Old School

by Dish Staff


Elizabeth Green contends that the US lags behind educational powerhouses such as Finland and South Korea in part because “our school system is earlier”:

It dates back to the 19th century, and in many ways the one-room schoolhouse is the model of our system, where an adult is working alone. One adult. Japan, South Korea, Finland – these were systems that were completely reformed after World War II. There is a lot more modern or contemporary thinking that has gone into these systems. We are still living with the legacy of an early 19th century education system.

Decentralization is another factor:

Those countries also have very strong national governments, so they set standards for the schools and have a much greater power at the level of implementation. Our federal government only controls 13 percent of local school funding. Through incentive programs, the Obama administration has actually been very successful at getting local schools to do things because they want every last dollar they can get. And yet once they promise to do something like evaluate teachers in new ways, there’s actually nobody watching at the implementation level to make sure they do it in a smart, strategic way. We have these top-down reform priorities and the federal government is successful in getting schools to adopt them, but there’s no quality check on that process. That’s fundamentally different than other nations.

Another fundamental difference: the US population is 2.5 times larger than Japan’s, 6 times larger than South Korea’s and a whopping 58 times larger than Finland’s, with far more regional diversity than all three. That vastness certainly makes educational reform more difficult for the US than other national governments.

(Photo: Teacher and children in front of sod one-room schoolhouse in Woods County, Oklahoma Territories, ca. 1895 via National Archives and Records Administration and Wikimedia Commons)