“The original Friedman idea that private schools would deliver education equal in quality to current public education at one-half the price has never been realized in practice.”
Does Privatization Improve Education? The Case of Chile’s National Voucher Plan – Martin Carnoy and Patrick McEwan

Florida state politicians and a few who seek to make Bold Education Reform their national platform to have spent a great deal of time talking about “achievement gaps, accountability, learning gains and the need to dismantle public education. They have grounded most of their arguments by pointing to the poor showing U.S. students reflect when compared to their peers across the globe.

What the politicians purposely neglect to say is this: Once we extract the students who live in poverty from the overall numbers, the US comes out resoundingly on top, clearly competitive with the rest of the world.  Finland has a 2.3% poverty rate, the U.S. has a 21+% poverty rate.  This is a smoking gun.

Florida politicians ignore this fact for a self-serving reason. Acknowledging that U.S. students are internationally competitive in the absence of poverty would diffuse the current crisis that reformers have worked so hard to create. Diffusing the crisis would pose a serious challenge to the huge financial gain that privatizers, Charter Management Organizations and mega-testing providers like Pearson are poised to make off the public’s 150+ years of solid investment in free public education.

Learning and Poverty

  • Poverty and SB 736/Teacher Merit Pay
  • Florida Politicians pushed through SB 736/Teacher Merit Pay during the 2011 session.  This ambitious grab bag of old reforms:
  • Monetized school children
  • Attaches financial value to student test scores
  • Ties 50% of a teachers evaluation to the one test, one day FCAT scores
  • Enormous UNFUNDED $2 Billion dollar start up cost – NO MERIT PAY INCLUDED WHATSOEVER
  • $1.8 Billion UNFUNDED recurring annual costs
  • Although UNFUNDED, requires Districts to create an end of course exam to measure every moment of the school day touched by a teacher.
  • IMPORTANT POINT: Florida politicians were careful to make absolutely no allowances for poverty when considering student performances or teacher evaluations.

According to the January 2011 Programme for International Student Assessment/PISA study, poverty affects achievement, NOT ability. This study clearly indicts poverty as the culprit responsible for the consistent low performance of certain groups. Education

To quote the National Association of Secondary School Principals report: “The problem is not as much with our educational system as it is with our high poverty rates. The real crisis is the level of poverty in too many of our schools and the relationship between poverty and student achievement.”

The report goes on to say: “While there is no relationship between poverty and ability, the relationship between poverty and achievement is almost foolproof. To deny that poverty is a factor to be overcome as opposed to an excuse is to deny the reality that all educators, human service workers, law enforcement officers, medical professionals, and religious clergy have known for years.”



Finland: Is there a better way?

Yes. Twenty-five years ago, Finland, a country no bigger that the state of Minnesota made the singular decision to improve their public school system. At the time, Finland was experiencing great economic disparity between rich and poor and at the same time the children were performing well below international averages in Math and Science. It was a wake-up call.

Education systems that work:


Helsinki, Finland

High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don’t start school until age 7.

Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world’s C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they’re way ahead in math, science and reading — on track to keeping Finns among the world’s most productive workers. What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart? Ellen Gamerman, Wall Street Journal, February 29, 2009

Finnish Education System

The Finnish education system features as Egalitarian philosophy where all humans are equal in fundamental worth or social status and have the same political, social, economic and civil rights. Egalitarianism combines the concepts of unity and equality. It runs directly counter to the Statist or Corporatist point of view which champions the state as a homogeneous institution able to use political power to force policy on a passive or resisting society.

Corporatism is built on an elitist theory of power.

Egalitarianism is based on a pluralist theory of power exercised by individuals and competing organizations within society.

System Features:

  • No Tuition Fees
  • Free Meals served to full-time students
  • Well-funded
  • Carefully thought-out daycare programs for babies and toddlers
  • One year Pre-school, Kindergarten
  • 9 year compulsory basic comprehensive school (ages 7 – 16)
  • Post-compulsory secondary general academic and vocational education (3 years)
  • Higher education – University and Polytechnical (doctoral studies)
  • Adult – life-long and continuing

The Nordic strategy for achieving equality and excellence in education has been based on constructing a publicly funded comprehensive school system without selecting, tracking, or streaming students during their common basic education. Part of the strategy has been to spread the school network so that pupils have a school near their homes whenever possible or, if this is not feasible, e.g. in rural areas, to provide free transportation to more widely dispersed schools. Inclusive special education within the classroom and instructional efforts to minimize low achievement are also typical of Nordic educational systems.

The Limits of the State: Beyond Statist Approaches and Their Critics, Timothy Mitchell, March 1991, The American Political Science Review 85 (1): 75–96. JSTOR 1962879.

Finland – Philosophy: High quality daycare and nursery-kindergarten

  • Considered critical for developing the cooperation and communication skills
  • Prepares young children for lifelong education
  • Foundation for formal learning of reading and mathematics which begins at age 7 in Finland
  • Formal learning does not begin before age seven to avoid disrupting childhood.
  • Respect for each child’s individuality.
  • Each child deserves the chance to develop as a unique person.
  • Values the importance of developing social and interactive skills
  • Teaches early learners to care about others

Birth to age 7

  • Newborn maternity package includes three books – one for mom, one for dad and one for baby.
  • Before the age of 7, children learn best through play.
  • Free universal daycare for children aged 8 months to 5 years
  • Early childhood education is not mandatory in Finland, but is used by almost everyone.

“Early education is the first and most critical stage of lifelong learning. Neurological research has shown that 90% of brain growth occurs during the first five years of life, and 85% of the nerve paths develop before starting school at the age of seven.”

The Development of Early Childhood as an Academic Discipline in Finland, Nordic Early Childhood Education Research, Vol. 1, no.1, 2008

“We see it as the right of the child to have daycare and pre-school. It’s not a place where you dump your child when you’re working. It’s a place for your child to play and learn and make friends. Good parents put their children in daycare. It’s not related to socio-economic class.” Eeva Penttilä, of Helsinki’s Education Department.

Compulsory Educational System or “Basic School”

  • No gifted programs, more able children are expected to help others
  • Schools up to University level are funded and administered by local government
  • Few private schools
  • New private schools require a political decision by the Council of State.
  • Private schools are given a state grant comparable to that given to a municipal school of the same size.
  • The use of tuition fees, even in private schools is strictly prohibited
  • Selective admission is prohibited
  • Private schools must admit all pupils on the same basis as a municipal school.
  • Private schools are required to give their students all the social entitlements that are offered to the students of municipal schools.
  • Most existing private schools are mostly faith-based or Steiner Schools based on the Humanistic philosophy.


  • Fully unionized
  • Follow state curriculum guidelines
  • Accorded a great deal of autonomy as to methods of instruction
  • Allowed to choose their own textbooks
  • Classes are small, seldom more than twenty.

Teacher Recruitment

  • Limited performance pay for teachers
  • Focus on maintaining good working conditions in schools essential to luring and keeping talented people
  • National curriculum allows teachers broad authority to shape lessons and use strategies they believe will help students meet standards
  • Not obsessed with measuring students or school performance
  • Instead of high-stakes tests, Finland tests representative samples of students to gauge trends in school performance
  • Teachers are trusted to assess students’ progress in class to improve instruction
  • Teachers are an elite group
  • All teachers have master’s degrees
  • Admission into teacher education programs is highly competitive with fewer than 15 percent of applicants accepted
  • Viewed as a “top-tier” profession by society


  • Students are expected to learn two languages in addition to Finnish or Swedish
  • Students in grades one through nine spend from four to eleven periods each week taking classes in art, music, cooking, carpentry, metalwork, and textiles.
  • Small classes, insisted upon by the teachers’ union, appear to be associated with student achievement, especially in science.
  • School atmosphere is relaxed and informal
  • Buildings are so clean that students often wear socks and no shoes
  • Outdoor activities are stressed, even in the coldest weather
  • Homework is minimal, leaving room for extra-curricular activities.
  • Students attend state-subsidized specialized music schools after class
  • Reading for pleasure is actively encouraged
  • Finland publishes more children’s books than any other country
  • Television stations show foreign programs in the original languages with subtitles, so that in Finland children even read while watching TV.

High Stakes Tests

  • There are no high-stakes tests.


  • First years of comprehensive school – grading may be limited to verbal assessments rather than formal grades.
  • The start of numerical grading is decided locally.
  • Pupils are issued a report card twice a year: at the end of the fall and spring terms.
  • Grades are given on scale from 4 to 10.
  • If a comprehensive school pupil receives the grade 4 in one subject at the end of the spring term, they must show by a separate examination at the end of summer term that they have improved in the subject.
  • If the pupil receives multiple failing grades, they may have to retake the year, though it is considered far preferable to provide a struggling student with extra help and tutoring.
  • Retention is very rare. If a student is retained, the decision is made by the teachers and the headmaster after interviewing the pupil and the parents.

Comprehensive school students enjoy a number of social entitlements:

  • school health care
  • free lunch every day
  • free books and materials
  • free school trips (or even housing) in the event students have a long trip to school.

Upper Secondary Education/Under-graduate School

  • Starts at age 16 or 17 and lasts three to four years – represents the last two years of U.S. high school plus two years at a Community or Junior College.
  • It is not compulsory.

Polytechnic Institute Track

  • Students choose to pursue occupational training to develop vocational competence in preparation for polytechnic school
  • System is not rigid – vocational school graduates may qualify for University and attend both
  • Free tuition
  • School health care and free lunch provided
  • Students purchase own books and materials
  • Vocational graduates receive a certificate upon graduation
  • Polytechnic Institutes require certificate and they may require the matriculation exam or a third admission examination

University/Post-graduate Professional Degree Track

  • Prepares students for fields such as law, medicine, science, education and the humanities
  • Admission based on GPA, in some cases exams and interviews
  • Free tuition
  • School health care and free lunch provided
  • Students purchase own books and materials
  • Academic upper secondary school graduates receive secondary school certificates and take a nationally graded “matriculation” examination which serves as a university entrance exam


Singapore’s ITE Program is responsible for the development and success of the country’s Technical Academy works with a laser-like focus to define the needs of businesses. ITE leaders and Singapore’s economic development officials work in close collaboration to ensure that industries who want to receive special consideration to do business in Singapore will bring a commensurate number of high-paying technical jobs into the economy. The ITE Program then sets about the deliberative effort to train students to fill those jobs.

Singapore’s success is directly connected to the inclusive collaboration between those who educate the country’s children and those who seek to define and secure the country’s economic security. The act of deliberately and successfully combining the goals of high-quality public education and economic success sets Singapore apart from other developed nations.

Philosophy is Key: Singapore views its people as the country’s greatest natural resource.

Singapore: Teacher Recruitment

  • Teacher Selection is heavily directed by the Ministry of Education
  • Elite candidates are recruited from the top third of graduating classes
  • Teacher-candidates attend one year of pre-service training
  • Teachers receive at least 100 hours of continuous retraining throughout the school year and careers
  • Government of Singapore actively establishes career “tracks” for teachers
  • Young educators are encouraged to become master teachers, subject specialists and/or school administrators
  • Administration is viewed as the pinnacle of education service – because of the influence these jobs have over instruction and the school environment
  • Teacher evaluation includes student component and awards bonuses for effective instruction that can equal between one and three months’ pay
  • Teachers are an elite group
  • Teaching is viewed as a “top-tier” profession by society

Singapore’s Winning Combination

Famous for imposing academic rigor and turning out stellar math and science students, Singapore once offered few options to students who did not excel academically. Parents regarded the existing vocational route as a second- or third-tier option. In the 1990s, the government of Singapore began to overhaul

Three Options at end of secondary school

  • Junior Colleges in preparation for university study.
  • Polytechnic schools, which blend academic and career-oriented studies, also a common precursor to university study.
  • Vocational studies, during the equivalent of the U.S. 11th and 12th grades.

Career Options

  • Singapore “streams” or tracks students by ability
  • Flexibility: students are allowed to switch stream
  • Low-achieving students are assigned to a technical track
  • High-achieving students are directed to an academic track

The Transition

  • Established stronger ties with industries
  • overhauled curriculum
  • recruited skilled lecturers and instructors with expertise in specific fields
  • Established committees, made up of industry and government leaders, who helped determine what training and skills the school’s graduates needed in areas such as:
    • chemical and life sciences
    • design and media, electronics
    • health care
    • mechanical engineering
    • Revamped outdated training facilities to establish a new comprehensive ITE campus in 2005.

Exceptional Technical Academies

Singapore’s ability to turn out students with exceptional math and science skills is now legend. However, the area that really sets Singapore apart is it’s remarkable vision for career and technical education programs.

  • In the 1990s, the Government of Singapore transformed and rebranded its trade-oriented academic classes so they would not be viewed as a “last resort”
  • Established the Institute of Technical Education
  • moved many low-achieving students into high-demand jobs
  • Clearly defined career-oriented streams
  • All students receive a strong grounding in core academic subjects, such as math, early in school
  • students enter career-oriented classes with skills that help them in class and on the job
  • Parents and Public saw that Technical Academy was “a viable pathway to an equally bright future” when compared with the traditional academic route.
  • Students receive guidance, early in high school, on what blend of academic and career-oriented classes to take

In 2007, the ITE received an award for effective government from Harvard University’s Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation, which cited the school’s ability to help low academic achievers acquire skills and move into good-paying jobs.

Traditional Education

  • Heavy emphasis on academic achievement, particularly in subjects such as math, science, and English.
  • 10 years of school, with six years of primary school and four or five years of secondary education.

In 2007, the ITE received an award for effective government from Harvard University’s Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation, which cited the school’s ability to help low academic achievers acquire skills and move into good-paying jobs.

Solutions Found the United States

Colorado: ProComp Plan (Professional Compensation for Teachers)

ProComp is a groundbreaking compensation system that links teacher pay to the school district’s instructional mission. Designed in a partnership between the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and Denver Public Schools, ProComp has received national attention because it rewards teachers for their professional accomplishments while linking pay to student achievement.

Improving U.S. Technical Track

  • Recognize that many U.S. students drift through high school instead of developing strong career interests.
  • 2006 report, “Tough Choices or Tough Times,” New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, recommended that U.S. schools allow students to choose from several different academic paths
  • pursue a technical degree at a community college, after finishing 10th grade and extend to grade 14.
  • Goal to keep low-performing students motivated and focused on academic and career goals.

Poverty and Achievement

Schools Matter, January 6, 2011, http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2011/01/pisa-scores-show-us-should-export-poor.html

The Good News About PISA Scores and Now We Know What the Real Problem Is, In the Trenches with School Reform, The School Principal, January 10, 2011


PISA: It’s Poverty Not Stupid, Mel Riddile, The Principal Difference, December 2010,


The Economics Behind International Education Rankings, Cynthia McCabe, December 9, 2010, NEA Today,


Programme for International Student Assessment – PISA website


How to Close the Achievement Gap: The World’s Best Schools Offer Important Lessons About What Works, Newsweek Magazine, Mona Mourshed, August 16, 2010 http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2010/08/16/secrets-of-the-world-s-best-school-systems.html

Teacher Pay

International Comparison of Teacher Salaries/Annual statutory salaries in public institutions, minimum training, 2008 http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/teachsal-table-1-1-en


What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart? , Ellen Gamerman, Wall Street Journal, February 29, 2009


On a Road to Nowhere, Pasi Sahlberg Blog, September 24, 2011, http://www.pasisahlberg.com/blog/?p=23

How to Close the Achievement Gap, Mona Mourshed and Fenton Whelan, Newsweek Magazine, August 16, 2010


Finnish Lessons Question 1: Where are the roots of Finland’s world-class education system? Pasi Sahlberg Blog, October 4, 2011, http://www.pasisahlberg.com/blog/?p=29

Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, Finland: Internationally recognized education expert, Director General of CIMO (National Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation) Dr. Sahlberg works with the Finnish Government in promoting internationalization and tolerance, creativity and global ethics in Finnish society through mobility and institutional cooperation in education, culture, youth and sport. http://www.pasisahlberg.com/blog/


Singapore Crafts Vocational Ed. With Industries in Mind, Sean Cavanagh, Education Week, Focus on Science and Mathmatics, July 14, 2009


Tough Choices or Tough Times New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce


Top-Scoring Nations Share Strategies on Teachers, Ed Week, Sean Cavanagh, June 30, 2009


Cautionary Tale: Japan

Awakening in crisis: A lesson from Japan, Valerie Strauss, The Answer Sheet, Washington Post, April, 6, 2011


Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation, Michael Zielenziger, http://www.amazon.com/Shutting-Out-Sun-Created-Generation/dp/product-description/0385513038

Cautionalry Tale: Chile


Martin Carnoy and Patrick McEwan, http://www.kghh.ir/maghalatkh/Chilepaper.pdf

United States

Inequitable Equilibrium: School Finance in the United States, Jeffery Metzler,

Copyright 2003, The Trustees of Indiana University. Reproduced with permission from the Indiana Law Review. This article will be published in Volume 36 of the Indiana Law Review Spring 2003 http://www.schoolfunding.info/resource_center/research/Metzler.pdf


ProComp Final Evaluation Results

Making a Difference in Education Reform: Pro Comp External Evaluation Report 2006-2010, October 20, 2011, Diane Procter, PhD, Senior Evaluator, Bobby Waters, Executive Director, Prepared for Denver Public Schools, University of Colorado, The Evaluation Center, School of Education and Human Development


Teacher ProComp Website


ProComp May Have Boosted Teacher Selection, Retention, Stephen Sawchuck, EDWeek, June 22, 2010



A Costing Out Primer, National Network Access, Columbia University, June 2006


Maryland Enacts Modern, Standards-based Education Finance System: Reforms Based on Adequacy Cost Studies, Molly A. Hunter, May, 2002, http://www.schoolfunding.info/resource_center/research/MDbrief.pdf

West Virginia

W.Va. Superintendent Jorea Marple’s Message — Invest Now or Pay Later
Mike Ruben, The State Journal, March 23, 2011 http://statejournal.com/story.cfm?func=viewstory&storyid=96451

West Virginia Learns Finland’s “most honorable profession”: Teacher, Paul Frysh, CNN August 31, 2011 12:54 p.m. EDT


What is the Best Form of Governance for Public Education?, Part 1, Dave Thomas, April 21, 2011, Thomas is a member of the Utah State Board of Education, District 4, he is a former Utah State Senator and Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Education

What is the Best Form of Governance for Public Education?, Part 2, Dave Thomas, April 21, 2011,

Education Reform: Utah v. Florida, Dave Thomas, April 28, 2011, Thomas is a member of the Utah State Board of Education, District 4, he is a former Utah State Senator and Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Education

Comparing Florida and Utah Education Needs Caution, Kim Burningham, October 24th, 2011, Burningham is a member of the Utah State Board of Education, District 5, he served for 15 years in the Utah Legislature and was an educator for many years and was twice named Outstanding Teacher of the Year

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