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Daniel Henderson
Dr. Raman
CAS 138T
6 April 2015
Efficacy in Education
To the Pennsylvania Department of Education:
American teenagers rank near the international average in reading and science and below
the international average in mathematics according to the Programme for International Student
Assessment, or PISA, in 2012 (Results from PISA 2012: America). By all means, a welldeveloped country like the United States should place above average in all three of these
categories, but the education system in America is not operating at its full potential because of
outdated and ineffective policies. In the past forty years, the education systems of America have
mostly stagnated, and other places like Finland have continued innovating and reforming to
make their education systems grow (Gordon). Therefore, a lack of progress has allowed America
to fall behind. A state like Pennsylvania could improve its education system and lead America
into a new age of learning by finally replacing ineffective education policies with policies shaped
towards the 21st century. New policy can be implemented mirroring Finlands educational reform
policies, which would include standardizing funding for public schools, eliminating standardized
tests like the Keystone exams, and producing better teachers through offering grants to the
brightest college bound students to major in educational fields.
Currently, funding for public schools in America mainly comes from local taxes. In
underprivileged areas, this leads to a low operating budget for their schools. A slew of
consequences ensue, including less money for textbooks and other materials, inability to hire

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more teachers, and a lack of educational programs beyond the classroom, which ultimately leads
to lower student performance on assessments (Mehta). There are state funds provided to schools,
but often these are variable funds that differ from place to place based on the results of
standardized tests. PISA 2012 found that socio-economic background has a significant impact
on student performance in the United States, with some 15% of the variation in student
performance explained by this (Results from PISA 2012: America). Even in more privileged
areas, schools can still lack the money to purchase essential resources for learning. In general,
money is not being spent equally or efficiently, which is a cause for major concern. In the course
of Finlands reforms, the government implemented equitable funding where all teachers across
the entire nation are provided with more than enough resources for their classrooms (Dalporto).
It does not matter if they are in the poorest slum or the richest neighborhood: parents can rest
assured that whether they live in a city or a small country town, whether they are wealthy or not,
their child will get the same, awesome education (Dalporto). Subsequently, there is little to no
indication of variation in student performance based on socio-economic background in Finland
(PISA 2012 Results in Focus.).
By standardizing school funding, Pennsylvania would no longer see inner city or rural
schools being outperformed by suburban upper class schools. This is not to suggest that suburban
districts should be stripped of funding in order to give underprivileged districts more money.
Rather, money from standardized testing should be moved to standardizing budgets. Americans
are guaranteed equal protection under the law by the fourteenth amendment, so the government
should make every effort to provide an equal, excellent education to all children, regardless of
their background. It is in the best interests of the individual, the state of Pennsylvania, and the
United States as a whole because the effectiveness of primary education holds major weight in a

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childs progression through their academic life, social and family life, and later career life
(Townsend). If the underprivileged schools could have as much at their disposal as the upper
class schools, the variation in scores due to socioeconomic background would decrease, and
more disadvantaged children will be set on a path to success. Overall, this would enhance
Americas performance in PISA by raising the low scores that bring down the mean score.
Success in education and, subsequently, life is mainly determined by social class at birth, and
with so many underprivileged schools in America, it is not surprising that America does not
perform well in international evaluations (Gordon). However, these steps can ensure that all
students regardless of background can have the same excellence in educational opportunities.
For the 2015-2016 year, Governor Wolf plans to set the budget for the early childhood,
K-12 and higher education at one billion dollars, and over four years, he plans to expand the
budget to two billion dollars ("Education Budget."). Pennsylvanias Department of Education
and the individual school districts spend around a combined two hundred million dollars
annually for the standardized Keystone Exams, and as more subject exams are added, this
amount will increase (Seif). By discontinuing the Keystone Exams, the school districts would
have more of their own money (and time) at their disposal, and the state would be able to
reallocate the money spent on Keystone Exams to the underprivileged districts. Thus, the
disadvantaged districts would approximately receive an equal amount of money per student as
the advantaged districts. As the overall budget for early childhood, K-12, and higher education
approaches two billion dollars over the next four years, there comes even greater opportunity for
equality across districts and increased spending on innovation in the classroom.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, American schools began to take on a form similar to
factories. This organization of education is no longer up to date, and yet the rigid assembly line

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influence is felt throughout public schools. Currently, the goal of education is to make students
productive citizens in a 21st century setting, but the basic environment in which they learn has
not fundamentally changed since the 19th century. Americas workplaces are no longer solely
factories, so the schools where children learn and grow should not continue to shape them
towards that end. An investment in education is an investment in the future. Countries with
consistently high rankings in education have similar success in economic growth (Mehta). Thus,
the gradual stagnation of education over the last forty years correlates with the slowing economy
that led to the Great Recession of 2008 (Gordon). In a sense, education and the economy are in a
symbiotic relationship. When one grows, it is likely that the other grows as well, and when one
falls behind, so will the other. 21st century learning applications are mainly geared towards
STEM innovation and creativity, which are major factors of todays economy. However, the
environments in which students learn are rigid and structuredprecisely the opposite of a
creative and innovative environment. What is lacking in the current methodology is the worth of
the individual. The lecture format of instruction addresses many learners as a whole, throwing
aside educational psychology for the convenience of a simple presentation. Most learning
happens through guided practice, which is often difficult to sufficiently implement in the current
format of American education. Learning is an individualized process, and when society needs
creativity and innovation, an individuals passions must be harnessed, not hidden.
Howard Thurman, an influential African American leader, once said: Dont ask what the
world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is
people who have come alive (Howard Thurman Quotes.). A student-centric approach to
education gives children this opportunity to come alive. Finland utilizes this and creates a
cooperative rather than competitive environment for both teachers with their colleagues and

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students with their peers (Hancock). In essence, the education system is shaped around the
student rather than shaping students to fit into an education system. If American students could
view school as the place in which their passions can be explored, perpetuated, and enriched,
attitudes about schooling would improve. For example, American students struggle with systems
of linear equations in math, and only 50% said they were interested in learning math (Results
from PISA 2012: America). Instead of struggling to understand the abstract process of solving a
system of linear equations, students should be able to see meaningful applications towards the
things they want to learn about. A simple fact of educational psychology says that if information
has meaning for a student, they will be more likely to remember it. If a mundane lesson like
systems of linear equations can be intermixed with the passions of the students, they will
remember those lessons more easily.
Finland is known for having short school days and a low-stress environment for its
students. The teachers manage to make education simple and enjoyable for everyone, cover all
the topics in a shorter amount of time, and produce some of the highest success rates in the
world. For decades, Finland suffered from a poor education system and a weak economy after
years of Russian control, and in the 1970s they finally invested in reforming the way they
approached education, ultimately providing a better future for the country (Dalporto). It was a
slow process, and the results have come to fruition in the last ten years; if America adopts a
similar approach soon before it reaches a crisis moment like Finland, positive results could be
expedited. Sam Chaltain, the previous director of the Forum for Education and Democracy,
explains in an interview:
In a system as diverse and broad as [Americas], some form of standardization is
essential. [America has] chosen to standardize two things: what gets taught, and how kids

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get assessed. By contrast, a country like Finland has standardized two very different
factors: how schools get funded, and how teachers get trained (Townsend).
In the process of learning, the steps of teaching and assessing come much later than funding
schools and training teachers. In this sense, the Finnish standardization happens at a lower level
of the process, allowing for it to impact every aspect of education that comes after the school
funding and teacher training. In America, the only processes that are affected are what is being
taught and assessed, which come practically at the end of the learning process. Nothing else is
affected. Consider it this way: Finland nurtures the roots of a tree whereas America tells the
leaves how green to be. By funding all schools the same way and regulating what prospective
teachers learn, Finland successfully sets up the students to succeed without having to interfere
with disruptive standardized tests; these are deemed unnecessary because the schools and
teachers have all the tools they need to make the learning happen. There does not need to be
oversight to determine if instruction was successful because the students and teachers were set on
a clear path to achievement at step one.
Due to the standardized training, Finlands teachers are respected across society as much
as their doctors or engineers; the best and brightest among their college-bound teenagers are
encouraged to pursue degrees in education (Hancock). Finnish teachers earn more money
relative to the doctors and lawyers of Finland than American teachers relative to American
doctors and lawyers (Dalporto). The Finnish knew that their education system was ineffective for
a long time, and they respect that the teachers are now the ones imparting knowledge to the
students and providing the country with a better future. The process of becoming a teacher in
Finland is highly selectiveonly the top ten percent of applicants are takenbut once the
prospective teachers are selected, they are given a free masters education after which they can

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begin to teach (Dalporto). America does not show the partiality towards education majors, so it is
no surprise that there is not a similar level of universal reverence for teachers. In Finland, the
selective process of choosing teachers ensures that those in the classroom are the best people in
the country for that job, but in America, the process is not as selective, and the same guarantees
cannot be made; there are certainly many high quality teachers across the country, but there are
also many low quality ones. Because of this difference, stress on students and teachers is greatly
lessened during instruction in Finland. Firstly, all Finnish teachers are prepared, capable, and
passionate about their work. Secondly, these teachers have whatever resources they need because
of the fair and even funding of all schools. If a ratio of success to time was measured, Finland
would place first in all categories because while places like South Korea do score slightly higher,
they also instruct for around 400 more hours per year than Finnish schools ("Time in School:
How Does the U.S. Compare?").
Implementing a grant system in which the best of the graduating high school students
could be encouraged and financially supported in the pursuit of an education degree would help
alleviate this problem. Funding for such a program could be supplied in the expansion of the
budget to the proposed two billion dollars. Not only would it provide material benefit for the
applicants, it would also garner attention across the state and country to show that teachers are
being respected and honored. As time passes, more of the brightest teenagers would want to
become teachers, leading to a stronger workforce of educators available to Pennsylvania schools.
The results would not be immediate since it would take time for these applicants to receive their
degrees, but it would be a safe investment for the long term improvement in education.
Those who examine the Finnish schools in person remark that the kids enjoy themselves,
are encouraged to explore their passions and their creativities, and in general have a positive

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attitude about learning (Hancock). Meanwhile in America, it is the typical response of teenagers
and pre-teens especially to hate and not want to go to school. It would be wonderful to see
Pennsylvanian teenagers be excited to go to school. The solution towards a better relationship
between America and its education system is within reach and starts with changing what is
standardized. Ending standardized testing, equalizing funding, and ensuring that teachers are the
absolute best are the first steps towards improvement. From there, other changes will naturally
fall into motion and as a new generation of teachers and students arise, the growth of American
education will be strong again. Pennsylvania could be the state to take the first step. By
eliminating the Keystone Exams and expanding the budget for education over the next four
years, the Commonwealth would have the resources necessary to make these changes.
Pennsylvania can be the first state in a new education system that solves the problem at the roots
rather than the leaves. Despite the national governments best efforts, programs like No Child
Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Common Core are all tools that work too high in the process
such that effects are only felt in the final few steps. What needs to be achieved is the largest
impact possible with the least interference in the education of children. Therefore, all
standardizations should occur before the children are even involved. Thus, by providing
equitable funding for all schools in Pennsylvania and improving teacher training and
encouraging bright students to pursue careers in education, Pennsylvania can be set on a path that
leads to a better future.

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Works Cited
Dalporto, Deva. "Finland's A+ Schools." We Are Teachers. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2015.
"Education Budget." Pennsylvania Department of Education. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,
n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.
Gordon, Robert J. "The Great Stagnation of American Education." Opinionator New York Times.
New York Times, 07 Sept. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.
Hancock, LynNell. "Why Are Finland's Schools Successful?" Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian
Magazine, Sept. 2011. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.
"Howard Thurman Quotes." Goodreads. Goodreads Inc., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.
Mehta, Jal. "Why American Education Fails." Foreign Affairs. Council on Foreign Relations,
May-June 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.
"PISA 2012 Results in Focus. " OECD.org. Organisation For Economic Co-operation and
Development, 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.
"Results from PISA 2012: America." OECD.org. Organisation For Economic Co-operation and
Development, 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.
Seif, Elliott. "Why Pennsylvanians Should Oppose the Keystone Exam Regulations." ASCD
EDge. ASCD, n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.
"Time in School: How Does the U.S. Compare?" Center for Public Education. National School
Boards Association, n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.
Townsend, John C. "How Should We Rebuild the U.S. Education System?" Forbes. Forbes
Magazine, 15 Feb. 2013. Web. 03 Apr. 2015.