Why are Finland's schools better?

In questioning how we can do better in our education system I’ve had several discussions about what NH schools can do better. In one such discussion I was directed to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA for short). It’s an international test which allows nations to compare how well each is doing. The scores are collected once every three years, 2003 being the most up to date currently available. The results place the USA at 18th in reading, 22nd in science and 28th in math of the 40 industrialized nations who’ve taken part in the study. Finland cleaned everyone’s clock finishing first in reading, tied for first with Japan in math and finished second in math.

So what are they doing differently then us? Walter Annenberg already found when he created the Annenberg challenge by giving over $500 million to public schools that money does not equal performance. His gift barely even made a noticeable change in the US schools that benefited from it.

So if pumping endless streams of money isn’t the answer (as some of our NH legislators seem to think it may be despite history showing otherwise) then what does Finland do differently?

It this article they have listed sever steps to their success. 

1) Students start primary school at age 7 with “free” optional preschool before that.

We already cover “free” kindergarten in most communities and we already cover the costs of education through taxes so there’s no difference there. I use “free” in quotes because it really isn’t free in either case, we pay for this through our taxes. This is a trick the government uses to fool people into not realizing that they actually pay for such things. But alas, the discussion of how government creates the illusion that the money they take from you is “free” money is a whole article in and of itself.

2) Classes average 20 to 25 students.

About the same as what we have so again no real difference worthy of putting us at the mid way point and Finland above all others.

3) Schools have control at the local level in choosing books, criteria and allocation of funds.

Well now that is certainly interesting because that’s the opposite of the direction we’re currently headed in. The US government sets regulations on public schools and now NH at the state level wants to take over control and funding choices.

4) They offer “free” lunches.

We offer free lunches for kids from lower income families and low cost lunches to all others, which is close enough that I don’t see this as a key factor.

5) They offer “free” textbooks.

We supply all textbooks in K-12 so again, no difference.

6) They offer “free” healthcare.

NH Healthy Kids program offers low cost and free health insurance to kids and teens in NH who are not otherwise insured so again no real difference.

7) They offer “free” transportation.

Anyone who drives to work in NH at the wrong time can assure you that we too have “free” busing in NH as well.

8) Grades 1 through 9 are all kept in the same classrooms regardless of ability.

Again, we do this as well in elementary schools lumping all the kids together regardless of ability.

9) Parents are able to select the school that best fits their children.

BINGO! I think we found the winner here. School choice. Schools that fail to perform lose their student population because parents have the ability to pick the school their child attends. They aren’t locked into a single school as the choice for their kids.

So is this works for the best school system in the world why aren’t we considering it here in NH?