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West Virginia learns from the Finns


Gold Member
May 30, 2008
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(CNN) -- When newly minted West Virginia Schools Superintendent Dr. Steven Paine told parents, teachers and educators in 2005 that he wanted to use Finland as a model for their education system, he got a lot of blank stares: Finland? What, people asked, does West Virginia have to do with Finland?

The contrast couldn't be more stark: In West Virginia, many children face poverty, illiteracy and broken homes and lack easy access to health care or proper nutrition.

Finland has a largely literate and relatively homogeneous population, little immigration and almost no poverty or social problems. They also offer a vast network of social supports including free meals and health care for school children.

Still, Finland was -- and remains -- at the top of international test rankings for elementary through high schools and after studying and observing Finnish schools for several months in 2004, Paine was convinced they had useful things to teach West Virginia.

But rather than concentrate directly on test scores, Paine thought West Virginia should concentrate on developing more rigorous standards, curriculum and perhaps most importantly -- teacher supports.

Here he was on shaky political ground: Raising test scores has become the central goal of a growing chorus of those trying to improve U.S. education.

But Paine thought an overemphasis on standardized tests leads to in a narrow, unimaginative curriculum that isn't in the best interests of kids.

Develop the right curriculum, standards and teacher supports, Paine said, and test scores will take care of themselves.

In this, he was following Finland's lead: Finland doesn't use standardized tests to assess teachers or schools.

West Virginia learns Finland's 'most honorable profession': Teacher - CNN.com

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