There is a myth about our public education system that has the potential of bringing down our nation. The myth is that the lack of funds does not plague America’s schools.

A year ago the St. Paul Pioneer Press published a series designed to help voters make choices leading to the November election. It ran for several weeks and featured listing of “facts unfiltered”.

In an issue devoted to education, one of the facts voters could take to the bank was that America spends more money per K-12 pupil than any nation except Switzerland. In other words, putting more money into education is not the answer.

The idea that we spend as much or more on K-12 education is a myth. The truth is that our peer democracies devote far greater resources on educating their children. Until we realize the myth for what it is, we are on our way down.

One of the most important reasons for a good public education system is to insure that all of our children get the best possible start in life. If we care about our country, we should want all children to be successful.

Educating our kids isn’t just a priority, it is the highest priority.

There are two critical factors that determine the success of education.

First, children must come to the process ready to learn. That means they have good nutrition and good health. It also means that their young minds are nurtured and that they are comfortable with children their own age. Second, the teachers need to be of the highest quality possible.

Combining kids ready to learn and excellent teaching leads to educated children.

What do other nations do that we do not? I can cite the countries of Northern Europe because I lived in three of them for a total of ten years. I have been in their schools.

I also served on a Fulbright scholarship committee working with education leaders.

Every child in these countries has preventative health care, homelessness among children is forbidden, they have the lowest rates of infant mortality, and they lead the world with the lowest rates of child poverty.

On average their child poverty is one sixth of America’s!

Every child has access to high quality pre-school child care. For example, the pre-kindergarten centers in Denmark are run by the ministry of education and child care workers are required to have three years of child development training after high school. Most Danish parents work so nearly every child attends these pre-school centers and they are ready to learn when they start kindergarten.

Their schools offer breakfasts so no child starts school on an empty stomach. In Finland, taxpayer paid school lunches are served to all kids, and every school has a dentist who provides in-school dental care. None of these countries has America’s silent epidemic of tooth decay as described by former Surgeon General David Satcher.

European teachers have greater support and they are far less likely to leave teaching for a higher paying job elsewhere. These countries also provide tuition for higher educations so qualifying children of teachers do not rely on their parents to pay for college.

In the US we have too many kids living in poverty, homeless, without health care, hungry, and left alone while parents work several jobs. Too many school children are not ready to learn, estimated at 35% by child development experts, and they never recover.

We have the highest rate of 12th grade illiteracy and the highest dropout rate. Too many end up in gangs, on the street, and ultimately in prison.

Spending on K-12 education is not limited to the cost of operating schools. That’s the small picture. The comprehensive resources devoted to child health, nutrition, early child care, housing and antipoverty programs result in a massive investment aimed at giving every child a chance to succeed in school.

In Minnesota we are going in reverse. The National Women’s Law Center has just ranked our state 40th nationwide in support for low income child care. In 2000 we ranked in the top five. In a breathtaking reaction to this report, Republican state rep Fran Bradley stated, “Our taxpayers remain very generous compared to other states”.

In our race to the bottom, some Minnesotans don’t seem to understand the issue. Providing resources to help children succeed is not a question of generosity. It is the life blood of America and it is a moral obligation.

The Pioneer Press was wrong, and their unfiltered fact is a horrible myth. We do not value educating our children, and that means we do not value children. That is shameful.

My friend Mike Tikkanen has written a new book, Invisible Children. On its opening page he quotes Pliny the Elder. “What we do to our children, they will do to society”.


David Strand

Author, Nation Out of Step

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  1. I started researching global education around 2001 and realized that on a global level, the USA is pretty close to the bottom of the toxic level that should be allowed to permeate a school system. The promotion of drugging children who aren’t on some illegal drugs already seems to be systemic and quite deplorable. The school system not only encourages parents to put their kids on drugs like ritalin, some actually threaten expulsion if it isn’t complied with. If a parent resists they are pushed around, told by the authorities that they are bad parents, and cps is called on multiple occasions, of course being the lovely, warm hearted, and caring people that they are, they won’t find anything if you comply with the schools wishes. I would like to know how much money is funneled through the school district from big pharma? How many libraries are donated, or gym equipment to school districts in order to turn our children into lab rats? Just out of curiosity, I would like to know if big pharma would like it if their children were put into the local system, slapped on their dope and made brain dead? In our state the lottery was supposed to support the school system, yet our children are still sent out to beg for money with fundraisers for various causes to support the local school. The lottery is a billion dollar industry. Who gets the kickbacks from big pharma?

  2. David is comparing apples to oranges when he compares Finnish society to American society. Finns are a very homogenous society, and their numbers are relatively small. They have shared values for the most part…their culture looks like the US might have looked like back in the 1950s….lots of educated middle class white people who all speak the same language and share a sense of common culture. If you could still find a spot like that in the US, I will bet that they have good literacy rates and educational attainment, just like the Finns.
    Our social problems have only been exacerbated by fiscal programs that promote dependency and by a curriculum (in the public schools, thank you very much) that places an emphasis on “value neutral” education. That, coupled with uncontrolled immigration and plenty of inter-racial conflict, conspires to damage our educational system, no matter how much money we throw at it. So the US is not Finland, surprise.
    How do we fix education in the US? Do we fund big warehouses full of highly professional teachers to take the little ones away from the parents at the earliest possible age in order to make them into nice obedient little citizens? Do we feed them all a State-sponsored, state approved free lunch? How much control do we want the government to have over our families? Is cradle to grave socialism really the answer to all of our problems?
    I guess cradle to grave government control would be cool if–and only if–I was the person in control. Does that scare you? If it does, then you know how I feel about someone else raising my kids and taking away my money to do it.

  3. While the Finns, the Danes, the Swedes, and most of Northern Europe share deep cultural roots and values, it does not follow that American schools can’t help children attain the skills necessary to succeed in school and in life.

    Does pointing out that people are different have more weight than explaining how shared values and cooperation allows for improvement and higher quality of life?

    David rightly shows that programs to help children improve their learning skills throughout Europe are highly successful. Where the U.S. used to lead in the quality of life indices, (health, education, safe neighborhoods and more) we now trail.

    Because America only marginally supports programs that help poor families and at risk children, we have created generations of troubled children that go on to have the next generation of troubled children. 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prison population is just one bad result of diminishing support for children.

    Preteen moms and adolescent felons are America’s most expensive, painful, and immediate concern. It is why the schools are troubled, streets are unsafe, and prisons are so full.

    David’s point is that if we could teach all children to read by the third grade, more would graduate and go on to lead productive lives.

    America could relinquish its leadership status in sexually transmitted disease, crime, failing schools, child mortality, child poverty, & unsafe neighborhoods.

    Supporting programs that help children is in the end, a very wise idea.

    “What we do to our children, they will do to society” (Pliny, 2500 years ago)

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