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Education reform is currently a hot topic for politicians and policy makers in the United States. Recent international assessments have shown that the United States ranks in the middle among more than 60 countries in reading, mathematics, and science education. A recent study by McKinsey & Company found that if the United States could close this gap between its educational achievement and that of countries that consistently score highest on such assessments, it could add $1.3 ‐ $2.3 trillion to its GDP. This represents 9% ‐ 16% of current GDP. There are many education reform efforts currently being discussed by politicians, special interest groups, and others interested in reforming the American education system. The most controversial of these include abolishing teachers’ unions and implementing merit pay for teachers. Less controversial ideas involve increased spending or increased instructional time. Rather than arguing for or against any of these particular policies in the isolated context of the United States, this paper looks to Finland – a country that consistently scores at the top of international assessments. In Part I, I describe the education results in Finland and compare those to results in the United States. In Part II, I give a brief history of the Finnish education system and describe its current structure. Part III examines seven current education reform initiatives in the United States and examines if and to what extent any of them are in place in Finland. Part IV looks at the unique aspects of the Finnish education system and identifies four key elements that are largely responsible for its success. Finally, Part V discusses the paper’s findings and suggests implications for policy makers in the United States.


Education Reform That Works: What the United States can Learn from Finland by Christopher Hines