The Article: Finnish Education Safety Net Is Wide, Strong by Erin Richards in the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.
The Text: If it weren’t tucked into a forest more than 4,000 miles from Wisconsin, Vesala Comprehensive School could stand in for a public school in Milwaukee.
The industrial-looking building from the 1960s serves 365 students, most of whom live in nearby public housing projects. More than half come from single-parent households, and 70% are low-income. Twenty-two percent qualify for special-education services.
About 30% are immigrants or students who speak a first language other than the official languages of Finnish and Swedish.
But unlike in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, where the achievement level of a school can generally be predicted by its ZIP code and student poverty rate, Vesala is part of a national system where the performance gap between the lowest and highest achieving students is one of the narrowest among developed countries, according to a respected international exam.
Contrast that with Wisconsin, where the achievement gap between the lowest performing schools in Milwaukee and the average school in the state – or the average school in the suburbs – is dramatic.
Finland’s homogenous population and generous welfare system help contribute to its high overall student achievement. But some schools around Helsinki do serve a more diverse population of students in economically depressed communities. When faced with some of the same challenges as low-income schools in America, the Finnish system seems to redouble its efforts to make sure resources are shared and teachers and staff have the ability to work with small groups of students.
This year the global recession has caused many to draw comparisons between the United States and Europe. But is there much of a difference? Here’s an image-based list for you to ponder.
Well worth the time, soak it in: