Reading, Science, and Mathematics: Why is Finland Ranked Higher than the United States?

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Wayne Brouwer, Hope College
Dr. Charles Green, Hope College
Professor Vanessa Greene, Hope College
Professor Amy Otis - De Grau, Hope College
Professor John Yelding, Hope College

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In the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Finland has the top scores in all three test categories: math, science, and reading. What makes Finland number one? There is no single answer to this question, because Finland and the United States have different education systems, societies, and financial policies. Finland’s teachers in the higher grades are required to have a degree beyond the bachelor’s. In the United States, one only has to obtain a bachelor’s degree to be eligible to teach in a secondary school. While American students spend endless hours preparing to take tests of their basic reading and math skills, their peers in high-performing nations are reading poetry and novels, conducting experiments in chemistry, making music, and studying important historical issues. Furthermore, Finland has less child poverty than the United States, and students below the poverty level struggle more in school. The Finns also spend more, per student, on education. Finland is a small, generally homogeneous country. The United States is ethnically, racially, and culturally diverse, and with greater income inequality. Diversity is the heart and soul of what is so special about the United States. However, the U.S. is much less successful in teaching ethnic minority students than it is teaching majority students. This impacts students’ education at school and at home. Reform in American financial policies and teacher requirements would benefit the educational system as a whole and, perhaps, would decrease ethnic gaps in school performance at the same time.

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