Category Archives: Policy

What can we learn from Finland?

Whenever I tell people I research teaching and learning, they inevitably ask me about Finland.

In the 1980’s, Finland transformed their education system.   Student achievement scores increased.  Teaching became a prestigious career choice among young people.  Teacher preparation programs became one of the most competitive systems in the world.   As a result of these changes (and more), the country comes up often as a promising model for educational reform.

When people talk to me about Finland, the conversation usually turns one of two ways.  In the first, they tell me that Finland is too different from the United States for us to learn anything from them.   They argue that the country is much smaller and not as culturally diverse and that it would be impossible to scale up what is being done in Finland in the U.S.  While there are certainly limitations about what we can learn from them, I’m not sure it’s in our best interest to, as the saying goes, throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The second group of people often ask me why we don’t just copy whatever they are using in schools Finland and use it in the current system here.   They argue we should use their curriculum materials or we should hire teachers that are trained there.

It’s an interesting suggestion, but what would happen if we did that?  Pasi Sahlberg, a researcher and writer on school reform, wrote about exactly that in this piece for the Washington Post.

He argued that if Finland’s teachers were placed in schools in the U.S., they wouldn’t be able to produce any significant gains in student achievement.  The policies and systems in the U.S. would limit the Finish teachers’ abilities to produce the gains they were able to produce in Finland for a variety of reasons, including the pressures of standardized tests, inflexible curricula, lack of strong leadership from principals and lack of support from homes.

Now, this doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to learn from Finland, just that we need to be careful about asking the right questions and how we apply what we learn.  I think that’s where research comes in.

I’ll discuss more about the research in future posts.  But if you want to learn more right now, check out Pasi Sahlberg’s book Finnish Lessons.  It’s talks about the research in an engaging way and provokes some interesting questions about education reform.




Transforming the Teaching Profession: It starts with RESPECT


Articles titled “My profession no longer exists”  and “A warning to young people: don’t become a teacher” have received a great deal of attention recently.  Clearly, they are resonating with many teachers who seem to agree that the profession is being devalued and demeaned.

What’s sad to me is that while I continue to see these articles making the rounds on social media, I don’t see many posts or tweets about people who are offering a solution.  Quitting the profession or discouraging others from joining it cannot be the only ways to take action.

It seems to me that in order to really address the issues that those pieces so passionately point at, we need to have collaboration across different groups.  That’s why I was happy to learn that the President unveiled a blueprint for the RESPECT initiative today.  I think it is a great example of what is possible when those inside the classroom work together with those outside the classroom.

Although my main interests are research and teaching, I also spent a little bit of time in the policy world.   In 2008, I had the opportunity to be a Teaching Ambassador Fellow for the Department of Education.

It was a transforming experience for me.  I had a chance to be a voice for teachers within the department, learn about policy from those within the department and meet many amazing teachers from across the country.  However, I also became aware of the huge gap that exists between policy makers and teachers.  The fellowship was an attempt to bridge that gap.

The fellowship has continued to evolve since our initial group of fellows began in 2008.   The RESPECT initiative is one of the things that resulted from this continued collaboration between policymakers and teachers.

Fellows led hundreds of conversations across the country with teachers about how they envision transforming the teaching profession.   Input gathered from these interviews was used to help inform the blueprint.  I think it’s a great example of the potential that exists when different groups work together.  I hope it can help begin a conversation of how we fix the problem that has so many teachers feeling discouraged about the profession.

I encourage you to go to the educator homepage to check out the resources below and continue the conversation with those around you.