In her book The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, Amanda Ripley discusses how Finland rearranged a critical portion of their education system, which made their students some of the highest scoring kids on an international test called the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).
In America we have a lot of teacher training colleges that aren’t very rigorous in their enrollment process or their curriculum. As a result, these places of higher learning churn out a surplus of teachers who aren’t very well prepared to teach or well educated in their content area. In fact, the book states that most American teachers did not graduate in the top third of their high schools.
The high standards come once the teacher already has a job. The American system makes it really easy to become a teacher, and then schools are expected to work at very high standards with punitive measures taken if students don’t perform well.
Reading what Finland did was as refreshing as a cool drink for Tantalus, considering the fact that Ripley writes about ideas I’ve thought about for years. Finland does not create a surplus of teachers. They make getting into a teacher training college very difficult–about as difficult as medical or law school here. Then, the training is extremely long and rigorous. As a result, teachers are well respected by the students and parents, teachers can be given more autonomy because they are well trained, and–since most Finland teachers faced a challenging enrollment process and curriculum/training in college–they don’t receive many of the punitive No Child Left Behind measures later in their careers.
In this way, teaching becomes a more professional career. All we have to do is flip the system.
We can’t just expect higher standards for our kids; we must also expect high standards for all our educators.