Can Finnish education be copied?

by on February 11, 2016 at 1:44 pm in Books, Education | Permalink

The access to teacher training is highly competitive; there are ten applicants for every training place to become a primary schoolteacher.  It does not seem  to dawn upon those in Britain and the United States who want to implement the Finnish system that it would mean firing something like three-quarters of the current teachers.

That is from new and interesting Education Unchained: What It Takes to Restore Schools and Learning, by Erik Lidström, mostly from a Hayekian perspective.  The author claims, by the way, that the Finnish model has been declining since it has been made more student-centered and less teacher-centered.

1 Eatonrapidsjoe February 11, 2016 at 2:14 pm

And hence, the value of “Finnish-ing school”

Sorry. I could not resist.

2 Nathan W February 11, 2016 at 2:59 pm

Once upon a time I learned quite a lot from a Finnish student.

3 David H. February 11, 2016 at 5:41 pm

The only thing I learned from Finnish students is how to drink vodka “properly”: The first step is to ceremonially throw the bottlecap out the window.

4 prognostication February 11, 2016 at 7:21 pm

I bonded with the Finns over Salmiakki Koskenkorva, which I love and most non-Finns hate.

5 robert February 12, 2016 at 5:48 pm

Eatonrapidsjoe: You need to go to “Hel-sinki.”

6 Art Deco February 11, 2016 at 2:16 pm
7 HC February 11, 2016 at 2:31 pm

Why not both?

8 Erik Lidström February 14, 2016 at 7:08 am

A bit late to comment maybe, but my book is not about school reform, it is about education reform. Schools are merely a means to impart education. There are other methods. Historically, it turned out that schools became the most popular methods for educating children in ancient Greece, Rome, the 19th century. Then schools were taken over by the government. If government were not involved, most children would most likely go to school to receive their education. And a much larger fraction than today of all children would become educated. On average children would learn more than twice as much as they do today.

As far as I have been able to tell, no one has taken my approach since Adam Smith in 1776. It is a Hayekian approach, but Hayek himself is not Hayekian in his take on education in The Constitution of Liberty. The books by Andrew Coulson (Market Education), E G West (Education and the State) and James Tooley (The Beautiful Tree) are very good and well worth reading.

9 Rich Berger February 11, 2016 at 2:19 pm

I have heard suggestions that schools could be improved by firing the worst 10% of teachers. According to this guy, that’s just the appetizer.

10 gab February 11, 2016 at 6:17 pm

If it works for Goldman, it should work in schools.

Or maybe we should pay teachers what Goldman pays.

Or both…

11 Jamie_NYC February 12, 2016 at 9:23 am

Better yet, fire the worst students! If we want better schools, let’s replace unruly US students with Finnish and Korean kids, and watch the miracle occur.

12 Liberal schoolteacher February 11, 2016 at 2:25 pm

Wait, I thought adopting the Finnish system means higher salaries, fancier schools, less hours, and more support staff for us teachers??

13 HC February 11, 2016 at 2:33 pm

If bad teachers can be fired promptly, I would agree with you.

14 ConfirmationBiasIsAFemaleDog February 11, 2016 at 4:10 pm

What does “bad teachers can be fired promptly” mean? There’s a bunch of stuff to unpack in that you don’t define or make any attempt to.

What is a “bad teacher?” How do we determine which are the “bad” teachers? Having worked in schools most of the staff know who the poor performers are. The problem is that they haven’t found an appropriate way to measure performance of teachers that really works. Testing and student outcomes are not entirely contingent on teacher performance — an excellent teacher cannot force parents or students to take school seriously. The same educator may be highly effective for one student’s learning style and ineffective for another. Should a teacher be penalized simply because they get a disproportionate number of poor students (before you make the claim this is fairly unlikely — how do you test performance of teachers in schools that traditionally underperform? If teaching in a school with bad test scores is seen as quick route to the end of a teaching career we’ll have an even harder time recruiting candidates for the hard but necessary work of helping to rebuild our underperforming schools.

What is “fired promptly?” Generally it seems to mean “remove protections from firing teachers enjoy.” If you’re trying to recruit and retain a talented group of professionals the worst way to do so would be to make those jobs less secure. People are by their very nature risk-averse. If you want to turn teaching into something highly contingent on student outcomes with a minimal amount of protections for the professionals you employ you’re basically guaranteeing a poor pool of candidates to choose from.

I’ve never understood why criticism of our public schools is coupled with policy prescriptions that would immiserate teachers. It’s especially amusing to read it from people who fancy themselves economists. Imagining the problems of our public school system are simply a function of labor protection and “bad” employees ignores nearly every insight of economics. When folks ignore the lessons of their own discipline to come to a policy idea it’s hard to take them seriously.

15 Cliff February 11, 2016 at 4:18 pm

Teachers only have those protections due to their monopoly power through public sector unions that negotiate with governments that are beholden to them and have no incentive to push back. You don’t see those kinds of rights in the private sector.

16 ConfirmationBiasIsAFemaleDog February 12, 2016 at 3:56 pm

Again — define “bad teacher” and “fired promptly.” Your answer is a red herring.

17 Thomas February 12, 2016 at 10:52 pm

How about any increase in teacher firing from the current non-existant rate, up to the average rate for professionals? Avoiding the point is lying by omission. Reality is a bitch when you believe this that aren’t true.

18 Heather February 17, 2016 at 7:28 pm

Not all public school teachers are protected by unions. I taught for 20 years in Texas. Never signed a union-negotiated contract. Work in the private sector now. Still have a contract that not union-negotiated.

Taught science in big schools, little schools, urban, suburban, and rural schools with class sizes from 4 to 60. Taught AP students, gifted students, honors students, regular students, vocational-technical students, as well as special needs students sometimes all in the same room at the same time. Kids are kids, some responded well to me some didn’t. It happens. There is so much outside of the teacher’s locus of control that impacts a student’s learning. Started making 18K ended making 55K (beginning teachers were starting at 42-45K at that point). Making generalizations about schools, teachers, and students is not a good practice.

There is no one way to fix what is broken in schools, if there was, everyone would be doing it. Effective teaching varies from teacher to teacher, subject to subject, and student to student. If you’ve been a student or had children in school you have had the opportunity to observe that if you were looking.

19 derek February 11, 2016 at 4:33 pm

I think you have it backwards. Competent people won’t stay where quality is defined by the lowest common denominator.

My daughter had a teacher that hollered at the kids all the time. It seems to take extraordinary obtuseness not to see the obvious in these instances.

20 The Original D February 11, 2016 at 10:23 pm

My dad was an airline pilot in the sixties through the eighties. He was in union for many years, but he ultimately quit because he was sick of the union protecting incompetent people.

But he made good money and that was a time when you kept a job for life, so in that sense I guess the union was good for him. But was it good for the airline’s customers?

21 Dan Weber February 11, 2016 at 5:11 pm

Having worked in schools most of the staff know who the poor performers are

It seems like you’ve done it. This is the way all professionals work.

The problem is civil-service protections appropriate for non-professional work are being applied to professionals.

22 Anon. February 11, 2016 at 6:22 pm

Some of the most sought-after positions on the planet (e.g. pretty much any position in finance) feature zero job security.

23 prognostication February 11, 2016 at 7:33 pm

Are we paying new teachers 6 figures fresh out of college now?

24 brad February 12, 2016 at 12:17 pm

“What is a “bad teacher?” How do we determine which are the “bad” teachers? Having worked in schools most of the staff know who the poor performers are. The problem is that they haven’t found an appropriate way to measure performance of teachers that really works”

You’ve got your answer right there. Manager should be allowed to manage — hire, fire, promote and give bonuses. Using metrics to inform but not dictate their decisions.

I have no idea how anyone managed to convince himself that because the usual system isn’t perfect (yes, office politics are a thing) the worst system in the world (seniority) should be used instead,

25 ConfirmationBiasIsAFemaleDog February 12, 2016 at 3:57 pm

Because retention in a traditionally female “industry” is pretty damn difficult. When many of your new hires are looking at a job as 3-4 year commitment before quitting and pursuing their real objectives in life you have to do something to retain some senior employees.

26 brad February 12, 2016 at 4:09 pm

Most US nurses don’t work in systems with strict seniority or ironclad lifetime employment guarantees.

When you start with a conclusion and work back to a justification it is not going to be very convincing.

27 JWatts February 11, 2016 at 2:47 pm

“Wait, I thought adopting the Finnish system means higher salaries, fancier schools, less hours, and more support staff for us teachers??”‘

Yes it does, for a give set of “us teachers”.

28 Cliff February 11, 2016 at 3:41 pm

Finnish teachers have more students and get paid almost exactly the same as teachers in the U.S.

29 JWatts February 11, 2016 at 3:55 pm

Quick Quiz:

What prominent politician said that teachers get paid on par with doctors and engineers in most other countries?

30 Thor February 11, 2016 at 4:03 pm

Hillary, I think.

31 Thor February 11, 2016 at 4:05 pm

But then again I wasn’t educated in Finland.

32 Cliff February 11, 2016 at 4:19 pm

Teachers and engineers are probably fairly close in the U.S. when you take into account amount of work and benefits/perks. Doctors get paid much less in other countries.

33 Dan Weber's computer February 11, 2016 at 2:31 pm

I’d like to get a decent answer on how much does teacher quality matters.

34 JWatts February 11, 2016 at 2:51 pm

“Over a multi-year period, Sanders focused on what happened to students whose teachers produced high achievement versus those whose teachers produced low achievement results. He discovered that when children, beginning in 3rd grade, were placed with three high-performing teachers in a row, they scored on average at the 96th percentile on Tennessee’s statewide mathematics assessment at the end of 5th grade. When children with comparable achievement histories starting in 3rd grade were placed with three low-performing teachers in a row, their average score on the same mathematics assessment was at the 44th percentile,”

35 Dan Weber February 11, 2016 at 3:16 pm

Did the effects stick around 5 years later?

36 Adrian Ratnapala February 12, 2016 at 12:14 pm

If we’re going to play that game, then I wonder if we need schools at all. Without them the bright kids with good families will still get ahead after all.

37 TMC February 11, 2016 at 6:38 pm

May be an effect of more capable students were placed with more capable teachers.

38 TMC February 11, 2016 at 6:39 pm

Also, what is a high performing teach? One with high performing students? going in circles here.

39 Nathan W February 11, 2016 at 10:13 pm

I think everyone has a pretty good idea of what a high performing teacher is. Problem is, it’s likely to be more of a “know it when you see it” sort of thing than something you can count on to show up in standardized test results.

40 Adrian Ratnapala February 12, 2016 at 12:16 pm

This is a problem when school-reforming politicians try to create centralised performance pay and whatnot. It isn’t so much of a problem if principals are autonomous: they will simply try to put together the best team they can get without needing articulable definition of what “best” is.

41 Larry Siegel February 13, 2016 at 8:17 pm

I *think* I know what a high performing teacher is, but I tend to see them around high performing students, so it’s hard to disentangle these effects. Teachers who turn low-performing into high-performing students are a rare bird indeed.

42 Art Deco February 11, 2016 at 4:00 pm

OOOH. Wave that red cape in front of Education Realist.

43 Chip February 11, 2016 at 4:28 pm

Student quality is probably more important. Here in Singapore the teachers are generally very poor at motivating the kids and expressing ideas clearly. Even at the very top schools the standard of teaching can be shocking.

But the kids mostly come from stable and supportive homes with parents who care deeply about education.

In Finland, while the teachers do seem to be selected for intelligence, I suspect that Finnish cultural attributes matter more. Finns have exceptional determination.

But as the author says, Finnish education is declining now in the PISA rankings since they shifted to more student driven classrooms like they do in Sweden.

44 Megan Pledger February 11, 2016 at 5:17 pm

Teachers matter a great deal *but* the variation in teaching performance (as measured by testing outcomes) is very small compared to all sorts of other variation – essentially all teachers move the mean up by roughly the same amount – there is just so much noise from other variables.

45 JWatts February 11, 2016 at 8:27 pm

“essentially all teachers move the mean up by roughly the same amount ”

That’s not true! Which you would have known if you had even bothered to look at the very next post. There’s a huge difference in student outcomes based upon teacher quality.

46 mbutu o malley February 11, 2016 at 3:43 pm

I’m for anything that introduces meaningful quality control on teachers. I’ve met very few teachers over the years that I wouldn’t fire given the choice.

47 David H. February 11, 2016 at 5:46 pm

Whether that would be an improvement depends entirely on who would take their place.

48 mbutu o malley February 12, 2016 at 3:37 pm

I’m almost convinced that we could improve the average outcome by replacing them with Skinner inspired teaching machines and a monitor.

49 mbutu o malley February 12, 2016 at 5:01 pm

Might be a language issue, by monitor I mean an overseer of sorts. This role doesn’t require substantial skill or education, you could pay them as little as a teacher and get the job done.

50 delta February 11, 2016 at 3:44 pm

“Government should have no, or hardly any role in the financing of education, in the setting of curricula or diploma, or in the supervision of schools and education.”
–Erik Lidström

…..but, but how then would the government control the populace without control of the education system ??

“A general state education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another; and the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation. In proportion as it is efficient, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body.” –John Stuart Mill

51 Nathan W February 11, 2016 at 3:52 pm

How does the education system control people? Please be specific.

52 Rick Hull February 11, 2016 at 4:10 pm


Blind acceptance of authority

Undermining critical thinking

Leftist agendas

53 Nathan W February 11, 2016 at 10:15 pm

Those all sound like pretty vague claims.

How do they indoctrinate people?

How do schools force blind acceptance of authority (and meanwhile, aren’t right wingers always complaining that the problem is that schools aren’t strict enough)?

How do schools undermine critical thinking.

How do school promote “leftist agendas”? Which leftist agendas? How so?

Be more specific please.

54 Deek February 12, 2016 at 6:06 am

“How do they indoctrinate people?”

I was presented with a very skewed (ultra-nationalist) view of history in my early years. Partly because it’s much easier to explain things to young children in black and white, but still, events such as The ’45 and the clearances were far from England vs Scotland.

55 Art Deco February 12, 2016 at 12:28 pm

How do they indoctrinate people?

Generally by framing and emphases. In this country, it is done by neglecting, to the point of extirpating it entirely, military history and conventional political history (see KC Johnson on this point), by making use of prisms like the race-class-gender discourse, by a twee fixation on minor figures (e.g. Harriet Tubman or Sojourner Truth) or events of only passing consequence (Joseph McCarthy’s career). Emphases are going to reflect value scales, but American history faculties are so addled by monovox that students of history are simply never exposed to any alternative perspectives, or the perspectives they are exposed to exclude everything but the race-class-gender particularism, Marxism, and social-liberalism.

56 Nathan W February 13, 2016 at 8:18 pm

Art – I’m curious how you might prefer to frame any of those subjects differently, without leading to equal claims of some other sort of indoctrination.

Is there time in those years to become comfortable with competing interpretations/methods in different subjects?

57 JWatts February 11, 2016 at 4:11 pm

“How does the education system control people? Please be specific.”

Nathan W, sometimes you ask the most obtuse questions. There’s absolutely no doubt that the US education system controls people. The debate between reasonably informed people is to whether the good effects out weigh the bad.

But if you really can’t think of how the education system controls people, I’ll start with the obvious:
Students are legally required to go to a school or provide documentation of learning if they are not in a registered school.
Students are required to arrive on time most days and to provide documentable evidence for pro-longed absences.
Students are required to meet a fairly strict dress code.
Students are required to line up in a queue at various times.
Students are required to attend various functions, even ones not directly associated with education.
Students are required to obey school staff instructions under threat of various penalties.

58 gab February 11, 2016 at 4:54 pm

Sounds like a job.

59 Art Deco February 11, 2016 at 5:11 pm

You’re not compelled to work for a particular employer, and you get paid.

60 gab February 11, 2016 at 6:18 pm

You’re not compelled to go a specific school, and your pay is deferred.

61 Art Deco February 11, 2016 at 8:22 pm

No, schools are local monopolies, your attendance is compulsory, and there is no deferred compensation.

62 MC February 11, 2016 at 8:27 pm

A job that you are legally compelled to hold is known as “slavery.”

63 Nathan W February 11, 2016 at 10:24 pm

Education is tough medicine. Some kids learn to like it, but for others, we force them through it, believing it’s for their own good.

The best education in one which promotes a love of learning, because then the medicine is sweet.

64 ivvenalis February 12, 2016 at 1:05 am

Rustication is tough medicine. Some learn to like it, but for others, we force them through it, believing it’s for their own good.

The best program is one which promotes a love of honest work, because then the medicine is sweet.

65 gab February 12, 2016 at 11:40 am

No, schools are not local monopolies. There are private schools and home-schooling for those so inclined. Many districts accept kids from other districts. And yes, the compensation is deferred, as educated children earn more later than uneducated.

66 Art Deco February 12, 2016 at 12:10 pm

No, schools are not local monopolies.

No, they are effective local monopolies because public policy makes it prohibitively costly to depart the system, and quite unecessarily so. Quit lying so brazenly. It’s condescending.

67 gab February 12, 2016 at 1:33 pm

I just described 3 ways in which they are not local monopolies and you failed to refute any of them, and then resorted to name calling. The last bastion of a poor argument.

68 Art Deco February 12, 2016 at 2:05 pm

I refuted all three of them in one sentence, which you refuse to acknowledge because lying is your business. That’s not name-calling. That’s description.

69 Nathan W February 12, 2016 at 5:01 pm

ivvenalis – ha, ya, good counterpoint

Art – your rebuttal was not accompanied by any facts. Perhaps the perspective you raise is relevant in remote communities where it is logistically impossible to try to attend some other school. The existence of private schools, home schooling and the ability to switch schools/boards (all three mentioned by gab) are basically nails in the coffin for your argument. The strongest argument you could make is something like “in many remote areas, there are few competitive forces for a school to do better, and this problem is not irrelevant in some urban areas too”.

70 Nathan W February 11, 2016 at 10:21 pm

There are some very desirable ways that schools and education in general should aim to have influences on the social behaviours of students. For example, promoting a work ethic, good ability to work in teams, self discipline, not being a complete ass all the time, and others.

The way some people put, it’s as though people think the system is set up to brainwash people into being leftist/rightist or whatever scares you.

Education influences people. It doesn’t control them. I agree that all the specific things you mention will have reforming effects on students, and the freedom-driven side of me does not entirely relish it. But when it’s portrayed in a 1984 or Stalinist style, this is ridiculous for the current reality of the USA.

71 JWatts February 11, 2016 at 11:52 pm

“Education influences people. It doesn’t control them. ”

Maybe, but the Education system sure as shit does control them.

“The way some people put, it’s as though people think the system is set up to brainwash people into being leftist/rightist or whatever scares you.”

Well sure, there was a whole post on 13 year old Ted Cruz attending a “a conservative foundation aimed at teaching youth about economics and government. “. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Do you?

72 Nathan W February 12, 2016 at 12:30 am

It certainly wouldn’t bother me to know that a conservative foundation was sponsoring youth participation according to their intellectual and ideological tradition so long as various other streams of thinking were also in a good position to do similar things.

To be honest, I’m more concerned about the media than education for this kind of stuff. But again, even though some people manage to seclude themselves into various echo chambers, there is still quite a variety of media and it is not very credible to suggest that there is a systemic preference for leftist or rightist media in any sort of scary systemic dictatorial 1984-ish kind of way.

73 Art Deco February 12, 2016 at 12:21 pm

But again, even though some people manage to seclude themselves into various echo chambers,

We’re reminded of that every time you post something on Israel

74 Mies February 11, 2016 at 3:46 pm

If the Finnish education system is so good, why has Finland’s economy contracted for three years in a row now?

75 Chris February 11, 2016 at 5:09 pm

For reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of its education system.

Short answer – the decline of Nokia

Long answer – geography. Its climate and terrain, closest trade partners, and distance from most supply chains means Finland is relatively disadvantaged compared to many other economies. This makes it more vulnerable. Nokia was a singular success story, and when its cell phone business declined, its outsized impact dragged down the rest of the economy because so much was dependent on it.

76 February 11, 2016 at 7:11 pm

The Fins do not understand fractional contractions over the years 🙂

35 percent of the 2400 tested (polytechnic) students have been able to do an elementary (fraction) problems

principal lecturer in mathematics, Helsinki Polytechnic Stadia

77 Thomas February 11, 2016 at 3:58 pm

Firing teachers is a non-starter for the US Democratic party, even if it was absolutely guaranteed to significantly improve education outcomes. There are other priorities in education more important than the outcome for children.

78 Art Deco February 11, 2016 at 4:07 pm

When you realize the whole point of inner-city school systems is payola for Democratic constituency groups, the whole fan dance makes sense.

79 Tarrou February 11, 2016 at 4:05 pm

There is a theoretical self-reinforcing cycle which allows for teachers to be “paid” more with status than money. Unfortunately, this requires that teaching be viewed as socially desirable and that teachers be viewed as hyper-competent. And that means selecting heavily for the best, and putting them through very difficult training. One of the reasons doctors enjoy the position they do is because it is so very difficult to become one. Any half-literate imbecile with a free two years can become a teacher. In fact, from my own experience with public school teachers, there has to be some sort of negative selection happening, because it is mathematically impossible for such a parade of morons to be assembled by chance.

80 JB February 11, 2016 at 4:23 pm

It’s quality decline by attrition.

Starting teachers are of widely varying quality, but the job conditions are so abysmal that, within a few years, those who can do absolutely anything else (group B) tend to go and do that. What is left behind is the few who, through dedication and/or star power, don’t burn out (Group A), and the many who are too crappy to make it anywhere else (Group C).

The trick is improving job conditions enough to retain group B while not making it even cushier for group C. Most reform solutions instead focus on identifying and rewarding group A, which is too small to make a significant overall difference.

81 Nathan W February 11, 2016 at 10:26 pm

“Any half-literate imbecile with a free two years can become a teacher.”

Which state do you live in? Don’t you need a BA first?

Most likely, if you think your high school teachers were all morons, this reflects more behavioural problems on your part than general failures on the part of the teachers. Maybe not, but I’d put it at about 99% probability.

82 ricardo February 11, 2016 at 11:06 pm

“Don’t you need a BA first?”

That’s the `half-literate imbecile’ part.

83 Tarrou February 12, 2016 at 9:04 am

Meh, you may think what you like. I graduated the top of my class all the way through my bachelors. It wasn’t a failure to grasp the material, that is for sure. And it was more that the petty bureaucratic personality that is drawn to the profession. Mostly it was their vast lack of education, and complete inability to induce a desire to learn in my cohort. I wanted to learn, I always had done. But I had to sneak off to the library to do it. Most kids aren’t that self motivated. They just learned that “history is boring, math is boring, science is boring”. It kills their natural curiosity. All education did for me was waste my time. For most kids, it ruins their ability to learn.

84 dearieme February 11, 2016 at 4:06 pm

If admission to teacher training become highly competitive, how would the training colleges meet their diversity targets?

85 Art Deco February 11, 2016 at 5:10 pm

Our friend Education Realist insists that an unintended consequence of some piece of federal legislation was to induce teachers’ colleges to introduce screening examinations which required they dispose of their diversity shtick.

86 Steve Sailer February 11, 2016 at 10:18 pm

A federal bill back in the 1990s to raise standards for teachers inadvertently cut down on affirmative action, as did making teacher certification tests harder, so public school teachers in 2016 are still nice white ladies to a surprising degree.

Nobody has much noticed yet, but these things go through cycles. Back in the previous decade, for example, I would point out that Silicon Valley and Hollywood were very white. But back then nobody complained. Jesse Jackson started trying to shake down Silicon Valley in the 1990s, but he would be routinely pawned off with humiliatingly tiny payoffs because the larger society assumed that Silicon Valley didn’t have to obey the same diversity rules as everybody else.

Now, though, it’s fashionable (and potentially profitable) to denounce both Silicon Valley and Hollywood for insufficient diversity. Jesse got to take credit for a huge payoff from Intel recently.

Eventually, the shakedowns will cycle around to focus on schoolteachers, but right now nobody is paying much attention to them.

87 Nathan W February 11, 2016 at 10:31 pm

Shakedowns? Really?

88 Art Deco February 12, 2016 at 12:11 pm

I take it you do not know what J. Jackson’s business is.

89 Ari February 11, 2016 at 4:41 pm

As a Finnish person, I don’t think giving students more power, in any school, uni etc. is a good idea.

90 Thor February 11, 2016 at 6:38 pm

Now there’s an Education Realist!

91 education realist February 11, 2016 at 6:32 pm

Art Deco seems to be auditioning to be my media rep. He’s got some stuff wrong, though.

It wasn’t ed schools that “introduced” the “screening exam”. The exam is known as the “credential test” and it has been around for 20 years for elementary school teachers and nearly 50 years for high school teachers. That test has always done a good job of keeping out “halfwitted imbeciles”, particularly in high school.

Most people seem incapable of grasping that ed school quality is irrelevant. It’s not ed schools that turn out teachers. It’s the credential test. No test, no credential, for the most part. So what ed schools did about 15 years ago was require candidates to pass the credential test as a criterion for graduation.

The existence of the credential tests is what makes all this yammering about ed school pointless. The credential test yields teachers with an average SAT score of 580 for high school teachers and around 500 for ES teachers. You want it higher, make the test harder–except, of course, we have a teacher shortage right now.

And this author doesn’t even know that there is a credential test for teachers, and repeats the tired and utterly false trope that teachers are from the bottom tenth of college grads, so consider his thoughts entertaining, if you will, but uninformed and a sheer waste of time in terms of understanding American education.

92 Art Deco February 11, 2016 at 8:23 pm

makes all this yammering about ed school pointless.

Great. Let’s close them all and strangle their faculty with cheese wire.

93 Ed February 12, 2016 at 12:24 pm

Truly this guy models himself after Jesus of Nasarath. He doesn’t harbor any hate in his heart at all. Art Deco for canonization.

94 JWatts February 11, 2016 at 8:36 pm

“The credential test yields teachers with an average SAT score of 580 for high school teachers and around 500 for ES teachers”

According to this source the Average Education major has a 480 SAT score.

95 Steve Sailer February 11, 2016 at 10:22 pm

But a lot of Ed majors don’t pass the credentials test.

96 education realist February 11, 2016 at 11:10 pm

Steve’s correct (I even think he might have learned that from me!). Moreover, many teachers were never education majors. Cites here:

Education major is an incredibly useless guide to teacher ability. The link above provides the cites for both statements, as well as teacher SAT scores. And that’s the ETS average. ETS doesn’t include the average test scores for California and New York, both of which have much harder credential tests.

Education reformers never mention credential tests. Well, almost never. Sometimes, you’ll hear them scoff about how easy the tests are, because 100% of the teachers pass! Except (see cite in previous post) it’s a requirement to pass. Look at the broader pass rates, including those who want to be teachers, and it’s much lower, particularly for blacks and Hispanics.

97 Nathan W February 12, 2016 at 12:36 am

As long as the teacher is basically literate, who cares?

Scores on standardized tests are hardly going to be predictive of teacher quality, which has more to do with personality stuff.

98 Art Deco February 12, 2016 at 12:17 pm

Uh, no. To be an effective disciplinarian it helps to not have certain sorts of characteristics and to be a capable lecturer one needs to not be a scatter-brain. Much of the trouble in our schools arises from what Thomas Sowell calls the affection for ‘non-academic mush’ and what Marva Collins identified as the propensity of teachers to favor instructional methods which were convenient for them for one reason or another but generally ineffective (she specialized in elementary schooling). An inclination toward either of these tendencies is derived from a deficit of seriousness, not ‘personality stuff’.

99 Nathan W February 13, 2016 at 8:24 pm

” To be an effective disciplinarian”

Discipline matters. It really matters. Most recently in teaching I had 75 students at a time 12 years old.

But I assure you, teachers do not generally conceive of themselves as “disciplinarians”.

“the affection for ‘non-academic mush’”

I certainly don’t remember anything like that. Do you mean stuff like woodworking, trades, communications and stuff? Or are you talking about “regular” classes where time was filled up reading useless crap of no value.

I think you’re talking about the second, and I’m curious to know what kind of stuff would fit in your books are useless material in a high school curriculum.

100 JWatts February 12, 2016 at 6:19 pm

er, I see the data from your link but the data doesn’t support your statement:

“The credential test yields teachers with an average SAT score of 580 for high school teachers and around 500 for ES teachers”

There’s no way that the average SAT score is 580 for high school teachers based upon those two graphs. The average SAT Verbal was below 580 for every licensing area and it was the average SAT Math was below 580 for every specialty except for Mathematics.

101 education realist February 12, 2016 at 8:57 pm

Sorry, I was sloppy. I’m usually talking about math teachers. I am talking about HS content teachers in their academic area. So math and science teachers in math, English and history teachers in English.

Here’s what the text says in my essay:

“In the 2002-2005 cohort, elementary school teachers’ combined SAT score was over 1000, nearly 40 points higher than the overall mean that Richwine and Biggs use. Secondary school teacher scores in academic subjects are much higher–math and science teachers are above the national average in both, and English/history teachers above in verbal and slightly below in math.”

Math teachers are 580 in math science are 560 or so. English teachers are about 580 (technically, 575, but no such score exists). All high school teachers are 550 or higher in verbal.

Again, sorry for the sloppiness. I usually am arguing about math teachers math ability. I’ll have to flag this in the memory banks.

That said, these are much higher scores than bottom third.

102 Bill Rich February 11, 2016 at 7:20 pm

Who go to ed schools ? Are they the brightest in the class ? If not, why not ?

103 Art Deco February 12, 2016 at 12:19 pm

Because it’s a hoop you have to pass through to be a state certified teacher. In New York, IIRC, you can teach for about five years with a baseline certification that consists of having completed a certain 4 or 5 course portfolio, but you must get your MEd in that time or you’re meat.

104 Kitty_T February 12, 2016 at 5:51 pm

I was perusing my high school yearbook while drinking with some old friends a few months ago. The intent was to laugh at each others hairstyles (it was 1987), but then we noticed in the faculty section that virtually every teacher had at least one graduate degree in the substantive subject they taught from an institution we recognized. The only faculty member with an Ed. degree was one of the PE teachers.

And we went from a bunch of jolly drunks to morose ones, just like that.

105 tokarev February 11, 2016 at 7:34 pm

Finland has an IQ of 104, the highest in Europe. The average IQ in the US is somewhere in the mid 90s. The US is never going to catch up to Finland on test scores unless we start genetically modifying our babies or start giving Finnish people brain damage.

106 JWatts February 11, 2016 at 8:38 pm

Finland’s average IQ is 99, the US’s average IQ is 98

FYI, The numbers were compiled by a Finnish scientist.

107 Jim February 12, 2016 at 7:46 am

That list is based on norming the average UK IQ to 100. Americans are probably more used to norming the US to 100. To make the list you linked to more comparable to what Americans are used to one should add 2 points to the scores on the list.

108 Nathan W February 11, 2016 at 10:41 pm

“The US is never going to catch up to Finland on test scores unless we start genetically modifying our babies … ”

There is more than genetics involved. For an extreme example, someone with 15 years of schooling and hours of nightly study will obviously score better than an illiterate with zero education.

If your perspective is obviously extremely wrong in the extreme perspective, it’s obviously somewhat wrong in most (all?) cases.

I do not deny that there is some genetic aspect to performance on some standardized test, for example the IQ test. But to pretend that genetics is 100% of the explanation for the outcome is … well, not very smart.

109 Jim February 12, 2016 at 7:51 am

Behavioral genetic studies indicate that academic performance is about 50-70% genetic. Most of the rest is due to “non-shared environment” the nature of which is not clear at the present. “Shared environment” which includes things like SES, parental style, educational systems, etc. is of minor significance. Most factors publicly discussed fall under “shared environment” and therefore are of litle importance.

110 Nathan W February 12, 2016 at 5:19 pm

Well if you stuff three or four variables into a regression and declare the residual to be the explanatory factor, then you’re always going to get this kind of BS result.

I don’t deny that genetics are relevant. But any study I’ve seen to date impresses me about as much as the term paper of a first year stats student with an agenda.

I’m open ears though. Ready to be proven wrong.

111 Thomas February 12, 2016 at 11:03 pm

When your entire worldview is based on critical theory, you can’t ever consider that genetics plays a role.

112 Nathan W February 13, 2016 at 8:31 pm

Well, considering that I`ve studied quite a lot of undergrad genetics at a fairly advanced genetics research university (U of Toronto), i would probably have a lot to say about it if anyone had ever identified any relevant genes relating to the conversation. It`s really a lot more like hand waving and like “oh, and whatever effect isn’t explained by these three, the rest is obviously genetic”.

But thank you for the addition. I had never heard of “critical theory”.

Hey, if you have anything concrete to say about that “genetics stuff” … or the fact that it’s pretty fraudulent to just assume that genetics explains the sum of whatever is not explain by some small handful of non-genetic variables … then I’m all ears.

113 Jim February 12, 2016 at 7:56 am

If we continue our present immigration policy the average IQ of the US could easily fall 5 points by the end of this century. But we’re not there yet. At present differences between the US white IQ and the Finnish IQ are slight. US blacks average IQ is about 85 and US Hispanics average IQ is in the low 90’s.

114 prognostication February 11, 2016 at 7:48 pm

I think there’s a strange tendency to assume that no teachers would support broad-based reforms that would increase the quality of the teaching pool, even if it meant giving up some (but not all) job security, which suggests that many people who opine on this subject don’t actually know many teachers. Almost to a person, all of the good teachers I ever had or knew, even (especially?) ones in the humanities, were very much in favor of a mixture of reforms that would make the training far more rigorous, but, and this is key, only in exchange for a return to the greater teacher autonomy over curriculum of decades past.

Also, I don’t know where most of you were that your experiences with public education were so terrible, but I went to a slightly-above-average high school in an exurb with widely varying parental income levels, and I would say I had more good teachers than not. Certainly not all of them, but a majority of some sort.

115 Thomas February 11, 2016 at 7:58 pm

Some teachers surely would but no teacher union or prominent Democrat politician will, and that’s where the real power to reform education is.

116 Art Deco February 12, 2016 at 10:26 am

No, the state legislatures have a great deal of discrection. There just isn’t any candy in it for the business groups they carry water for, so they do not pay any attention to the whole mess. The suburban voters who are their main constituency are not dissatisfied with the status quo.

117 Tarrou February 11, 2016 at 9:18 pm

I never met a public school teacher I would trust to sit the right way on a toilet, much less be responsible for the education of a child. For that matter, most of the private schoolteachers weren’t much better. I thought it was me for years, until I met an actual good teacher once. Made me hate the rest of them that much more. No one, and I mean no one, has done more to retard education, to instill a hatred of learning and to rob children of their future than schoolteachers. They are exceeded in their negative effect on society only by journalists and politicians.

118 Nathan W February 11, 2016 at 10:45 pm

I’ve worked a few years as a teacher, always on one year contracts and always with zero job security.

I think most teachers fear that standardized tests for teachers would be abused for political reasons, to cull those with “incorrect views”. This is one of many reasons that teacher autonomy over curriculum is held dearly by many teachers. Even when I fully plan to follow the curriculum to the letter, the hypothetical ability to teach whatever I want on some given day is very important. it could stop the Nazis or some such thing.

Teachers don’t oppose evaluation per se. They just don’t believe that the proposed alternatives, such as a standardized test, are remotely relevant for what actually matters in the classroom.

119 Art Deco February 12, 2016 at 10:25 am

I’m fascinated to know what subject you were hired to teach. If it was history or geography….

As for ‘incorrect views’, you’re most likely to run afoul of the thought police if you hold to the view that sodomy is a mortal sin, that sodomy is aesthetically disgusting, and that people with a taste for sodomy are not Special.

120 Nathan W February 13, 2016 at 8:37 pm

I would subject if I didn’t think someone would stock that factoid away for reuse in personal attacks to delegitimize my perspectives.

Middle school.

121 j r February 12, 2016 at 12:33 am

“… which suggests that many people who opine on this subject don’t actually know many teachers.”

Welcome to the internet.

122 duderino February 11, 2016 at 9:57 pm

This is obvious Sailer bate. And he’d be right.

123 Steve Sailer February 11, 2016 at 10:30 pm

Most Ed School theory ranges from useless to actively brain-rotting, which is a problem for hiring smart teachers: it’s harder for smarter people to sit through all the diversity theory indoctrination.

But subject matter credentials tests tend to do a decent job weeding out the real dim bulbs.

124 Nathan W February 11, 2016 at 10:46 pm

What’s this “diversity theory indoctrination” you’re talking about? How much time does it take? How is it intended to affect their teaching?

125 Art Deco February 12, 2016 at 10:05 am

Read Michele Kerr’s account of her tangles with Rachel Lotan and the STEP program at Stanford University.

126 Art Deco February 12, 2016 at 10:11 am

It’s one example of pseudo-professional training which serves both as a rent-generating screen and a mode of socialization. The thing is, the number enrolled in teacher training programs is enormous as would be those employed in that trade, so blanket statements are less valid than they are with the two other major cesspits of pseudo-professional training, social work and library administration.

It would be great if state legislatures would simply shut these programs down and arrange for the teacher training programs to be replaced with apprenticeships which incorporate a modest run of practical methods courses and the 14 course MLS programs replaced with brief certificate programs on different aspects of what is done by the dwindling population of library and archival employees. As for social worker, parcel out their work to sheriff’s deputies, public health nurses, junior grade psychologists, and general administrative employees, and pink slip them.

127 K. February 11, 2016 at 10:33 pm

I realize it’s just an excerpt, but but the conclusion of firing 3/4 of current teachers does not follow from the first statement about demand for entering the teaching profession. From the first statement you could reasonably conclude that a solution is to raise salaries such that demand to become a teacher is so great that only the best are accepted.

This happens to be the current state of teaching in Toronto. It’s nearly impossible to get a job as a high school teacher because of low demand, and an oversupply of people with teaching degrees. This has the effect of predominantly only allowing the best to become employed. Even those who find employment in the school board wallow through an extended interview process: years of supply teaching, part time work and contract assignments – with permanent full time positions few and far between. The resulting mix of new teachers is pretty good.

128 Erik Lidström February 12, 2016 at 6:02 am

First of all I want to emphasise that I do not argue for a move to the Finnish system, or to the far superior old Swedish system that was abolished in 1968.

The firing of 3/4 of the current teachers is merely one of several actions needed for a move to either of those systems. They can only function with top academic talent. Current teachers are the worst to attend college.

Other parts are returning to traditional teaching methods, traditional curricula, traditional discipline, and to something as hard to define as the traditional culture of the teaching profession and the pupils.

129 JB February 12, 2016 at 1:51 pm

“Even those who find employment in the school board wallow through an extended interview process: years of supply teaching, part time work and contract assignments – with permanent full time positions few and far between. ”

Wouldn’t that restrict the ultimate teacher pool to those who don’t get any better opportunities in the meantime, thus decreasing teacher quality?

In the state I live in, it can take 6 months to a year to go through the hiring process for a state job, with the result that there are no high quality state employees, even though the jobs pay competitively. Anyone good will get and take a private-sector job offer quicker.

130 Floccina February 11, 2016 at 10:52 pm
131 firingline February 12, 2016 at 12:58 am

Everyone knows what the real problem is: most of these kids aren’t too bright, they have difficult family lives if they have real families at all, and the culture they grow up in is a cesspool of stupidity and violence. It’s telling of what the right has become that instead of focussing on the obvious problems, they take the opportunity to turn it into an ideological witch hunt bent on breaking unions and tarring middle class workers trying to hang on to some shred of job security.

132 Jim February 12, 2016 at 7:38 am

The fundamental problems with the US black population are genetic. “Culture” is an epi-phenomenon.

133 Tarrou February 12, 2016 at 8:53 am

I’ve seen this argument plenty of times, but never with good evidence. African immigrants do well in the US, by and large. And if we look at other ethnic groups, we find people who share broad racial categories (say, the Vietnamese and the Hmong) with vastly different average outcomes. Even within african groups, Nigerians outperform Somalis, for instance, and by huge margins. If it were african genetics holding black americans back, they should be outperforming “pure” africans, since the average black american is what, 15% white?

Genetics do differ, but I think culture and social class explain far more.

134 Jim February 12, 2016 at 9:40 am

Average IQ’s across Sub-Saharan Africa range about 60-80 (Mbuti pygmy average IQ is about 55). Cultural achievements of Sub-Saharan Africans have lagged behind the rest of humanity since the Mousterian. African immigrants to the US are a highly select gbroup.

It is perfectly true that there is no reason to expect the average IQ of Sub-Saharan African populations to be uniform across that huge continent. For example the Madagascar population has a substantial Malayo-Polynesian component and average IQ on that island is about 80. Similarily large racial categories such as “Asian” show substantial differences in IQ’s of sub-groups (compare Singapore Chinese with Singapore Malays). There is quite a lot on variation in average IQ in Europe.

Behavioral genetic studies have consistenly found that “shared environment” which includes things like culture and social class as well as schooling is of little causal significance. The most important factor is genetics with the residue consisting of “non-shared environment”. Exactly what “non-shared environment” is is not clear at the present but it seems to have nothing to do with the traditional concept of nurture viz. things like SES, parental style, educational systems etc.

135 Art Deco February 12, 2016 at 10:21 am

Uh huh. Next off, Dr. Lynn might explain why the range of per capita income levels in the Caribbean varies 10-fold and why the range of homicide rates varies nearly 20-fold. (Mr. Sailer has provided you above with a sneak peak of the biological determinists’ next move).

136 Nathan W February 13, 2016 at 8:39 pm

Let’s give standardized tests to hungry uneducated illiterate people, and if they do worse, we will know that they are genetically inferior.

Because we’re that smart. And not racist at all.

137 Jim February 15, 2016 at 11:16 am

Nathan – Polynuceotides are important for all biological traits. Human intelligence is not a transcendental trait but a biological trait.

138 firingline February 12, 2016 at 1:04 am

By the way, what are Finnish students like? How do our fledgling young gangbangers and aspiring rap artists/part time coke dealers compare to their dynamic youngsters?

139 Jason Bayz February 12, 2016 at 1:09 am

Does Finland have a silicon valley? It may be that highly educated, high IQ people just don’t have as many alternatives. Also, do Finnish children behave themselves better than American ones? That’s going to effect the desirability of the job.

140 Art Deco February 12, 2016 at 10:19 am

A grand total of 1.9% of the population of the United States resides in the dense settlement around San Francisco Bay. Silicon Valley is not that demographically important.

141 Jim February 12, 2016 at 7:34 am

The academic performance of US whites is not much different from that of Finns. The most crucial factors in comparing academic performance in different countries are the cognitive differences between racial/ethnic groups. Behavioral genetic studies show that genetics accounts for 50-70% of academic performance. “Shared environment” which includes things like SES, parenting style, educational systems, etc. is of very minor significance. Most public discussions of education concern factors which have very little causal impact.

142 Art Deco February 12, 2016 at 10:18 am

The per capita income of the United States exceeds that of Finland by about 1/3. It exceeds that of all the Scandinavian countries bar Norway. Richard Lynn is a mad treehouse builder.

143 Randall Parker February 12, 2016 at 2:59 pm

Finland’s per capita GDP is lower because it has lower economies of scale, higher heating costs, more welfare state.

What also matters: For the same average IQ a country with a higher standard deviation will outperform a country with a lower one. The upper reaches will do the most. The US has a substantially wider intelligence distribution.

144 Nathan W February 12, 2016 at 5:48 pm

“For the same average IQ a country with a higher standard deviation will outperform a country with a lower one”

I can imagine some arguments in favour of this line of thinking, but it sounds to me like you’re making stuff up. I suggest that it’s more likely that there would be some “optimal standard deviation” at a given average than to find that higher standard deviation of ability (however defined) is GENERALLY good for performance (however defined).

145 Randall Parker February 14, 2016 at 2:19 pm

The United States outperforms its average IQ. The United States also has a much higher percentage of very high IQ people as compared to other countries with same average IQ. I think that’s causal because you need very bright people to do very complex stuff that boosts productivity.

146 Nathan W February 12, 2016 at 5:45 pm

I bet that none of the studies you’re referring to have more than 3-4 variables in the regression and set up the regression in a way that falsely assigns unexplained factors together with genetic factors. I.e., genetic factors are the total residual after accounting for 1 or 2 other factors.

In other words, complete fraud that wouldn’t pass first year stats.

Perhaps you would like to direct us to some exceptions?

147 Randall Parker February 12, 2016 at 3:02 pm

Cloning smart people would help. Though that’s beyond the progressive pale.

Starting within 10 years we’ll have embryo selection based on genetics. If it is allowed in the US that will definitely help.

If someone wants to point to Finland’s attitude toward education as the reason for their outcome that person ought to also explain why South Korea’s very different approach works. That person should also explain why adoption across SES layers has so little impact on eventual outcomes.

148 Nathan W February 12, 2016 at 5:51 pm

I don’t think the idea of smart people breeding bothers anyone, although cloning them seems … well, I don’t like it.

It’s when the word choice suggests something like “and maaaybe we should have forced sterilization for their inferiors” that people start to get up in arms.

149 JWatts February 12, 2016 at 6:32 pm

“I don’t think the idea of smart people breeding bothers anyone…”

Um, yeah, it bothers a lot of people. Personally, as long as we’re careful, I’m all for it. But, there will be a strong fight against it.

“US scientists urge ban on human genetic modification
Genetic engineering, allowing creation of “designer babies”, could lead to irreversible effects on humanity.”

On Monday, the CGS also published a report in collaboration with Friends of the Earth, an international environmental group, on the potential dangers of technology that could alter the DNA of humans and animals, and modify entire ecosystems.

There are laws in scores of countries against the genetic modification of humans, but the US and China are among those without.”

150 Nathan W February 13, 2016 at 8:48 pm

“it bothers a lot of people”

I don’t get why it would be perceived as a problem.

It should not be perceived as a problem if more smart people have babies than poor people, or if smart people are more often matching with smart people. The problem is if the state, or any apparatus of the state or actors of the state, get involved into trying to intentionally trying to manipulate which groups are having how many babies, for basically eugenics motivated reasoning, in which case I think this should be perceived as highly distasteful.

Just let people make their own free choices in reproduction.

It’s kind of scary though. I mean, we’re really on the cusp with a lot of these technologies. If there weren’t multiple barriers, red tape and so far as criminal law against a lot of work in related areas, probably in a few short years people could be confidently popping out designer babies.

I hope we go reaaaal slow on this one. This genie cannot get out of the bottle once it stars. Earliest uses will obviously be related to knocking out easily identified diseases with just one or a few genes involved. Then what?

It will be crazy.

151 Jim February 15, 2016 at 11:21 am

If the state is going to support a welfare class then in the long run it must either control the reproduction of welfare recipients or the welfare system will simply collapse.

152 Riitta February 22, 2016 at 5:45 pm

We in Finland do not want to compete with worldwide nations and parents who want to boast with their kids’ achievements. We in Finland want to give a secure life to out kids in their future lives as adults. We do not want to harass the kids with our hopes to be the best in the world as a goal, we want them to be happy and successful in finding their livehoods.
We have been struggling with our economy during the past years due to all kinds of reasons.. we are struggling even more right now, because of the huge loss in trade with Russia and because of the sudden huge migrant flow from some troubled countries in Asia. You know.. we are sharing a 1300 km border line with Russia and we were exporting a lot of stuff to Russia and our companies had invested a lot of money in it .. now all that trade is gone due to Ukraine conflict (we do support Ukranians in their fight but it is also very expensive to us). So the Finnish educational government minds have started to think how the education could really educate kids from the early life for the real world by solleciting their thinking abilities with new methods. All of the hype for kids knowing the names of historic persons and the years of the historic events and what ever kind of nice (like winning in a TV show a price) .. but there are more important things to consider in the early life education and that is why the people in Finland are renewing the educational thinking to the direction of real life and truly understandin life. We will see if we will be successful::) Cheers:))

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