NSBA Center for Public Education Examines Teaching in Finland and the U.S.

July 23, 2018

(Alexandria, Va.) – In the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international standardized survey that tests 15-year-old students in over 70 countries and economies on reading, math, and science, Finland, has long scored among the highest while the United States routinely places about average. “How teachers in the U.S. and Finland see their jobs,” a new report from the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA), Center for Public Education (CPE), finds that while student demographics and cultural aspects in the two countries differ significantly, Finnish practices that include valuing teachers, affording them more autonomy and shorter hours, and relying more upon formative assessments are practices and policies likely to explain some of the differences in overall student achievement.

“Public schools across the United States offer a multitude of programs and services designed to address the unique needs of our increasingly diverse and growing student population,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, National School Boards Association, Executive Director & CEO. “While our public schools are achieving outstanding results, there is much more to be done and much to be learned from high performing school districts both within and outside our nation’s borders.”

In “How teachers in the U.S. and Finland see their jobs,” CPE compares data from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Teaching and Learning International Survey and the PISA results, for both countries, in several key areas including teacher preparation, how teachers spend their time, teacher autonomy, evaluation, and student demographics, finding evidence of both differences and similarities. CPE’s key findings include:

  • There is little difference in the completion and content of teacher education or training programs in Finland and the U.S., however, Finnish teachers are required to have a master’s degree in education and their programs place a greater emphasis on research.
  • Finnish teachers report feeling valued in society and being compensated at a rate closer to that of a similarly educated professional, differing significantly with their American counterparts.
  • Teachers in Finland have shorter work weeks; however, they devote a higher proportion of their time to actual teaching. American teachers report working longer hours overall and devote much more time to non-teaching or administrative tasks.
  • American teachers serve a significantly higher percentage of students who live in poverty or are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, and whose first language is different from the language of instruction. 
  • Teachers in Finland report having more decision-making power on school level policies and procedures than teachers in the U.S.
  • Finnish teachers report that a considerably high emphasis is placed on teacher collaboration and parent and student feedback. In the U.S. teachers report that more emphasis is placed on student assessment practices and student performance. Interestingly, there are no mandated national student assessments in Finland.

“The U.S. is not Finland and there are limits to how much we can borrow in our efforts to improve public education,” said Patte Barth, Director of the Center for Public Education. “Even so, this report should make us think about how we view teaching as a profession. Among our findings are that teachers in Finland work fewer hours, have more autonomy in the classroom, and perhaps most significantly, are far more likely to feel valued by society. How or whether such differences relate to student achievement and school performance is something worth exploring further.”

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The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is the leading advocate for public education and supports equity and excellence in public education through school board leadership. NSBA believes education is a civil right necessary to the dignity and freedom of the American people, and all children should have equal access to an education that maximizes his or her individual potential. The association represents state school boards associations and their more than 90,000 local school board members throughout the U.S.

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