As American citizens, we’ve got quite a few things going our way. A quality education system is not one of them. In international rankings, the US sits 14th out of 34, with South Korea and Finland topping the chart. Statistics are based on a sampling of 15-year olds from across the world, as compiled by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Obviously, this middling rank is a cause for concern; how can we call ourselves the best country in the world if our kids are only testing 14th among other developed nations?
What’s our problem? The fact that South Korea tops the list rankles, but it’s no real surprise that a country with such a notoriously competitive culture of advancement tests in the highest percentile. But Finland? It turns out that when the Finnscodify legislation stating that every child should have the exact same opportunity to learn, regardless of any other factor, they really mean it. In her article for The Atlantic, Anu Partanen details the basic tenets of the Finnish educational system. There are many interesting differences (no standardized tests, well-paid teachers, free lunches), but by far the most telling is that Finland has no private schools. It is impossible for a Finnish parent to pay extra for his or her child to attend a better school. No school in Finland is operated for a profit, and all of the universities are free to attend. The result? An extremely well-educated population.
Can you imagine the ramifications of eliminating America’s private school system? If the children of CEOs, members of Congress and the President of the United States had to rely on the public education system? There would never be any mention of slashing the education budget.
Instead, there will always be a disconnect. There are 693 private schools currently operating in North Carolina, with 96,229 students attending in the 2010-2011 school term. Compare that to the 1,475,668 students enrolled in our public education system. Using these numbers, about 6% of NC children are enrolled in a private school. Considering that Wake County has 64 private elementary schools and 26 private high schools (only Mecklenburg County has higher numbers), where do you think most of our legislature is sending their children? It’s conjecture, of course, but I don’t believe it to be unfounded. Then again, I may need to call up a Finnish friend to check my numbers.