The Santa Clara
February 28, 2019
There are serious flaws in our education system as we fall behind in global standards.
We have been lagging behind both Asian and European countries in important educational measures. Both South Korea and Finland are far above the U.S. in international testing, with the most important international test being the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment).
The PISA is the most relevant measure of intelligence because it tests critical thinking skills by asking students to give their opinion on articles, read fine print of health care plans and work out math problems for which the formulas are provided.
Collectively, this makes PISA a test about problem solving and creative thinking. A memorization test could show a difference in a country’s course materials, but this critical thinking test shows that the U.S. is falling in the ability to work out complex problems.
These differences in scores are not because the U.S. isn’t spending as much on education; they are spending more. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Americans spent on average $12,509 per pupil in primary and secondary school in 2016, compared to Korean spending of $7,652 per pupil. This shows that more money does not guarantee better scores, as the U.S. is spending close to twice the amount as South Korea, yet not seeing superior results.
Additionally, U.S. spending on public schools is unequally distributed in different parts of the country, especially suburban versus urban schools.
Since many public schools are heavily funded by property taxes, the $12,509 per pupil is not being distributed proportionally because both the portion of property taxes used to pay for education and the value of property taxes vary greatly throughout the country. PISA reported that this inequality in funding results in a 15 percent socioeconomic variance in their test scores.
South Korean students score much higher on the PISA, but their model is not ideal for us to follow. Their system is harsh, unforgiving and demanding as students go to school for long hours, stressing about testing performance.
Within Korea, there is a constant effort to reform their educational system in an attempt to reduce stress for young students. But Korea, as well as other Asian countries, have fallen into an arms race to see who can improve test scores the most. It is a race that countries and their students cannot get out of easily once they have begun.
The United States, when looking for ways to improve their education model, should consider models like Finland. Finland raised their test scores by improving the quality of their teachers in the public school system by making teaching a highpaying and respected job.
By improving the quality of their teachers, they have systematically improved the quality of their entire educational system. This is significantly different than the Korean model, most importantly because Finland employs better teaching as the mechanism to increase scores and overall education as opposed to increased hours of work and pressure placed on students. Finland is improving their education in a healthier way that allows the country’s education system to flourish without jeopardizing the happiness or health of students by applying unnecessary amounts of stress and work.
While South Korea is outperforming the United States in education, their PISA scores keep dropping while their stress keeps growing as the education standard continues to rise. Because improving education is an equifinality process that can be achieved in multiple ways other than extreme pressure and copious amount of time studying, the U. S. should adopt the Finland model and raise the quality of teachers by making graduate school acceptance mandatory and more exclusive, having higher expectation both in terms of schooling and natural skills for their teachers and by increasing teachers’ salaries.
Finland’s education system has improved because they emphasized an important variable—educators. By improving the quality of their teachers, they improved the entire system.
The U.S. is a hegemony and if it hopes to hold this standing in the future, especially in regard to education, we will need to improve our educational system to compete against these other countries who are currently leaving us in the dust. If we want our students to compete better in this race, we need to improve the coaching.
Sahale Greenwood is a sophomore political science and communication double major.