McKinsey on Education

McKinsey & Company is a global consulting firm that studies everything from fish hatcheries to banking to education. In 2007, the company put out a major report called “How the World’s Best-Performing School Systems Come Out on Top.”

Some interesting findings include the following:

What about spending more on education?

From 1980-2005, America’s per-student spending on education went up 73% and class size became the smallest ever. While math scores went up a little, reading scores for 4th, 7th, and 11th graders remained unchanged over the 25-year period.

Conclusion reached? More money doesn’t lead to more learning.

What about extending the school day or year?

Take Finland as an example: kids don’t start school until they are 7, versus 5 in the United States. They only go to school for 5 hours per day, versus around 7 hours for many Texas elementary schools. So they start school later and go less, but by the time they are 15 years old, Finnish students dominate international tests in reading, math, problem solving, and science. They aren’t tested constantly or coached for exams, either.

Conclusion reached? More time doesn’t lead to more learning.

What about reducing class sizes?

“…except at the very early grades, class size reduction does not have much impact on student outcomes. Of 112 studies which looked at the impact of the reduction in class sizes on student outcomes, only 9 found any positive relationship. 103 found either no significant relationship, or a significant negative relationship. Even when a significant relationship was found, the effect was not substantial….smaller classes meant that the school systems needed more teachers, which in turn meant that, with the same level of funding, they had less money per teacher. It also meant that because the school system requires more teachers to achieve smaller class sizes it could become less selective about who could be a teacher.”

Conclusion reached? Smaller class sizes don’t lead to more learning, just lower teacher quality.


High-quality teachers, year after after

“At the primary level, students that are placed with low-performing teachers for several years in a row suffer an educational loss that is largely irreversible. In some systems, by age seven, children who score in the top 20 percent on tests of numeracy and literacy are already twice as likely to complete a university degree as children in the bottom 20 percent.”

What’s Finland doing right? According to Wayne D’Orio’s article, first of all, its socialist system provides free school lunches and a lot of services; there are very few children living in poverty as we would define it here in the U.S. There aren’t computers in every classroom. There aren’t sports teams, activities, musical groups–just academics.

Student work in a Finnish primary school

image of Finnish primary school student work available under a Creative Commons License from Leo-seta,

Plus, teachers are about on the same level as physicians, even though they are paid about the same salary as American educators. To become a teacher in Finland, you have to hold a Master degree. Only 1 out of 8 applicants are even accepted to teacher education programs.

There are a lot of other changes that this European country has made, and I encourage you to click through to D’Orio’s article to get more details. A few decades ago, Finland was nowhere near the top of world in terms of its schools. Could the United States follow its example? Should we?

Works Cited

D’Orio, Wayne. “Finland Is #1!” Scholastic Administr@tor Magazine. n.d., Scholastic, Inc. Web. 3 Oct. 2011 <>.

“How the World’s Best-Performing School Systems Come Out on Top.” Sep. 2007. Web. 3 Oct. 2011 <>.


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