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Beginning in the 1970s, Finland launched reforms to equalize educational opportunity by first eliminating the practice of separating students into very different tracks based on their test scores, and then by eliminating the examinations themselves.This occurred in two stages between 19, and a common curriculum, through the end of high school, was developed throughout the entire system.The country also boasts a highly equitable distribution of achievement, even for its growing share of immigrant students.
Once poorly ranked educationally, with a turgid bureaucratic system that produced low-quality education and large inequalities, it now ranks first among all the OECD nations (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development—roughly, the so-called “developed” nations) on the PISA (Program for International Student Assessments), an international test for 15-year-olds in language, math, and science literacy.
One wonders what we might accomplish as a nation if we could finally set aside what appears to be our de facto commitment to inequality, so profoundly at odds with our rhetoric of equity, and put the millions of dollars spent continually arguing and litigating into building a high-quality education system for all children.
To imagine how that might be done, one can look at nations that started with very little and purposefully built highly productive and equitable systems, sometimes almost from scratch, in the space of only two to three decades.
By 2006, Finland’s between-school variance on the PISA science scale was only 5 percent, whereas the average between-school variance in other OECD nations was about 33 percent.
(Large between-school variation is generally related to social inequality.) The overall variation in achievement among Finnish students is also smaller than that of nearly all the other OECD countries.