Our Blog

What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success

Posted January 3, 2012 10:48 AM by Dylan Miyake

In a recent article in the Atlantic, Anu Partanen made a compelling case about What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success. In the article, he makes the case that the key to Finland's success is that the country values equality more than excellence.

I think the most interesting fact is that there are almost no private schools in Finland, so everyone there attends public school, from preschool to graduate school. What this creates is an attitude where everyone is directly invested in the success of the public schools. While people are invested in the success of the schools in the US, there's always the option to move to charter, private, or parochial, and therefore the option to let the schools fail. That's critical.

This universal attendance at public schools is what allows Finland to achieve excellence and equality. Using a personal example, I recently moved from the City of Boston to the City of Atlanta. Boston famously tried to improve equality in their schools in the 70s, creating a busing and lottery system that shuttles kids all over the city. Did it achieve equality? Yes. But equality at the cost of excellence, as parents who could avoid it opted out of the system. Boston's once great public education system was crippled because parents had the choice to send their kids elsewhere.

Here in Atlanta, community schools are still the model. Fortunately, we live in a neighborhood with an excellent school within the Atlanta Public Schools network. But, this excellence comes at a cost -- the facilities, resources, and environment at the school are supported by the neighborhood which has far greater resources than other less fortunate neighborhoods here in the city. The excellence comes at the cost of equality.

So, while non-public schools are not the problem, the option to not attend public school is part of the issue we must grapple with here in the United States. Public education works in Finland because everyone has a shared experience (and there's also a lot less social, economic, and racial diversity to grapple with). So, while private schools are not going away any time soon in the United States (and nor should they), we need to take some lessons from Finland on how to be truly invested in the success of the schools (much like President Carter when he sent Amy to Stevens Elementary School [part of the DC Public Schools]).

Happy New Year.

Related Blog Entries