At one point, the U.S educational system was the envy of the world. We were producing brilliant minds left and right, our schools were the best in the world, and we were reaping the benefits. Since then, our educational system has truly experiencied a fall from grace. Currently, the U.S ranks 21st in high school graduation rates compared to other industrialized nations, 25th in math, and 21st in science. Now that’s not extactly terrible, but consider that we spend $809 billion dollars on public education, about 6 times higher than the Japan, who spend about $160 billion dollars on education. Yes, I understand that Japan has a much smaller population, but still, with all that money you’d think we would be up there in education right? Wrong. Now, let’s take a look at Finland. In 2008, Finland was given a .993 educational index by the U.N, tied for the highest in the world with Denmark, New Zealand, and Australia. Finland has a 100% literacy rate, a 93% high school graduation rate, and 66% of those graduates attend college. You know what else is funny? They achieve all this while spending 30% less per student than the U.S. Looking at these statisitcs, it is clear that we are doing something wrong and Finland is doing something right. However, before we can undertsand what makes the Finnish system so successful, we must first explore what is inherently wrong with our system.
When it comes down to pointing the finger of blame when it comes to our educational woes, I have narrowed it down to two culprits; the federal government and the Department of Education. I can hear it now; I, a self-proclaimed champion of socialism, am blaming the federal government of screwing something up. The world must really be ending soon. When the No Child Left Behind Act was passed in 2001, it granted the federal government unprecedented power to standarize curiculums and hold state’s hostage by forcing them to adhere to certain standards of math, reading, writing and science by giving federal funds to those schools who met them, and witholding them from those schools who don’t. Since then, beaucrats in Washington and the Department of Education have been making the educational decesions, assuming that each child learns the same way like some pre-programed robot. With the federal government able to pick winners and losers through No Child Left Behind and the Department of Education, the federal government effectivley maintains a monopoly over education, discouraging any private sector competiton which would otherwise force the public sector to innovate and improve. Now, those schools that do comply to federal standards do get more funds, and, thus do maintain high standards of education. However, those schools which lose out on federal funds are forced to accept atrocious standards of education, yet they are still deemed “too big to fail”. As a result, private schools are forced to raise prices in order to compete, meaning that students in municipalities with failing schools have two choices; a really crappy public school or a really expensive private school that they can’t afford. Thus, students in these municipalities are denied any sort of choice regarding thier education and are forced to accept a low standard as a result of the federal government’s monopoly over education. Standardized testing is the means by which the federal government’s monopoly picks those “winners and losers”, while it curbs the individualism that is vital for education; not every student is the same. One only needs to look at my home state of Connecticut to see the implications of the federal government’s monopoly picking “winners and losers”, where schools in the towns of Westport and Darien often outperform schools in Danbury and Bridgeport on the CAPT tests. My high school, Danbury High School, was one of the “losers”, and, long story short, it was a piece of shit. Then again, where else could I have gone?
I know, some of you are absolutley shocked that someone like me would ever dare criticise the federal government. However, it gets better. No, let’s analyze what makes the Finnish system so successful. In Finland, students start a nine-year compulsory primary education at the age of 7. Once they reach the age of 16, Finnish students have the choice of pursuing eithier a general academic secondary education or a vocational secondary education. Once that is completed and they graduate, they have the choice of attending eithier a university or polytechincal institution. Of course, all of these institutions are fully funded by the state, meaning every Finnish student has the oppurtunity to attend whatever school he or she wants. Now, I know what some of you are thinking. You are all probably thinking that this means Finnish government has a standarized curiculum as well as a monopoly on education. Wrong. Though Finland may fully fund all thier public institutions, including universities, the funding is simply given to local municipalities by the central government. Local municipalities have the power to use that funding to improve education based on the unique needs of thier local students; they can set up thier own curiculum, choose what technology to buy etc. Standarized testing is virtually non-existent in Finland; students only have to take one when thier 16-years old and that is to simply give them a better perception of the path they want to take when they have the choice of what field to go into once they reach high school, not to pick winners and losers. If a parent doesn’t want to send thier child to a public schools, no worries, the Finnish government is happy to subsidise private education through vouchers. As a result, private schools can lower thier prices because they can now compete with public institutions that are not deemed “too big to fail”. In essence, what the Fins have created is an educational system where competiton between the public and private sector forces innovation from both sides in an effort to attarct students, meaning that every Finnish institution enjoys incredibly high standards of education as a result. Local funding, combined with the huge amounts of choices between public and private educational institutions, allow Finnish students to attend the school which suits thier individual preferences the most. This educational system which places an empasis on individuality, competition, and choices has produced magnifecent results for the Fins, and it should be something that should be replicated here in the U.S.
Education is a vital fabric of any modern society and it’s important that we get it right. We have a long way to go to improve education here in the U.S. However, but emulating the Fins, we can get it done. First, we must abolish the Department of Education and repeal The No Child Left Behind Act; they are just some of the means the federal government maintains it’s harmful monopoly over education as well as continue to destroy the individuality which is important to education. Now, I would say that we should turn funding over to the states, but there’s one small problem; states are virtually bankrupt. However, I propose the federal government issuing each state block grants to help states fund public schools, whereby the federal governmet issues states subsidies with some “guidelines”. The federal government would then tell states to “spend that money on education”, but, with the Department of Education abolished and No Child Left Behind repealed, the federal government would have no authority to tell states how to spend that money on education. Now, I know many say that states are incredibly irresponsible with federal funds, however, the purpose of a block grant solves for this because if states are deemed to be using the funds irresponsibly, they lose the money. Next, states must allocate those funds to local municipalities, as they are the ones who can best spend those funds to meet the needs of thier local students. When allocating funds to local municipalites, states will do it based off student enrollement; this will become important later. Next, any left-over funds should be used to fund subsidised voucher programs to give parents the option to send thier children to private schools. This will create the kind of competition seen in Finland that will force both the private and public sector to innovate, thus leading to higher standards on both public and private education. Now, let’s revisit allocating local funds based on student enrollement. Let’s say that the local private school in a small town is doing a good job and parents are choosing to use thier vouchers to send kids to private schools, meaning that the public school is losing students. As a result, that school will lose funding. Of course, we won’t see that school decline in standards as they will still have enough funds to meet the needs of each student enrolled. Here’s the catch: If they want more funds, then guess what they’re going to have to do? If they want more funds, they’re going to have to innovate to get more students and make themselves stand out from private schools, while private schools will often lower prices and advertise better quality education to make themselves stand out. As a result, we have no public school is “too big to fail” and we have the perfect conditions necessary for public and private sector competition. Now, here’s where the socialism comes in. I propose having fully funded, public universites, just like the Fins. Like our public schools, these universities would be controlled by the state and funded through federal block grants. Apply the same allocation procedures regarding funds so that no university is “too big to fail” and offer voucher programs for those who wish to attend private universities, and you get the same positive public and private sector competiton as well as a highly individualized educational experiencie everywhere you go at the tertiary educational level, as well as a far greater amount of educational oppurtunites for people of all socio-economic backgrounds due to the avaliability of fully-funded, public universities. Now, I know that blaming the federal government for our educational woes as well as advocating for individualism may be incredibly suprising to hear from a self-proclaimed champion of socialism and collectivism such as myself, but there is a reason Finland has the number one education system in the world. However, if we can reform our education system based on that of Finland’s and tap into the hidden ingenuity that has always been synonomous with the United States, then it will only be a matter of time before we’re leading the charts again.