For the last two decades, the world  has beaten a path to Finland’s door to examine what many consider the world’s best system of public education.

William Doyle is a former Fulbright Scholar who was on the staff of the University of Eastern Finland a couple of years ago.  His seven-year- old son attended a Finnish public school.  Here are Doyle’s observations about what he observed and what his son experienced:

“What is Finland’s secret? A whole-child-centered, research-and-evidence based school system, run by highly professionalized teachers. These are global education best practices, not cultural quirks applicable only to Finland.

The striking lessons of Finland’s long-term success with education reform can help inspire and be adapted by any school system in the world. They involve concepts much admired by education reformers in the United States — standards, rigor, competition, choice, assessments and standardization — but defined correctly and applied at the correct points in the system.

Here are a few:

Maximize system-wide standards by putting professional educators in charge of education. They are the ultimate experts on childhood education, not bureaucrats, politicians or technology vendors.

Apply rigor and competition at the front end of the system, where they have the strongest impact. Have your best, most passionate young people compete to become teachers. Train them rigorously at the highest levels of professionalism and give them maximum respect, authority and autonomy in the classroom. Build a culture of system-wide teacher and school collaboration.

Standardize funding for students based on their needs, and provide equitable access to educational resources.

Provide choice to parents by enabling them to choose between high-quality, well-resourced, safe, transparent and locally governed area public schools.

Don’t waste time and money on mass standardized testing of children. Instead, test students correctly on a daily basis, with assessments and observations designed by their own classroom teachers and used for diagnostic purposes to improve learning. Realize that much of what matters most in education – including “21st and 22nd Century skills” like a child’s curiosity, perseverance through trials and failure, kindness and compassion, critical and abstract thinking, sense of leadership and teamwork, expressiveness, social skills and creativity – should be evaluated by classroom teachers, and can never be measured by standardized data collection.

Get real about classroom technology. A recent major study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that most classroom technology has had little or no academic benefit. “In most countries, the current use of technology is already past the point of optimal use in schools,” said  OECD official Andreas Schleicher. “We’re at a point where computers are actually hurting learning.” Spend money on childhood classroom technology extremely carefully, and don’t automatically throw out tools that work for unproven ones. Remember that screens deliver only a simulation of individualized instruction. Highly qualified teachers deliver the real thing.

Give children what they need to learn best, including reasonable class sizes, individualized attention from highly qualified teachers, a rich curriculum, regular breaks and physical activity, proper sleep and nutrition, reasonable workloads and downtime, warmth and encouragement, a screen-free “digital oasis” when appropriate, and social support services when necessary.

Let children be children. Let the children play. That’s how they learn.

Some skeptics dismiss Finland’s schools as being the product of its demographics, but they ignore the fact that its population size and poverty rate are similar to over two-thirds of American states, and in the United States, education is largely run at the state level.

Finland’s schools are the product of a unique culture. But so are the public schools of Canada, Singapore, Shanghai, Denmark, South Korea, Australia and Japan, as are the private schools attended by the world’s political and business elites. To automatically dismiss critical insights from any nation or school is a mistake. We can all learn from each other.

I have a suggestion for anyone who wants to improve children’s education. Start by coming to Finland.

As Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg says, “If you come to Finland, you’ll see how great American schools could be.”

If you look closely and open your mind, you may see the school of tomorrow today.”

While all of his points are excellent, the one that really catches my attention is

Maximize system-wide standards  by putting professional educators in charge  of education.  They are the ultimate experts on childhood education, not bureaucrats, politicians or technology vendors.

Unfortunately, this is the one admonition we most consistently ignore in Alabama.  Instead, we have too many decisions being made by politicians who know no more about education than they do about open heart surgery.  And we have too many people who are supposed to “represent” education without the backbone to challenge them.

The result?  Just what we have today.