From a post to EDDRA2, written by ‘tdial’:
I don’t know much about schools in Singapore or South Korea, but I happen to know a little something about Finland. In Finland, EVERYTHING about the public school system is different. Well, maybe not literally everything, but a long enough list of things that it’s silly to pick just one and attribute their success to it.
Finland is able to recruit high academic achievers as teachers because teaching at the primary or secondary level is a high-prestige profession there. They have double-digit numbers of applicants for every teaching job that opens up. There is a kind of “virtuous cycle” (if you will) in which the high prestige of the profession attracts high-quality applicants, and the high quality of the successful applicants makes it prestigious. (One wonders how we could get to that place from where we are now.)
Finland has standardized tests, but it does not use the scores as comparative measures of teacher or school quality.
Finland has less poverty than the U.S. Homelessness, chronic hunger, and total lack of access to medical care are virtually nonexistent there, because the economic safety net and the health care system do not let those things happen.
In Finland, EVERY student gets a free hot lunch at school every day. Thus they avoid any possible stigma that might attach to a means-tested free/reduced lunch program, as well as any problems associated with unreliable funding or poor management of such a program.
The quality of schools in Finland is far more uniform than here. Finland doesn’t have world-class, state-of-the-art schools in some communities and dysfunctional, hard-to-staff schools in others. This is largely because funding, educational policy, and teacher training are uniform nationwide.
In Finland, overall educational policy and standards are set at the national level and the day-to-day operation of each school is governed at the local level, with participation by all kinds of stakeholders.
In Finland, the teachers union and national policy makers work as partners to develop effective education policies and programs. The government doesn’t alternate between demonizing the union when one party is in power and sorta-kinda working with it, but not too openly for fear of criticism from “reformers,” when the other party is in.
There are many other differences, of course. We may be able to learn some useful lessons from Finland, Singapore, South Korea, etc., but cross-national comparisons are always, inevitably, apples-and-oranges in some respects.