Pasi Sahlberg: Finnish Teachers Are Not “the Best and the Brightest”

10 Apr

Diane Ravitch's blog

Pasi Sahlberg, the great Finnish educator who is teaching this year at Harvard Graduate School of Education, wrote recently to explain how Finnish universities select future teachers.

Finnish universities are famously selective,accepting only 10% of the high school graduates who want to become teachers. But how do they select? Sahlberg’s very bright niece was turned down when she first applied.

So what is the selection process?

Sahlberg writes:

“Who exactly are those who were chosen to become primary teachers in Finland ahead of my niece? Let’s take closer look at the academic profile of the first-year cohort selected at the University of Helsinki. The entrance test has two phases. All students must first take a national written test. The best performers in this are invited on to the second phase, to take the university’s specific aptitude test. At the University of Helsinki, 60% of the accepted 120 students were selected…

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Posted by on April 10, 2015 in Uncategorized


4 responses to “Pasi Sahlberg: Finnish Teachers Are Not “the Best and the Brightest”

  1. Norah

    April 12, 2015 at 04:19

    Thanks for sharing this LLoyd. I definitely agree that the brightest don’t necessarily make the best teachers. Teachers need to understand where the misunderstandings are occurring. That’s not always possible if one hasn’t struggled to figure something out for oneself.

    • Lloyd Lofthouse

      April 12, 2015 at 07:52

      Have you read “The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession” by Dana Goldstein? In Chapter 10, she talks about the different teacher training programs comparing the results of teachers who were Teach for America recruits, teachers who went through standard teacher training programs and teachers who went through Urban Teacher Residency.

      She says that year-long residency in a mentor’s classroom—a requirement in high-achieving nations like Finland and Shanghai—allows residency programs to screen out residents, who even with the intense coaching they receive, aren’t able to develop into good teachers, typically 15 to 20 percent of residents per year.

      In the U.S., residency programs have a select process for identifying mentor teachers, who must show proof that they can raise student achievement, and who undergo training on how to provide other adults with helpful feedback.

      Research of nineteen residency programs revealed that principals consistently rate urban teachers residency graduated as more effective than other first-year teachers. But TFA recruits are rated no different than most standard teacher training programs and larger numbers of TFA recruits are gone by year five than any other teacher training program because TFA is not interested in training teachers—their goal is to train the next generation of leaders who will manage school districts and work for elected officials as experts in-the education field so they end up writing legislation that will impact the public schools because TFA’s goal is to destroy public education and turn teaching children over to private-sector, for-profit corporations that don’t answer to elected school board or parents.

      So it is no surprise that TFA recruits leave the classroom in larger numbers than any other teacher training program while teachers who go through urban residencies stay in larger ratios than any other program.

      Guess what teacher training program is the one favored by the White House under G. W. Bush and Obama—-TFA.

      Nationwide, urban teacher residencies have an 87% retention rate at four years compared to the loss of nearly half of all new teachers over a simliar period of time and two-thirds of TFA recruits.

      • Norah

        April 13, 2015 at 00:17

        No, I haven’t read that book so thanks for sharing that information. The statistics are quite interesting. I’ve often thought that an internship or apprenticeship approach is the way to go, and it seems like that is verified by these statistics. Some teaching graduates have have very little experience in classroom. How can they possibly be expected to have any idea of how to manage a classroom and cater to the needs of students?

      • Lloyd Lofthouse

        April 13, 2015 at 08:06

        When I was earning my teaching credential back in 1975-76 through Cal Poly Pomona, in addition to the classes, I went through a year-long, paid (small stipend), full-time mentorship with a master teacher in her 5th grade classroom in a school that probably had a child poverty rate of 90% or higher. At the time, I thought all teachers went through a simlar training program. I had no idea that most teachers in the United States only get lectures and book work for a year to get ready to teach with little or no experience teaching actual children, and that Teach for America (TFA) recruits—the favored training of the corporate education reformers, Arne Duncan at the Department of Education and and the White House—has the worst teacher training program in the country and maybe the world where the recruits only get 5 weeks of lecture in the summer and then they are tossed in a classroom as if they were a baby being tossed in the middle of an Atlantic storm expected to be able to swim to shore a thousand miles away.


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