immigration, welfare and tax preferences all have influences on the genetic composition of the future population.

  10. SuperSub says:

    Malcolm-

    I had high hopes for your post until the last paragraph. Your initial analysis was spot on… student motivation is the key to success. As the others have noted, the Finnish and Korean students come predominantly from two parent households that view education as a priority and are taught by teachers who are truly “highly qualified” and are esteemed by society.

    Each one of these factors plays an important part in student motivation. Single parent households are often too chaotic to allow students to focus on education. Parents that don’t push education are supportive of their students not doing well in school. Unqualified teachers confuse and frustrate those students who do try. Students fail to respect teachers when they are taught by society that “those who can’t, teach.”

    Your ritualistic attack on mandatory school attendance in presence of these other factors is like a lifetime smoker blaming chance for their lung cancer.

  11. (SuperSub): “Finnish and Korean students come predominantly from two parent households that view education as a priority and are taught by teachers who are truly “highly qualified” and are esteemed by society.”

    I would not be so sure about family stability in Finland. I do not mean to suggest that single parenthood is not a factor in the differences between students within countries, but it does not explain the difference between US performance and Finland performance.

    Absent policies which give to individual parents the power to determine for their own children the choice of curriculum and the pace and method of instruction, emphasis on teacher credentials will fail in most societies. In normally corrupt societies like the US, insiders sieze any regulatory apparatus (e.g., credentialing agencies), so “highly qualified” comes to mean “has obtained a M.Ed” or “has obtained NBPTS certification”.

    The State (government, generally) cannot subsidize education without a definition of “education”. The State cannot mandate attendance at school without a definition of “school”. The State’s definitions then bind students, parents, and real classroom teachers. Subsidies and policies which restrict parents’ and students’ options for the use of the taxpayers’ K-PhD education subsidy to schools operated by dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel create a class of subsidy recipients who wrest control of the revenue stream from students, parents, and taxpayers.

    Albert Einstein
    “Force and Fear Have No Place in Education”
    “To me the worst thing seems to be for a school principally to work with methods of fear, force and artificial authority. Such treatment destroys the sound sentiments, the sincerity and self-confidence of the pupil. It produces the submissive subject. . . It is comparatively simple to keep the school free from this worst of all evils. Give into the power of the teacher the fewest possible coercive measures, so that the only source of the pupil’s respect for the teacher is the human and intellectual qualities of the latter.”

  12. Malcolm Kirkpatrick – but where does the student motivation start?

    Take the Direct Instruction guys, who reckon that the way to motivate students is to give them lessons where each lesson they can get the majority of the questions right, so each lesson builds on what the students already know, and presents new information very precisely and clearly, with a lot of opportunities for formative feedback. The theory is that kids are logical, so if they can see themselves learning to read/do maths/whatever they will become convinced that they can learn to read/do maths/whatever and thus be motivated to keep learning (there’s also a lot of positive feedback built in).

    So students under this system, if the theory is right, should have great motivation and high achievement. But what is driving this is a curriculum designed in very specific ways, rather than a general desire to motivate.

  13. Tracy,

    It appears that the Direct Instruction authors suppose that competence itself is motivating. Competence probably motivates more students than does a challenging (i.e., failure is likely) curriculum, especially for insecure students.

    In general, “What works?” is an empirical question which only an experiment (in public policy, a federal system of government, in economics, a market economy) can answer. A State-monopoly school system is like an experiment with one treatment and no controls, a retarded experimental design. Separation of powers, federalism, and markets institutionalize humility. Authoritarians promote centralization (e..g., national curricular standards) and the command economy.

  14. SuperSub says:

    Malcolm-

    A couple of things to note regarding the out-of-wedlock childbirth report you cited…

    First, the paper admits failing to acknowledge non-traditional two-parent households…committed relationships where the individuals choose not to formally marry.

    http://www.helsinki.fi/science/xantippa/wee/weetext/wee233.html#3.3.2. Cohabitation
    “There is an increasing number of couples that choose to live together without marrying. Rather than a distinctive Scandinavian phenomenon, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark have been in the vanguard of a family form which is becoming more common throughout northen Europe, and is rising only slightly in southern Europe.”

    Second, your own paper shows that the rate of teenage births in the US is almost 4 times that of Finland. Obviously, teenage mothers are going to be less able to provide a stable environment to their children and are less likely to push education as a priority.

  15. SuperSub says:

    Malcolm –
    Oh, and “In normally corrupt societies like the US”

    Name a developed country that doesn’t have some corruption? Unfortunately, corruption is a factor that accompanies stability.

    “K-PhD education subsidy to schools operated by dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel create a class of subsidy recipients who wrest control of the revenue stream from students, parents, and taxpayers.”

    Try laying that one on in any school district that is cutting positions this year.

  16. Walter_E_Wallis says:

    There needs to be an acknowledgment that culture counts. To the extent that dysfunctional cultures are disproportionally represented in some racial groups, the study of those cultural differences has been poisoned.
    I believe that the goal I sought in the 60s, the elimination of classifying people by race, was a necessary goal. I believe that the continuation of racially classification has obscured more relevant cultural differences. Is there an accepted measure of culture out there?

  17. (Supersub): “Name a developed country that doesn’t have some corruption? Unfortunately, corruption is a factor that accompanies stability.”

    Corruption is obviously “a matter of degree. I don’t have EXCEL on this machine, but I expect corr(CPI, [(TIMSS score)/($per-pupil)]) would be negaive. Corruption will make schools less efficient.

    (SuperSub): “(MK):’K-PhD education subsidy to schools operated by dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel create a class of subsidy recipients who wrest control of the revenue stream from students, parents, and taxpayers.’
    Try laying that one on in any school district that is cutting positions this year.”

    The weakened host supports fewer parasites. No mystery there.

    (Wallis):”There needs to be an acknowledgment that culture counts.”

    “Culture counts” to be sure. I suggest that the performance of a school system relates directly to the match between the culture of system designers and the culture of system clients. That is, when the goals toward which schools would have students work differ from the goals toward which students and their parents aspire, schools will generate failure. School policy is designed by academics, by people who are good at school, by people who have spent their entire lives in school. These people imagine that the college professor is the highest form of life on Earth and that everyone wants to be an academic. Training artistically or mechanically inclined students for an academic career using the transcript as the incentive is like teaching a cat to swim using carrots as the reward. The most important cultural difference which affects school performance is the difference between academic culture and the blue collar culture of most people.

  18. SuperSub says:

    Malcolm-
    Isn’t your link an example of how non-corrupt our society is? The guy got caught. Any stable successful free society will have individuals who attempt to leech off of it… its an inevitable development.

    Regarding you response to my layoffs comment… a weakened host also supports fewer mutualistic organisms. You automatically assume since teachers “live off” of the school that they are parasites when the relationship could be just as likely mutually beneficial.

    http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.17.6971&rep=rep1&type=pdf

    You have argued that earlier compulsory attendance leads to disengagement and lack of academic success. The above paper suggests that the earlier the compulsory schooling begins, the greater the academic achievement.

  19. (Supersub): “Isn’t your link an example of how non-corrupt our society is? The guy got caught.”

    One could fill a book with cases of school corruption. About ten years ago, I obtained a year’s worth of Hawaii DOE classroom building construction contracts. I added all contract amounts and divided by the number of rooms. It cost Hawaii’s taxpayers over $200,000 per room to build rows of 30’x40’x10′ concrete boxes, six units long and three tiers high.

    (Supersub): “Any stable successful free society will have individuals who attempt to leech off of it… its an inevitable development.”

    Stability is an important consideration. See Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation and Mancur Olsen, The Logic of Collective Action”. Parasitism evolves in stable environments. Market turbulence imposes low limits on parasitism, as customers will avoid the higher unit costs of corrupt enterprises. The most effective accountability mechanism which humans have yet devised is a policy which empowers unhappy customers to take their business elsewhere.

    (Supersub): “You automatically assume since teachers ‘live off’ of the school that they are parasites when the relationship could be just as likely mutually beneficial.”

    It does not take 12 years at $12,000 per pupil-year to teach a normal child to read and compute. Most vocational training occurs more effectively on the job than in a classroom. State (government, generally) provision of History and Civics instruction is a threat to democracy, just as State operation of newspapers and broadcast news media would be (are, in totalitarian countries).

    If school is not an employment program for dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel, a source of padded construction and supply contracts for politically-connected insiders, and a venue for State-worshipful indoctrination, why cannot any student take, at any time, an exit exam (the GED will do) and apply the taxpayers’ age 6-18 education subsidy toward post-secondary tuition at any VA-approved post-secondary institution or toward a wage subsidy at any qualified (say, has filed W-2 forms on at least three employees for at least the previous four years) private-sector employer?

    If it is fraud for a mechanic to charge for the repair of a functional motor and if it is fraud for a physician to charge for the treatment of a healthy patient, then it is fraud for a school to charge for the instruction of a student who does not need our help.

  20. Sorry ’bout the botched link in my last comment.

    (SuperSub): “You have argued that earlier compulsory attendance leads to disengagement and lack of academic success. The above paper suggests that the earlier the compulsory schooling begins, the greater the academic achievement.”

    The effect of early compulsory attendance is an interesting and complicated question. Observe that our exemplar, Finland, starts at age 7. I have used NAEP test results to assess the effect and found a positive corelation between age-start and 4th and 8th grade NAEP Reading and Math scores ,Composite, Algebra and Functions subtest, Numbers and Operations subtest, proficiency scores, percentile scores, and mean scores. If you use mean scores by parents race and level of education, some groups show a benefi from earlier age-start, but most do not. This is complicated by the possibility that parents may “redshirt” some kids, so “4th grade” and “8th grade” in one State may not mean the same ages as “4th grade” and “8th grade” in another State. I expect that most people will accept that there is a lower limit, beyond which (benefit-cost) switches to negative. Or do you believe that society would gain if the State took children from parents at birth?

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