And they are successful:
The transformation of the Finns’ education system began some 40 years ago as the key propellent of the country’s economic recovery plan. Educators had little idea it was so successful until 2000, when the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues, revealed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in math. By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries (and a few cities) in science. In the 2009 PISA scores released last year, the nation came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide. ...
Ninety-three percent of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, 17.5 percentage points higher than the United States, and 66 percent go on to higher education, the highest rate in the European Union. Yet Finland spends about 30 percent less per student than the United States.
Now, yes, Finland is not America. Only 4% of the country is foreign-born, so they are a much more homogenous nation. However, Finland's schools work for immigrants, too, not just for ethnic Finns.
I suspect the difference is that Finland is willing to spend money on minorities. They even spend extra in "positive discrimination money." Americans, on the other hand, are far too worried that their tax money might go to help "those people."
Finland is willing to do whatever it takes. Education is a priority for them - and that's not just lip service, like it is in America. And with our worship of competition, we've taken a completely different path:
In the United States, which has muddled along in the middle for the past decade, government officials have attempted to introduce marketplace competition into public schools. In recent years, a group of Wall Street financiers and philanthropists such as Bill Gates have put money behind private-sector ideas, such as vouchers, data-driven curriculum and charter schools, which have doubled in number in the past decade. President Obama, too, has apparently bet on competition. His Race to the Top initiative invites states to compete for federal dollars using tests and other methods to measure teachers, a philosophy that would not fly in Finland. ...
Some of the more vocal conservative reformers in America have grown weary of the “We-Love-Finland crowd” or so-called Finnish Envy. They argue that the United States has little to learn from a country of only 5.4 million people—4 percent of them foreign born. Yet the Finns seem to be onto something. Neighboring Norway, a country of similar size, embraces education policies similar to those in the United States. It employs standardized exams and teachers without master’s degrees. And like America, Norway’s PISA scores have been stalled in the middle ranges for the better part of a decade.
Of course, we don't want to "throw money" at schools, right? Isn't that what we always hear? (But we have no problem with throwing money at the military, do we? We value our military. We don't value our schools - certainly not the schools other people's children attend.)
And note that Finnish schools haven't always been good:
Finland’s schools were not always a wonder. Until the late 1960s, Finns were still emerging from the cocoon of Soviet influence. Most children left public school after six years. (The rest went to private schools, academic grammar schools or folk schools, which tended to be less rigorous.) Only the privileged or lucky got a quality education. ...
In 1963, the Finnish Parliament made the bold decision to choose public education as its best shot at economic recovery. “I call this the Big Dream of Finnish education,” said Sahlberg, whose upcoming book, Finnish Lessons, is scheduled for release in October. “It was simply the idea that every child would have a very good public school. If we want to be competitive, we need to educate everybody. It all came out of a need to survive.”
Fancy that! And what's even more amazing, they followed through with it! We could do this, too. If we wanted to. If we were willing to do whatever it took, as the Finns are. If "no child left behind" was more than a campaign slogan in America.
America used to have the best system of public education in the world, bar none. Our public schools were the envy of the world. Well, no longer. Now we're lucky to be average. Well, you can't be average if you expect to effectively compete in the global marketplace. Certainly, you can't afford to be average in education if you expect to stay a world superpower.
And education is an investment. We can't afford to spend the money right now? We can't afford not to. If we won't invest in our children, what does that say about us? If we'd rather give tax cuts to the rich, what does that say about our priorities? What does that say about our common sense?
Instead of making excuses for why Finland is beating our pants off, why don't we learn what they have to teach us? But we don't want to do that, do we? When you get right down to it, we just don't care that much.