Education vs. poverty

“In the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a first-class education,” said President Obama in his State of the Union speech.

Is that really true?  Flypaper’s Mike Petrilli thinks preparing young people to be “military ready” might fight poverty better than educating everyone for college.

I agree with Obama — if it’s really education and not just additional years of schooling.  Unfortunately, his proposed funding increases don’t guarantee more “first-class education.”

“The question is not whether to invest in education, but how, writes Russ Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, in an e-mail. Making Race To The Top an annual billion-dollar competition gives extraordinary power to the Education secretary, Whitehurst writes.

I’m all for using carrots instead of sticks to spur reform, but we ought to get at least a hint of what we’re going to get from the billions invested in Race to the Top 1.0 before we make it permanent.  

. . .   The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Act, now overdue, rather than the 2011 budget bill, is the place to decide whether an annual Race to the Top competition is worthwhile and what reform policies it should impose on states and school districts.

Obama has the right priorities, writes Paul Peterson on Ed Next, citing a new study on the huge economic benefits if we educated U.S. children to Finnish levels. “If” is the operative word.

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  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Maybe the kids who can’t be educated to Finnish levels, or some other satisfactory level, weren’t going to be successful any way.

  2. Yes, I’m sure China’s economic growth is a result of China’s fantastic increase in education spending.


  3. Leaving aside all of the differences between Finnish schools and ours, has anyone investigated the possibility that Finnish parents do a better job of ensuring that their kids enter school with the knowledge, skills, habits and attitudes that enable school (and life) success? At the lower end of our SES curve, kids are entering school – even preschool – significantly behind middle-class kids and they fall further behind as they age.

  4. Margo/Mom says:

    momof4–If you are seriously interested in looking at Finnish education, google OECD. For nations that participate in PISA, an enormous amount of data is collected beyond the tests (and Finland consistently excels). There are various country reports looking at a variety of issues in-depth.

    For a short and simple answer to your question, I would say that education is highly valued in Finland–as a nation, rather than merely as a subgroup of parents. Thinking about it, we tend to believe that there is a meaningful and separate group of parents–whose attitudes or practices must be fixed in order to have better educational results. I would suggest that parenting is fairly pervasive throughout society and perhaps our emphasis on “parents” is misleading.

    Roughly 20 years ago, Finland undertook massive reform of its education system–including such things as building a far more inclusive education system (ending the “tracking” that led from early ages to various career opportunities). They invest heavily in educational research and development. They have a far higher degree of cooperation between school entities and social service entities (and likely a far higher level of support for social services). Like the US, they support a fair amount of decentralization, however, unlike the US, they are very selective with regard to who becomes a teacher (that is, who is accepted into education programs at the college level). Because they support higher education differently than we do, acceptance into a program signals that the program will be paid for. The supply is then carefully tailored to fit the demand with the result that a teacher on graduation is virtually guaranteed a position. I believe that their preparation is equivalent to a Master’s level.

  5. Maybe we could follow another bit of Finnish policy and cut the amount we spend on public education. Finland spends about $8,200 per student versus America’s $9,963.

    Obama’s throwing a sop to the public education lobby he’s been annoying for the past year by sounding chipper about educational alternatives.

    If education funding were related to economic performance in any reasonable way the U.S. shouldn’t have had a recession because we spend, head-and-shoulders, more then any other country on K-12 education.

    That was what my comment about China referenced.

    Their economic growth has everything to do with embracing free market principles to the extent they don’t intrude on the Communists’ grip on power and nothing to do with the amount that’s going into education.


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