I spent last week in Helsinki, on a junket for American education writers to learn about the Finnish education system, which is ranked number on in the world by the OECD. What we found, in short, was that in a country where conservatives and social democrats agree that eduction should be a major, well-funded priority — and that equality between students is a goal — a lot is possible. Namely: a competitive teacher education process, the coexistence of strong unions and merit pay, a commitment to teacher autonomy, and a dislike for too much high-stakes testing. That's not to say Finnish schools are perfect; growing immigration is presenting cultural and academic challenges, and there were two school shootings in the last two years. Nevertheless, there's a lot to admire, not just inside schools, but politically, in terms of how the powers that be view education.
For more details on the Finnish system, check out my Prospect piece.