Why do Finnish students ace international tests? The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System, a 60-minute movie by Robert Compton (Two Million Minutes) and Harvard researcher Tony Wagner (The Global Achievement Gap), credits a “culture of trust” created by the absence of high-stakes testing, teacher-evaluation systems or homework.
Very smart, very well-trained teachers are the real secret, argues Gadfly’s Daniela Fairchild.
What is most interesting about the film, though, is its depiction of Finland’s rigorous, intense, and competitive teacher-training programs—a more probable explanation for the nation’s academic strength. These programs accept a mere 10 percent of applicants (akin to Ivy League acceptance rates in the U.S.)—and kick out teacher trainees who aren’t up to snuff. Candidates observe veteran teachers, co-design and execute lesson plans, and receive feedback from peers, mentors, and even students.
Finland tracks students in 10th grade: Half go to academic high schools and the rest go to vocational schools.