What makes Finnish kids so smart?

Uninfluenced by liberal mantra and childhood institutionalization programs

Governor Napolitano, who has never seen an educational spending program she hasn’t endorsed, should read this Wall Street Journal article. Although Napolitano has been steadfast in her opposition to school vouchers, which provide parents expanded choice in the education of their children, she has advocated “early childhood education,” placing our youngest and most impressionable in government schools at younger ages with all-day kindergarten. Finnish children don’t start school until age 7.

The Goldwater Institute published a study which demonstrates that early childhood education expansion is an expensive reform that delivers only transitory benefits. School choice uses resources more efficiently and delivers improved academic achievement.

Yet without such government mandates and expenditures (by Napolitano’s own accounting, Arizona has dropped $100 million into education during the past year and received $12 million in federal funds) Finland’s teens score extraordinarily high on an international test, far surpassing American counterparts.

High school students rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing and few parents agonize over college.

Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world’s C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they’re way ahead in math, science and reading—on track to keeping Finns among the world’s most productive workers.

Finland separates students for the last three years of high school based on grades; 53% go to high school and the rest enter vocational school. Finland has a high-school dropout rate of about 4%—10% at vocational schools—compared with roughly 25% in the U.S. College is free.

While it is true that the largely homogeneous population includes few students who don’t speak Finnish, children of previous generations of immigrants to the U.S. excelled without costly and contentious ESL mandates.

It can be done, Governor.

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11 Responses to What makes Finnish kids so smart?

  1. Real Analysis says:

    The WSJ reportage and analysis on this story were predictably lacking. Whenever one of these studies is undertaken, the article almost inevitably fails to mention that top-scoring nations in the study tend to have nearly homogenous, and/or small and manageable populations, and usually comparatively low immigration (illegal or otherwise) in comparison to the US in the last two decades.

    This study is no exception. Besides Finland, Hong Kong, Macao, South Korea, the Netherlands, Canada, Liechtenstein, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, Poland, Japan, Estonia, Australia, and New Zealand all placed in the top 10 for one or more (usually multiple) categories including science, math, and reading. Some of these are only quasi-independent city-states. The largest of these nations is Japan with a population that is around half of that of the US and is also a good deal less “multicultural.” At least half of the nations on the lists have populations that are under 25 million. The chart depicting the scores is truncated so as to show the top 10 performers and shows the US at the very bottom of these so as to exacerbate a sense of crisis – so critical to those who continue to attack and debase our children so as to win more educational subsidies (e.g. Napolitano) and increase immigration programs (e.g. Gates, Pelosi), while simultaneously degrading our educational environments at *every* level with challenges that these other nations do not face to such an overwhelming degree.

    I would suggest furthermore that in most of these nations, including Finland, children overall have a much greater sense that society will reward their contributions as opposed to consistently tossing them and their efforts on the trash heap, which in the US routinely happens to even the brightest, hardest-working and most capable people. Similarly children in most of these societies (with the exceptions of Australia and New Zealand) are not made to feel less than obscurely guilty about racial problems when they attend school, watch television or read the “paper,” and neither do they encounter ongoing societal race-based prejudices that may be at variance with their actual performances. Compare and contrast with the US, where school-enforced liberal racial guilt trips are a daily occurrence, and where race-based prejudice is pronounced at even the graduate level and in the business sector.

    Affordable education – especially truly affordable merit-based education – for citizens as opposed to everybody else, helps a great deal. So does a clear link between actual academic performance and real excellence with subsequent employment opportunity. In our current system, appearance is everything and substance is nothing. Finally, continuity as a source or and spur to excellence seems to be increasingly unrecognized in the US. I will simply warn that with too much disruption in employment, population movement, economics, and social structure, you get something that looks more and more like west Africa.

  2. Exurban Jon says:

    We Finns are just naturally brilliant, I guess. ;-)

  3. Mr. Conservative says:

    Very good post… Finland is home to Nokia which is the leader in wireless phones woldwide ( and they are the best made phones ).

  4. Kelly says:

    This proves that ‘throwing money’ at education doesn’t necessarily equate to higher scores or better educated pupils. Or else we hear the code-speak about how “more money is needed in the classroom”—which means higher pay for often under-producing teachers. How about pay based on student test scores and doing away with tenure?

  5. Keen Observer says:

    As Dennis Prager would say, Real Analysis must be very well educated because there are a lot of buzz words from academia that fail to persuade. What we need of course. the academic would say, is more Napolitano inspired liberal NEA policies. More tax money for ridiculous programs will fix everything.

  6. Real Analysis says:

    Keen Observer,

    Amazing, you’ve concluded I’m a liberal even though I’m somewhere to the right of Patrick Buchanan. Lots of luck there with your reading skills.

  7. The kids do well because they are healthier due to Finnish socialized medicine! Medicare for all Americans!

  8. JR says:

    In Finland the teachers are well-educated and given freedom in the classroom to tailor curricula to the needs of their students, instead of struggling with constant standardized testing, detailed lesson mandates, textbooks chosen by state boards, and meddling legislators who have no training in education at all. You conservatives should put your libertarian money where your mouth is and let teachers do their job. Sure they should be held accountable, but standardized testing is not the way to do it. Clearly the Finns understand this. And btw, Finland has some of the highest taxes in the world. And the best, most highly functioning social welfare system too, including free higher education and free health care. So there certainly is a lot of ‘liberal mantra’ floating around there, they just don’t throw money at poorly designed programs.

  9. Ortia says:

    Education is all in the eye of the beholder…..Truth be told how many of you all can recall off hand can tell you who the 21st president was, can perform the quadradic formula, or write a cohesive five paragraph paper using the proper MLA format…The answer is not many….Education is not about information retention, that is not realistic. Education is about learning how to learn in a variety of different circumstances….So many times in life it is the intangibles which propel us to the next level not the name on our college degree..The fins can have there high test scores that is fine and dandy, but who is it that the rest of the world looks to in terms of leadership.. The answer is us, so keep your high test scores I will keep my pride and the fruits of my labor…I.e (Wellfare)

  10. Ile says:

    “The fins can have there high test scores that is fine and dandy, but who is it that the rest of the world looks to in terms of leadership.. The answer is us, so keep your high test scores I will keep my pride and the fruits of my labor…I.e”

    Ortia. Have a nice day with your pride. Finland has become one of the most advanced nations thanks to its education system. The country was a poor and backward European nation during the 19th century. The education reform and continous emphasis on learning has changed almost everything. As a Finn I have visited your country a couple of times and follow closely your media. If I were an American, I would be scared – your imperial time will be over, your standard of living is going into a sink. Asia and European Union are taking over. Countries with best brains are going to win the game – and your are really left behind with your attitude towards learning.

  11. Gary Leberer says:

    Our (U.S.) business leaders have concluded that the game is over. They have
    ABSOLUTELY promised to outsource as many jobs as can be shaken loose and sent
    overseas. They’re claiming that, in some cases, they cannot find the people with
    the needed expertise for a given job here. In reality, it’s due to the high salaries
    those jobs command. It no longer matters whether or not we’re well educated.
    When they can hire an Indian engineer for 1/3 the salary or a Chinese manufacturing
    worker for maybe 1/20 the pay, those jobs WILL leave. Nothing is going to stench
    the blood loss. Why would you expect a U.S. student to even make an attempt when
    they know in advance the jobs are gone for good?