Finland - less school time = much better results

A clip from Michael Moore’s 2015 film “Where to Invade Next” (which I hadn’t heard of)

It says that in the 1960s Finland’s schools “sucked” then after trying some new ideas their schools became number 1 while the U.S. is number 29. Their top secret is no homework, and the younger ones go to school for 20 hours a week. They have the shortest school days and shortest school years in the entire Western world. In Facebook the video has had 245,000 shares.

I assumed the movie was about the U.S.'s invasions of countries in recent years but actually it is about surprising things that other countries do differently to America such as not having student debt, etc.
The trailer is here:

The movie was good, although like most Michael Moore movies it’s an amusing polemic rather than a documentary per se.

We’ve discussed the “Finnish model” of primary/secondary education on these boards before, e.g., here.
Also, I keep trying to read this thread title as an equation and get confused when it doesn’t make sense. “Finland - some school time = much better results” would work better, although “Finland - some school time + emphasis on individualized teaching and less competition = much better results” would be more precise. :stuck_out_tongue:

This kind of thinking may be a little out of date. My recollection was that the last time they did international comparisons of secondary / high school students, Finland had fallen quite a number of places and many of the top places were now occupied by Asian countries such as China. A fact that was widely-reported in the Finnish media.

Now, china uses rote-learning, large amounts of homework and a long school day. So we might say conventional thinking has been turned on its head. But as someone living in China I don’t think any of that is the reason for the success per se.
Compared to my home country (Britain), and compared to when I was in secondary school (90s), people here take education much, much more seriously. Kids really feel like it’s the difference between living in squalor and having a very comfortable middle-class life, because it virtually is.
And parents take an active role: they want to hear day by day how well their child is doing and what problems have been encountered.

(But note, we’re just talking about schools here. I don’t think chinese universities turn out very good graduates on average, regardless of how strongly motivated they are)

Based on OECD math and science rankings alone, that is true, except for the China part. Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan took the five top spots, with Finland in 6th place, followed by Estonia, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, Poland, Vietnam. China was not included in the rankings. The US tied with Italy for 28th place.

However, in terms of the success of schooling in nurturing kids overall and not just in producing high math and science test scores, the Finnish system still seems to have some uniquely high achievements.

But is America willing to pay for it?

See page 4 of this PDF for costs in 2006. 5.66% total GDP.

Plus there’s the cost of educating those teachers.

Ah, I see what happened.
China used to just submit results for particular cities, and those results were very high. Shanghai for example came 1st in 2012.

But this was always controversial, and they finally stopped doing this in 2015.

I guess this is fair. But anyway, I stand by what I said: the level of educational attainment among secondary school pupils here is very good IME, at least in many top tier cities (and that already means hundreds of millions of people), but not because of rote-learning.

One thing that seem to be common in many of those countries is the (at least international perceived) reverence/respect/importance that they place on the teachers. Something that seems to be lacking in the US.

That pretty much squares with what limited amount I know about Chinese education, and other (North) Eastern Asian nations to a lesser degree. The Chinese take education seriously and push students in ways that would probably lead to ‘infliction of emotional distress’ litigation in the United States.

The caveat is that not all Chinese children can take it. I’ve seen cases where Chinese families will send their children abroad, either because they refuse to subject their children to those rigors or because they fear that their children might wilt under the pressure.

We do the OECD at my school, and it’s not a test that rewards rote learning.

The U.S. in general does not have an educational problem and our post-secondary school performance shows that. I live in Massachusetts and my kids’ public suburban Boston schools rank near the top in the U.S. and the world. The schools here compete just fine with the other top systems in the world like Singapore but they don’t use any type of revolutionary approach. It is just expected that the kids actually do the work and any student that doesn’t meet the standards gets extra help or interventions. It also creates a culture where parents are forced to take their kids’ education very seriously even at a young age. I don’t agree with all of it but it isn’t black magic and it does produce the intended results. They also have wayyy too much homework in my opinion.

Most public schools in the U.S. are anywhere from extremely good to adequate and don’t need any radical reform. Where the real problem lies is that there are many truly bad schools where the main job of the teachers is to keep students from dropping out or killing each other rather than any deep learning. A lot of it is due to self-segregation and a big reason people are willing to pay much more for a house that isn’t in one of those districts. Those schools generally produce abysmal test results and drag down the average for all of them in ways that don’t represent reality for the whole. I am sure that all countries have that problem to some degree but it is less pronounced in the more homogeneous countries.

Many smart people have tried to come up with solutions to this problem usually with poor or disastrous results (i.e.; busing in the 1970’s or much more funding to inner city city schools) but nobody has cracked that nut yet.

The US doesn’t have “a school system”. We have, at the very least, 50 school systems. Averaging those systems together is going to destroy the actual data which can tell you which systems are working well and which are not.

Sure you can see which systems work and which don’t. Like most things, the answer to this weighty question is $$$.

For those who don’t want to click the link, its to a very nice study in the NYTimes, showing (unsurprisingly) that the richer the school system, the better the kids do.

Also some very interesting data on racial issues, corrected for income.

There were some things that that video left out - the older students said they did about 10-20 minutes of homework and they have no multiple choice exams. Also their teachers said to get rid of standardised tests because you’re just teaching them to do well on those tests and “you’re not really teaching them anything”. One teacher said “school is about finding your happiness”. Moore said that about 1/3 of the time in American schools is about preparing for standardised tests and in may schools they’re eliminating teaching things that aren’t on the tests such as music, art, poetry, civics. He said many eliminated poetry because it won’t help students get a job, etc.
“We try to teach them everything that they need so that they could actually use their brain as well as they can, including PE, including arts, including music - anything that can actually make their brain work better.”
“The children need to be baking, they should be singing, they should be doing art and going on nature walks… because there’s this very short time that they’re allowed to be children.”
Moore: “If you don’t have standardised tests here in Finland, how do you know which schools are the best? You know, people need a list.”
Reply: “The neighbourhood school is the best school… because all the schools in Finland, they are all equal”

“When we move to a new city, we never ask where the best school is. It’s never a question.”
“So nobody has to shop for schools.”
“There’s nothing different in any of our schools. They are the same.”

Moore: “It is illegal in Finland to set up a school and charge tuition. That’s why, for the most part private schools don’t exist. And what that means is that the rich parents have to make sure that the public schools are great. And by making the rich kids go to school with everyone else, they grow up with those other kids as friends. And when they become wealthy adults, they have to think twice before they screw them over.”

“In the United States, education is a business. They’re corporations making money. Here it’s so student centered that when we had to redo our playground, they had the architects come in and talk to the kids.”

“many of these things are initially American ideas”
“We try to teach them to think for themselves and to be critical to what they’re learning”
“teach them to be a happy person, respect others and respect yourself”

That video on Facebook left out so much stuff! So it was misleading that the main difference was just less contact time and homework time!

Thanks for that link. I’ll add to your summary that it’s how rich the* parents* are, not necessarily how much money the school system has available. Not to say there may not be correlation there as well; the article just didn’t really go into it.

If you look into those numbers, keep in mind that poor students often have more adverse childhood experiences than rich children, consequently suffering more learning disabilities and social/emotional difficulties, consequently needing additional services. A district with a lot of kids with Individual Educational Plans (IEPs) is going to spend a lot more per child than a school without as many IEPs, and may still achieve poorer test scores, due to the apples-and-oranges nature of what poor kids and wealthy kids are going through.

Also, overhead (building upkeep, custodial services, etc.) may be higher in urban areas. But I’m just guessing.

It’s also worth noting that schools in poor areas pay for everything–you can’t ask parents to pay for much. Suburban PTAs raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. Parent donations pay the cost of football coaches, drama programs, field trips. In a middle-class school you can ask the kids to buy novels for English class or write a check to participate in Robotics.

What I’d like to see – and these data may not be available – is a comparison between intraschool variability. Do Finnish schools individually have a tighter distribution?

As far as the wealth of the students’ parents go there would be more variability since there aren’t really any private schools (see post 14)