We had more questions than we had time to ask at Pasi Sahlberg's talk about high-quality education on 26 April. Dr. Sahlberg graciously agreed to answer them by email afterward:
How does Finland gauge student learning? Do they randomly sample a small set of students for standardized tests, have occasional testing, or just the one high school exam?
We have one external census-based examination at the end of high school. Before that the system-level assessment is done by sample-based tests like your NAEP does. But most of the assessment of and for learning are done by schools and teachers themselves.
Could you elaborate on how Finland's great ideas on education came from the US? Do you mean in terms of academic research or how actual school systems worked?
This is a long story and will be in my next book. Long story short, we have relied on foreign research and since the 1980s we have been reading a lot of American educational research, attended conferences and meetings here and brought back the best ideas from here to Finland. Cooperative learning, classroom assessment methods, school leadership models, school improvement ideas and several methods of teaching are examples of these ideas.
What do you think of the book, The Smartest Kids in the World ?
Well written but rather shallow at least regarding Finland. Several errors. I don’t understand her conclusion in the end.
How can we channel American cultural mythos of individualism to bring about better schools for every child?
I think in education it is not actually individualism. It is much more collectivism and uniformity that is typical to socialist systems. Finland has truly individualized education system where the aim is to help everyone to become unique individual, I.e. Different rather than master same standards.
Is the American Cooperative Learning model still working for Finnish schools?
Yes, very much.
There was another question about the relationship between Finnish funding for cities and for education. Municipalities in Finland as well as the national government collect income taxes, which pay for part of the education costs. The municipal rates are set by municipal authoriteis, but are distributed to schools based on a national formula.