Although the Finnish Board used to conduct school inspections to evaluate whether teachers were teaching effectively, teachers today are afforded a significant amount of autonomy. The question of whether teachers are performing well is determined at the local level (e.g., by the school principal). This frees up resources, which the Board can spend in other areas. The Board’s current role mainly involves collecting information from schools (teachers and/or school administrators are expected to complete and submit questionnaires), conducting research, and compiling statistics to inform conclusions about the school system as a whole. While some students may be expected to take standardized tests sometimes, high-stakes standardized tests generally do not exist in the Finnish system (with the exception of one standardized exit exam when a child graduates from high school). These points concerning oversight and accountability were striking in comparison to the approach we are currently following in the U.S.
The Board is involved with curriculum development to some extent, but the guidelines it develops are loosely followed by the municipalities. The Board may dictate what skills should be worked on, but the local schools determine how those skills should be worked on. The Finnish curriculum sounded less onerous than the U.S.'s Common Core, but it would be interesting to take a closer look at how the two approaches compare. How Finland is able to maintain equity among its different schools with the schools operating so independently is a question that persisted in my mind throughout the trip. More on that later.
I found it particularly interesting that there are no special education lawyers in Finland. The government usually provides the services that are required without legal proceedings being necessary. While there is a mechanism in place for parents who are dissatisfied with the supports provided by their local district, these complaint procedures are rarely if ever used and, when they are used, lawyers are typically not involved.