Before I start to lay out some ideas for how the United States can "reinvent" its education system to ensure that our country is globally competitive in five, ten, twenty years, it is always important to take a look at best practices. A good strategist always looks at what is working and why. And so when Education Secretary Duncan talks about how we "need to take a look at the possibility of a longer school year because that is what other countries have," is that really what we should be looking at? I keep saying "quality, not quantity." So lets take a look at Finland and why Finland has arguably the highest performing education system in the world. I have attached one such article link for your review. Another one is here. I will outline a couple of key elements:
- Unified School System: The country uses a "unified school system," which means that from ages 7-16, students stay in the same school, versus a "primary and secondary school" system we have in the U.S. Then they choose either their equivalent of our "high school" or a vocational school path. Their research indicates that it is dangerous to divide students too early. So as a result, this takes away the selection process that plagues many school districts. It also has resulted in Finland having a very, very low difference in achievement between the country's best and worst schools.
- Preschool begins at age 6: how's that for you parents? Let kids be kids for some of their developmental years!
- Fewest hours in school: that's right, Secretary Duncan! They achieve all of their metrics with high quality time spent learning, not more mediocrity. They even get 10-week breaks in the summer.
- Less $ spent per pupil than S. Korea and the United States: enough said.
- A philosophy of inclusion: they have an "open access" policy, meaning that even the poorest citizens have access to a quality education, unlike the United States. They also pay for much of the student's incidentals during this 9 year period, including all school lunches, no university fees, and students can stay in the upper secondary school system (our high school) for as long as four years.
I haven't even gotten to the pedagogy, which includes a very, very large focus on match and science along with reading literacy. The OECD has stated that 15-year olds in Finland have the highest standards of reading literacy in the world. This is partly due to a cultural dedication to reading in the home. Finnish parents are involved, and work with their children outside of school. They also have a tight collaboration between their R&D in academia and private industry.
I can get into more specifics about the pedagogy and of course their mindset about education. And I'm sure that there will be some skeptics that will discuss such differences as our more heterogenous environment, their lower consumption habits overall, and their higher tax rate that is not atypical for socialist countries. However, don't you think we should be acknowledging that maybe we can learn a thing or two from outsiders?
It's time for America to wake up and start looking outside the status quo for these answers. It's not going to come from inside the establishment.