Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Are the Finns REALLY smarter than us?
Nearly two years ago, I wrote a couple of article about why the Finns are smarter than us (one article was written in English, and the other was written in Finnish).
The topic of the quality of our K-12 school system came up in a discussion at one of the local high schools the other day, and the person who I was talking with blamed the slip in our status to the Department of Education.
Although our universities are still among the best in the world, our K-12 schools are ranked 18th in the world, and the Finns are #1, which begs the question. Are we really that bad, or have the Finns improved that much?
America has long had a history of excellent education systems. A large part of the reason that our economy is the largest in the world is that the G.I. bill allowed returning WWII vets to pursue higher education, which led to more and competitive institutions of higher learning. As recently as 1996, our K-12 system was ranked the best in the world, but by 2009, we had slipped to #18. The decline came about due to complacency and inefficiency, as well as inconsistencies among the various school systems.
The Department of Education actually didn’t exist until October 17, 1979. Prior to that time, its duties were performed by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. The Department of Education is by far the smallest cabinet-level department, with about 5000 employees, and an annual budget of around $73 billion. The Department of Health and Human Services has the largest budget, at ($869 billion in 2010), but defense is close behind, with a budget of $692 billion. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 also allowed the Department of Education to obtain some additional funds. In 2009, this act channeled an additional $102 billion to the Department of Education, but funding ceased after 2012.
After our K-12 system had slipped in ranking compared to other countries, education leaders throughout the country realized that some changes needed to be made. In 2009, the National Governors Association started to work on new standards for education, The final solution that the Governors Association developed became known as Common Core, and the standards have been adopted by 42 of the 50 states. Three states (Oklahoma, Indiana, and South Carolina) initially adopted Common Core, but have since repealed it. Significantly, Texas (which has an outsized influence on the textbooks that are used nationwide) never adopted the standards. Texas also leads the nation in the number of students are home schooled, with roughly 300,000 children in 120,000 families. Some of those children are not being educated at all, since their families believe that the will all be called up in “the rapture”.
It’s safe to say that the Common Core standards are not understood by large members of the public, some of whom feel that it is a Federally-mandated program that is being forced on them.
It’s not, and the Federal government has no control over that program, but DID provide incentives for adopting the program.
The largest group of private schools in the country is the Catholic school system, and there is also a lot of disagreement in the leaders of this group about the value of Common Core. The National Catholic Educational Association takes the position that that is nothing incompatible in the Core with Catholic education, but the U.S Council Bishops (who advised NOT voting for Donald Trump) has urged Catholic schools to be cautious about using the Common Core.
The Cardinal Newman Society, a conservative Catholic organization is anti-Core, and is writing its own standards. To further confuse matters, an organization called the National Association of Private Catholic and Independent Schools has urged its members not to use Common Core, and to use the standards that IT is developing.
Since Finland’s student population is more homogenous than ours, it was easier for them to improve their standards. In contrast, America has long been the melting pot of the world, which makes it more difficult to make sweeping changes in our educational system.
One of the main reasons for the decline in our ranking is the lack of consistency between school districts, and Common Core was created specifically to address that issue. However, since Common Core is neither universally understood, nor embraced, we will likely continue to be ranked a long ways from the best in the world for the foreseeable future.