It seems like every day we're reminded how American kids are falling behind in science and math (we're ranked 24 out of 34 countries that participated in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).
China, the top-ranking country in math, relies on long hours in school (and after school) to teach their students - so it's natural to think that the key to improving US schools is to turn them into dens of Tiger Mothers.
But is there a better way? Turns out, Finland, who ranked second in the list has a very different - and some say better - approach. The key? Better teachers.
Finland's sweeping success is largely due to one big, not-so-secret weapon: its teachers. "It's the quality of the teaching that is driving Finland's results," says the OECD's Schleicher. "The U.S. has an industrial model where teachers are the means for conveying a prefabricated product. In Finland, the teachers are the standard."
That's one reason so many Finns want to become teachers, which provides a rich talent pool that Finland filters very selectively. In 2008, the latest year for which figures are available, 1,258 undergrads applied for training to become elementary-school teachers. Only 123, or 9.8%, were accepted into the five-year teaching program. That's typical. There's another thing: in Finland, every teacher is required to have a master's degree. (The Finns call this a master's in kasvatus, which is the same word they use for a mother bringing up her child.) Annual salaries range from about $40,000 to $60,000, and teachers work 190 days a year.
"It's very expensive to educate all of our teachers in five-year programs, but it helps make our teachers highly respected and appreciated," says Jari Lavonen, head of the department of teacher education at the University of Helsinki. Outsiders spot this quickly. "Their teachers are much better prepared to teach physics than we are, and then the Finns get out of the way. You don't buy a dog and bark for it," says Dan MacIsaac, a specialist in physics-teacher education at the State University of New York at Buffalo who visited Finland for two months. "In the U.S., they treat teachers like pizza delivery boys and then do efficiency studies on how well they deliver the pizza."
Some of your writers would be surprised to find that I am very conservative, as are many of my fellow teachers. I am not afraid of losing tenure, but I do believe that any worker in any job should not be able to be terminated without just cause! My husband was a principal for many years and terminated a number of teachers over the years with very little trouble because he kept very good documentation. Many administrators are much less careful or determined to do the right thing.
I am not afraid of charter schools or any other innovations they want to try. Some may work, but many won't. I still remember the disaster called "the open classroom" of the 70's. Some type of merit pay will be more difficult to institute fairly, but let the powers that be try!
None of you has mentioned that Finland pays completely for the college training of its teachers. U.S. teachers often start their careers with $100,000 in student loans, the cost of a small house. Why would anyone today want to start in the hole for a job that won't ever average more than half that amount in a year? And in the U.S. they want to take away the health benefits as well! In ten years or less there will be a dramatic shortage of teachers, but by then I'll be retired or dead.
Having a union means that the union can set standards, it can discuss directly with "management" (e.g. the government), make sure that the teachers can get the resources they need, and it is important in handling any problems which might happen. The collective bargaining part is important, but only a tiny part of what a union does.
It is only in the US and 3rd world countries that you expect teachers to buy paper and pens for the pupils from his or her income.
And I agree, you should live where ever you want to--I was just pointing out that some of my teachers decided to live in another district. Of those that lived in town, a couple of them were my Mom's friends and a few went to the same church I did.
I also agree that kids need to be responsible citizens and be able to think and reason on their own--but you have an uphill battle as other commenters like Jeffos points out. I am not sure how useful collective bargaining is since only about 5% of the US population are union members, though.