Monday, December 27, 2010

Pasi Sahlberg has an op-ed in the Boston Globe making the following claim:
What could the United States learn from the Finns? First, reconsider those policies that advocate choice and competition as the key drivers of educational improvement. None of the best-performing education systems relies primarily on them. Indeed, the Finnish experience shows that consistent focus on equity and cooperation — not choice and competition — can lead to an education system where all children learn well.
The weasel word (or term) in the above is "relies primarily," because it certainly isn't true that none of the best-performing education systems offer school choice. Many of them do.

Consider Hong Kong, the Netherlands, and Belgium, all of which are significantly above the OECD average for the most recent PISA scores in reading, math, and science. Hong Kong is at about the same level as Finland (and ahead in math); the Netherlands and Belgium are somewhat below Finland, but are still among the world's top performers.

These nations all have extensive school choice.

Netherlands: "Almost 70 percent of schools in the Netherlands are administered by private school boards, and all schools are government funded equally." (Source.)

Belgium: All schools in Belgium, including privately-operated schools, are publicly funded. (Source.)

Hong Kong:
Hong Kong’s educational system, although dominated by the Education Bureau, certainly does offer genuine choices. In fact, compared with many western countries, the range of choices is quite broad. Just to recap, there are:

* a surprisingly small number of purely government-funded and operated schools;
* a very large number of schools that are government-funded and supervised, but that are run by private organizations, mostly religious ones;
* an increasing number of what are essentially charter or magnet schools, e.g. the Direct Subsidy Scheme schools; and
* genuinely private schools that receive no government funding.
In addition, consider New Zealand, also one of the world's top performers on all subjects in PISA. Although it has a checkered history, New Zealand has most definitely had school choice, including funding for private schools.



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